Through the first half of the 2013-14 NHL campaign, the New Jersey Devils stand at 17-16-2-6 (42 points). Over .500 and in the hunt for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Almost as many wins (19) and points (48) as they had in the lockout shortened season. In their last full season of 2011-12, New Jersey completed the first half with a record of 23-16-2 (48 points). The Devils have signature victories over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Anaheim Ducks and Tampa Bay Lightning but have conversely lost to the likes of the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and New York Islanders.
Coming into the season, I made five fearless predictions for the Devils this year. I thought Cory Schneider would play more games than Martin Brodeur, which hasn’t been the case so far (Brodeur has played 23 games to Schneider’s 18). Jon Merrill would crack the top six on the Devils blue line. Check. Michael Ryder would lead the team in goals, he is second by one at 12. Adam Larsson is still a member of the Devils. I also had Jaromir Jagr playing in over 70 games, he is 41-for-41.
So what are the five keys for the Devils going into the second half, if they hope to play into the second season?
5.) Get healthy and remain healthy:
Surely this could apply to any team but it is especially expedient for the veteran laden Devils. As of this writing, New Jersey has the sixth highest total of man games lost this season, with 162 thus far. Half of the teams in the top ten of that list are out of a playoff spot, although surprisingly Pittsburgh and Anaheim rank one and two on that list respectively. The Devils have six players that have played in all 41 contests (Jagr, Ryder, Andy Greene, Dainius Zubrus, Adam Henrique and Steve Bernier).
4.) Find more consistency:
Very important when you’re a game over NHL .500. The season high win streak for the Devils is three, an impressive stretch when New Jersey knocked off the Penguins, Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. New Jersey can equal that output by getting off on the right foot in the second half, with a victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
3.) Score more:
Adding to the theme of consistency is more plentiful goal scoring. New Jersey ranks 25th at 2.37 goals per game. Their 97 tallies rank 23rd in the league. The power play ranks 17th, at 17.8%. Plus the Devils are minus six in goal differential. Luckily Brodeur (2.25) and Schneider (2.13), have lower goals against averages than that but the Devils have to pick it up in the puck potting department.
2.) More from number 14 in ’14:
If recent events are any indication, Henrique could be revving up for a potent second half. With 18 points (nine goals and nine assists), Henrique already has more points than he registered last season. Going into the second half, Henrique has scored in three straight contests and looks to be clicking with line mates Ryder and Clowe. On the season, Henrique is third on the team in goals and shooting percentage. If the Devils are to rise in the standings, Henrique will need to continue raising those totals.
1.) Defence and puck possession:
As the Devils continue to get healthier on defence, they’ll have some decisions to make but at least they know they have plenty of options. Their penalty kill ranks third in the NHL, at 86.8%. The kill is even better at “The Rock,” when it jumps to 91.4% or second best in the league. Their five-on-five close Corsi against of 918, ranks second in the league. Additionally, the Devils Corsi for percentage of 53.9% is tied for third in the league. Plus, New Jersey’s Fenwick for percentage of 52.8%, ranks seventh in the NHL. All numbers that work well in the Devils favor. When Larsson and Peter Harrold get back, I’d hate to be the guy tasked with figuring out whom to play, scratch, keep, trade, keep up or send down. They are a solid group and there are many more in the pipeline.
We’ll see how the rest of the season shakes out but the Devils appear to be gelling compared to the way they started the season and they have a goaltending tandem that can get hot and steal some games in crunch time. Important when there’s a logjam of teams in the playoff hunt and points are at a premium.