As the playoff crunch becomes real…teams on the cusp are fighting for every point. Teams that have an almost guaranteed spot are trying to maintain their health and competitive edge. The New Jersey Devils are neither this year…while they are currently not mathematically eliminated, it would take about 100 different scenarios for them to see postseason play. That said, you wouldn’t know it by the way they have been playing these last four games…all hard fought and adding four points to their season total.
The Last Four Games:
The Devils faced the #2 & #3 teams in the Blue Jackets and Penguins, as well as the current (and projected) #1 Wildcard Rangers, and the Flyers who are still in the running for the 2nd wildcard. The Devils kept it competitive with the Penguins and for the most part the Blue Jackets even though they were both losses. When facing two of their three metro area rivals in the Flyers and Rangers the Devils ended up on top.
What We Learned:
This new Devils team is here to play. While they have been handed two losses in four games, it was not for lack of solid play. In each of the last home game press conferences I attended, coach John Hynes has made it very clear he is not disappointed in how hard his team is playing and coming together. He acknowledges there is still issues and growth that needs to be accomplished but this Devils team is coming together and becoming faster and more competitive. While he stops short of saying it is headed for a big year…next year.
In last night’s post-game press conference Hynes said, “I would really like to make the point that we wound up winning the hockey game tonight but the last few games we have played pretty well but haven’t found the ways to win and it was all negativity. We have lots of younger guys in our line-up, we really like the way they are playing. We haven’t gotten as many of the results the way we want. You know tonight the more games they play the more comfortable they get.”
After speaking about how we are even seeing vets re-energized by the excitement the AHL kids are having on the team, he finished with, “We are doing some good things and we just have to stick with the process and keep working to get better as a group and an organization.”
Where the Devils are going:
While speed and physicality has grown, shooting still needs to be worked on. Though, I will say it has gotten better than the beginning of the season. We need more goals. If you look at the Devils versus most of the other teams in the league, they have far fewer big goal scorers.
I am going to sing my praises of Miles Wood…this kid has heart and is a force to be reckoned with on the ice. I was excited by last night’s fight…not because it was a fight but because he defends himself, which during the past regime was few and far between (Clarkson was really the last). He takes no one’s garbage…if you check him prepare to be checked back…you make it a nasty one, the gloves come off. This is something the Devils have been missing in their arsenal.
The Hynes era is full of combat, both with play and physicality. While it was not a winning season, it showed promise…this is the first year that most of the Lamoriello/DeBoer decisions have started to be corrected. My hope is that Ray Shero (Devils’ GM) & Coach Hynes have a long tenure in New Jersey as they both come from the current Stanley Cup Champions, Pittsburgh Penguins, organization. An organization that is continually a force in postseason play…and anyone who knows me knows it pains me to say nice things about the Pens.
I am going on the record now and say, “In Hynes I Trust”.