Surprising Devils Might Be Finally Crashing Back to Earth

new jersey devils

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, January 10, 2018 11:32 PM GMT

Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018 11:32 PM GMT

Through the first half of the NHL season, the New Jersey have rewarded their backers well at +660 moneyline units. However, it appears that cracks are starting to show.

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The New Jersey Devils haven’t made the playoffs since losing the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012 to the Los Angeles Kings in six games. You somewhat knew that was it for the Devils as contenders for a while because it was the last season in which Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur was a full-time starter.

That 2011-12 team reached 102 regular-season points, and no New Jersey club has come close to that total since. Last year’s team finished with just 70, the fewest by far in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey’s goal differential of negative-61 was also the conference’s worst.

Not much more was expected in 2017-18 as the Devils were given a point total of 74.5 on the NHL futures entering the season. Yes, the team had one of the NHL’s better goalies in Cory Schneider as well as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, Swiss forward Nico Hischier. There just wasn’t much else there outside of Taylor Hall, especially with Travis Zajac missing the first 17 games following preseason pectoral surgery, and Brian Boyle the first 10 dealing with a chronic myeloid leukemia diagnosis.

For much of 2017, however, the Devils were one of the East’s biggest surprises and are +660 units in NHL betting on the moneyline in their games. New Jersey reached a season-high 13 games over .500 (22-9-5) on Dec. 27 with a 3-1 victory over Detroit, the Devils’ fifth straight win at the time.

That’s probably going to be a high point for the season.

On Dec. 29, the Devils lost a home game they shouldn’t have to a terrible Buffalo team, 4-3 in overtime, and that seemed to send the team into a funk as it lost the next four as well entering the bye week. Schneider remains very solid in net with 17 wins, a 2.67 GAA and .918 save percentage and has held the opposition to three goals or less in 22 starts, but the lack of depth is starting to catch up to the team, especially on the blueline.

There’s almost a luck factor to explain why New Jersey had overachieved until that losing streak. It has a probably unsustainable record of 11-2-8 in one-goal games. The Devils lose the puck possession battle nearly every game (they are 12-26-3 in terms of winning the shot attempt battle), yet they have a positive goal differential despite allowing 33.0 shots per night and attempting 31. With 130 goals already, they are on pace to blast past last season’s conference-low total of 183 goals.

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Congrats to our #HallStar! @Hallsy09 will represent the #NJDevils at the 2018 #NHLAllStar Game! https://t.co/52nqxlj48W pic.twitter.com/QYas2kWB8W

— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 10, 2018
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Hall is the only Devil with more than 26 points coming out of the bye. He leads the team in points (42), goals (15), assists (26), power-play goals (5) and was named an All-Star. He going to shatter the 53 points he had in 72 games last year. Hischier is a Calder Trophy candidate with eight goals and 18 assists. Fellow rookie Jesper Bratt, a sixth-round pick in 2016, has been perhaps even better than Hischier with 10 goals and 16 assists. Rookies Blake Coleman and Will Butcher also are key rotation guys.

Thing is, you can only depend on rookies for so long in their first year unless they are Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby or some franchise-type player. New Jersey’s first-year guys could be hitting the proverbial rookie wall.

On the blueline, GM Ray Shero’s trade in late December for Sami Vatanen, in which he sent forwards Adam Henrique and Joseph Blandisi and a conditional third-round pick to Anaheim, has not worked out as hoped.

The schedule in the second half is going to be challenging as 20 of the last 41 games are against Metropolitan Division foes, and that’s the deepest division in hockey. In addition, 20 of the final 41 are on the road; the Devils are 0-3-3 away from home since Dec. 9 and outscored 22-14 in that span. There’s one particularly brutal road stretch from March 10-23 where the Devils visit Nashville, Vegas, L.A., Anaheim, San Jose and Pittsburgh. They likely won’t be NHL betting favorites in any of them.

That’s also probably the stretch where any playoff hopes go bye-bye. New Jersey is +460 at Sports Interaction to win the Metropolitan Division.

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