After watching a nine-point lead in the Wild Card race dwindle to just three, the New Jersey Devils need a huge Western Conference road trip to clinch the playoffs.
When the New Jersey Devils decided to go all-out for the playoffs just two weeks ago at the NHL Trade Deadline, it seemed that they were a shoe-in to make the dance beginning in mid-April.
Today, their playoff fate hangs in the balance as they continue the toughest part of their schedule.
The Devils sit just three points ahead of the Florida Panthers for the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Devils barely defeated the Nashville Predators in the shootout this past Saturday, so much so that Taylor Hall couldn’t even watch.
You think @hallsy09 wants to make the playoffs?! How badly do you think?! #NJDevils pic.twitter.com/oRRYAPxXUw
— Rasid Becirovic (@RasidB) March 11, 2018
Hall is still looking for his first trip to the playoffs as his eighth NHL season nears its regular-season end. This is by far his best chance, and you can tell that he and the Devils want it. But they’re going to have to take at least seven of their next possible 10 points to get there.
That’s not going to come easy. The next five games the Devils will play are all on the road.
This bodes to be tough and, to add insult to injury, they have to play Tampa the night they get home. The only way that the Devils are going to survive this “hell week” road trip is with goaltending and secondary scoring.
Hall has virtually carried this team for two full months and is the major reason the Devils are even in a position to end their five-year playoff drought. It wasn’t until last week that his 26-game point streak ended. It’s time for the rest of the team to pick up the slack.
The Devils secondary scoring has to come from basically anyone whose name isn’t Taylor Hall, who leads the team with 74 points—31 more than Nico Hischier.
Kyle Palmieri (18 goals, 16 assists) has been much better of late. He needs to continue to perform at a high level.
Hischier (14 goals, 29 assists) is another top guy that the Devils need to step up. This is Nico’s first season so it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the pressure.
Two major factors in this playoff push are going to be the forwards the Devils acquired at the deadline. Patrick Maroon has been really good since coming over to the Devils, recording five points (one goal, four assists) in six games.
Michael Grabner, on the other hand, has been virtually non-existent. Grabner has zero points in eight games since arriving. He needs to show signs of life—and fast.
The goaltending has become this teams biggest question mark as of late.
Presumptive starter Cory Schneider hasn’t won a game since December while backup Keith Kinkaid has been super hot, going 4-1 in his last five games. Should Kinkaid be the guy down the stretch here given the way that Schneider has played since returning from injury?
The answer to that is yes. That doesn’t mean this team won’t need Schneider to return to form at some point because they are going to need him. But the Devils needs to run with the hottest goalie, and that’s Kinkaid.
Injury News and Notes
#NJDevils: Travis Zajac WILL travel with the team out West.
Pavel Zacha will NOT travel out West at first, but could meet the team on the road.
Marcus Johansson will NOT make the trip, nor is he expected to meet the team on the road.
All three skated this morning.
— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) March 12, 2018
Travis Zajac made the trip out west, however, it is still up in the air as to whether or not he gets in the lineup against Vegas on Wednesday night.
It appears that Pavel Zacha will meet the team on the road. It’s just a matter of when, and not if, he returns to action.
As for Marcus Johansson, it is unclear if he will return at all this season, but it is certainly a good sign that he is skating on his own again. If he is able to return, he could be a game-changer for the Devils, given his exceptional talent and playoff experience.