The New Jersey Devils have three important games on the schedule before the calendar flips to 2018. Here’s a look at what’s ahead for the team this week.
The Christmas break has come and gone and the New Jersey Devils currently sit one point above the Washington Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division. In a division that is so tight, every week is important because if you have one bad week jumping from first to fifth is a distinct possibility. Take a look at the Metro standings below.
As you can see, New Jersey is far from comfortable in first place with Washington and Columbus just behind. It helps Jersey that the Blue Jackets just lost Cam Atkinson for four to six weeks with an ankle injury. If the Devils can stay hot there is a great opportunity for them to break away from Colombus a little bit. The Devils also have a couple of games in hand on most of the teams in the division.
Another thing to look out for is Pittsburgh. The Penguins are just two games over .500 and it will be interesting what kind of second half of the season they post. Will the Stanley Cup runs of the past two seasons finally catch up to them at the end of the season, or will the bounce back from a slow start just like last season?
Now to the real reason why we’re here. Let’s take a look at the Devils’ week ahead.
As seen above, the Devils will have three games in four nights after the break for the rest of this week. There are two very winnable games at home to complete a six-game winning streak and then Washington on Saturday night, which will for sure be a tougher game.
If the Devils can win their next two against Detroit and Buffalo, this will be a week that we look back on and think of it as the streak that jumpstarted their season. They had been playing pretty well before this homestand, but this allowed them to get healthy and they haven’t lost on it yet. Here’s a quick look at the games.
vs. Detroit (12/27, 7 p.m. ET)
The Devils will come off the Christmas break trying to avoid the holiday hangover. The Wings have flat out struggled this season and the Devils need to take advantage of that at home. Detroit is led however by two young up and coming stars Dylan Larkin (five goals, 24 assists) and Anthony Mantha (13 goals, 11 assists). They will hope to build around those guys to return to the powerhouse they once were.
As for this season, Jimmy Howard typically gets the nod in net. Howard has a 2.85 GAA with a .907 save percentage, relatively mediocre numbers. It doesn’t help that the Wings have scored only 96 goals this season and struggle on the back end, allowing 113.
The first time these teams met the Devils got the best of Detroit in overtime at the new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. I think the Devils will be able to continue their winning streak in this one.
vs. Buffalo (12/29, 7 p.m. ET)
The second game of the week for New Jersey will wrap up their homestand against the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo is currently the worst team in the East and has the worst goal differential in the conference at minus-42.
Buffalo has supposedly been on the way up since they tanked to try and draft Connor McDavid. McDavid obviously ended up going to Edmonton but the Sabres got the consolation prize, Jack Eichel. Eichel has 32 points in 36 games this season. He is second on the team just one point behind Evander Kane. After Ryan O’ Reilly, the Sabres have hardly any other secondary scoring. Add that to a weak blue line and a Robin Lehner- Chad Johnson goalie tandem and it’s hard for Buffalo to get anything done.
The Devils dominated the last time they played Buffalo, winning their second game of the season 6-2. The only major concern here is the Devils have to play Washington the next night, and they may be looking ahead to that game.
@ Washington (12/30, 7 p.m. ET)
This is by far the biggest game of this week. Washington is right on the Devils trail and New Jersey needs to at least get a point in this one. The Devils have struggled with Washington recently, but it will be interesting to see if they can take care of business against one of the elite teams in the NHL.
The Caps are obviously led by Alex Ovechkin but they go four lines deep, similar to the Devils. Washington has more overall talent, but that doesn’t mean the Devils can’t win this game. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson have led the way for the Caps thus far. It is highly likely that they will be in the postseason this year but they can never seemingly get over the hump. Beating the Devils in this game is certainly important for them even though it’s only December.
They also have one of the best goaltenders in the league, Braden Holtby. Holtby has a 2.65 GAA and a .918 save percentage. It is tough to beat Holtby, but the Devils are playing well enough that they will have their chances. It is all about converting.
The Caps got the best of the Devils, 5-2, the last time they played in their third game of the season. The Devils are stronger now than they were then, so we’ll see if they have what it takes to beat Washington.