After successful trip, New Jersey Devils can't be counted out as playoff contenders
Jan 17, 2017; Saint Paul, MN, USA; New Jersey Devils forward Travis Zajac (19) and New Jersey Devils forward Miles Wood (44) celebrate a goal by forward Pavel Zacha (37) (not pictured) during the second period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Devils win 4-3 over the Wild. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Although they’re near the basement in the Metro, the New Jersey Devils cannot be counted out of the tournament race. 

Before the season even began for the New Jersey Devils, critics and fans alike saw no hope for the 82 games ahead.

The goaltending situation was safe, but the offense was still lacking chemistry and the defense was too young and too weak. The loss of Adam Larsson amidst acquiring a strong forward certainly shortened the defense, but adding the strong forward, Taylor Hall, in the same transaction, would undoubtedly boost the offense.

The analysis was sound and rational.

Looking at the New Jersey Devils situation now, none of that really turned out to be the case.

The Devils rarely manage to muster up three goals a game. Offense boosted? No, but the defense really isn’t playing as weak as most expected. Schneider is on his game when he is on his game, and the defense overall, led by captain Andy Greene, Damon Severson, and former-Penguin, Ben Lovejoy, is holding down the fort. The only issue now is that if one player is off his mark, it doesn’t end well for the Devils.

In this crazy hockey world, we live in, where the Penguins beat the Capitals 8-7, and the Stars beat the Rangers 7-6, a combination of faulty defense and lame scoring can really make the Devils look like a pathetic team. That combination rarely seems to occur, however.

These last four games for instance, are a perfect example: few goals against, few goals for. Against the Oilers, last Thursday, the game was really back and forth, end to end, no team really dominating. Offense wasn’t really producing but only two goals were allowed in regulation. They lost in overtime but they still got the point.

The next night against the Flames, the same occurrence. The Devils scored two early, and yielded just one in the middle of the second period. Schneider was strong. The offense was strong as well (which made it much easier on Cory) but the conversion rate was miniscule. Against the Canucks, again … even throughout, no team dominating, and Taylor Hall pulled in the extra point due to an incredible forecheck from Travis Zajac.

Last night, was a bit of an oddball. The Devils broke through and scored four on an incredible goaltender, Devan Dubnyk, but Schneider did let in his unusual three. The Wild are a great team, though.

One goal games. The New Jersey one-goal Games. That might as well be their new name.

If you look just a few games further, that’s where you’ll find a quick spurt of the Devils ugliness. Losing to the incredibly evolved Florida Panthers 3-0, was an upsetting hit to New Jersey’s moral. It’s absolutely true that the team from Sunrise has upped their game on many levels but it’s scary to think that they are
being led by old men (Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo). The Panthers are good, but their youth outweighs the impact from their veterans and at least one or two should be able to pass the ex-Canuck.

The game against Toronto, two Fridays ago, where the Leafs jumped out to a 4-0 lead after the first stanza is also a case of unattractive hockey. As basic as it seems, it’s easy to point out which cog in the machine didn’t do its part. That deficit, for sure, was due to a lacking goaltending performance as well as a lacking defensive presence.

The Devils, who did fire 32 shots on goal, simply couldn’t beat Andersen more than twice, and Toronto, who only had fourteen, yes, fourteen shots on net all game beat the defense and the goalie four times.

The lack of a pattern in frustrating for sure. Consistency is key. The teams that make it to the Stanley Cup are the teams you know are making it to the playoffs only a month after the season opening puck drop.

The Blackhawks, the Penguins, the Capitals, the Rangers, the Wild (a new one to the bunch) have been playing consistently good hockey. Sure, they’ll get shutout, and lose three in a row, but you better believe that they won eight of their last ten prior, and after that embarrassing loss they are going to get right back up and pounce when the weaker teams come to town.

The Devils are right on the cusp of being a weaker team, that gets mutilated every time they visit the powerhouses. But you have to stop, think, and acknowledge that the Devils defied that titles when they went out and beat the top of the Western Conference in a nail biter.

The Devils are refusing to believe they are a weaker team. The Devils are refusing to play with the mindset that they will lose a game once they go down 2-0. They know that no matter how many one-goal games they play in, they can be on the higher end of the scoreboard.

This mindset will lead the Devils right up the standings.

A month ago, when a team like the Rangers came around, they accepted defeat before they hit the ice. Now, after performing in an elite fashion on a challenging road trip, they will go back to the east, and may it be Prudential Center or Madison Square Garden, and play like they know they can and win. The Devils, if they hold a winning mindset, will not lose 5-0 to the Rangers again.

Now, if the weaker teams — the ones that don’t shake that negative mindset — come and play against the Devils, they’ll be able to say they are the better team.

This New Jersey Devils team is very capable of making the playoffs. With forty-six games in the bag and 36 left to play, that three-point margin keeping them from a wild card spot is incredibly attainable.

The true test is the three strong teams that come before them in the next week. If the Devils can accumulate five out of a six possible points against the Canadiens, Flyers, and Kings, the Eastern Conference best believe the Devils are in the race.