As the final horn sounded at the Prudential Center on October 31, the first month of the 2015-16 season came to a close with the New Jersey Devils drastically surpassing some people’s expectations. After starting the year with a 0-3-1 record, the Devils have bounced back in a big way. Dating back to the shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks, the Devils have claimed points in seven of their last eight games and victories in six of those. While it is still early in the season, it is not too soon to grade the Devils’ performance in October.
Goal Scoring: B
Entering the season, there were questions surrounding the roster, style of play, and most importantly where the team was going to get additional goals. New Jersey is visibly embracing the fast, supportive, and attacking style of play that head coach John Hynes wants and pucks are beginning to find the back of the net with more regularity.
New Jersey’s top-six displayed balance during October with the first two lines contributing goals at the right time to help carry the Devils on the team’s current point streak. Forward Mike Cammalleri leads the team with nine-points while Adam Henrique has eight, and Lee Stempniak has seven-points, which highlights the top line’s overall success. Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri round out the top five point leaders tied with seven-points each. Additionally, the Devils have seen some goal support come from their defensemen.
Nevertheless, while New Jersey’s top-six is showing promise, the bottom-six needs to add additional goal support. In almost every Devils’ victory, each line has provided energy and displayed solid play at various points. However, the top-six is not going to be able to produce in every game and that is where the emphasis on secondary scoring comes into the picture. When it comes to goal scoring, every team can use more and the Devils are no exception. However, fans are finally seeing the team capitalize on opportunistic plays and creating more chances, especially in recent games.
New Jersey is not going to be a top scoring team in the league. But the Devils are getting that second and third extra goal, which eluded them in previous years and that trend should continue as the the lineup finds more scoring balance.
Specialty Teams: C
Presently, the Devils’ power play is ranked seventh in the NHL and has produced several key goals. The puck movement and zone entries are vastly improved from last year’s power play, which also saw a great deal of success.
However, on nights when the team is having trouble scoring at even strength, the power play is critical and the loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets is the perfect example of this. The game versus Columbus could arguably be New Jersey’s best game of the month even though it was a loss. The Devils dominated Columbus for the majority of the game. However, New Jersey had several power play opportunities come and go without any positive results to show and eventually lost the game.
In contrast, the penalty kill is not having the same success as the power play. Early last season the Devils were burned by the penalty kill and it cost them multiple games. While it has not yet dramatically impacted outcomes this season, it would be in New Jersey’s best interest to clean it up. Nonetheless, the penalty kill has come up big at certain moments and has shown that the team is capable of being the dominant penalty killers that New Jersey previously identified as. However, as of right now the penalty kill is one of the bigger challenges and weaker facets the team is dealing with.
Overall Play: B
While October is ending on a high note, it did not start out that way. Nonetheless, the Devils are climbing up the standings. With the exception of the season opener against Winnipeg, New Jersey has been competitive in every game. Goalie Cory Schneider has made the big saves when the team needed him to, especially in the shootout. Even though the Devils have not had a perfect game and at various points shown some vulnerability, the effort and commitment to winning is evident, which is why this was the most difficult category to grade.
After several slow starts, the Devils as of late have come out looking prepared and dominant. But most importantly, New Jersey is finding ways to win, which was something the team had previously struggled with. From game one to game 11, the Devils have taken big strides. The passing is more accurate and crisp, the team is attacking the net, each player is hustling up and down the ice, and New Jersey is showing resiliency again.
The young defensive core is acclimating well to Alain Nasreddine’s system. While there have been some miscues, the unit’s play has settled down as the Devils tally up points and victories. Additionally, coach Hynes has created some flexibility and leeway in recent games by playing seven defensemen, which also has not hurt the team’s offensive production.
Offensively the lines are beginning to look more stable and chemistry is noticeably developing between key offensive players such as Cammalleri and Henrique. The team’s impact players have been reliable and finding more consistency. With few exceptions, New Jersey’s puck possession has significantly improved from the first game. The team is putting shots on goal and certain players are demonstrating and putting more physicality into their game.
Some worried about how the Devils would fair with open ice in the new 3-on-3 overtime. However, the Devils have often been the better team when the game goes beyond 60-minutes. Moreover, fans are not dreading the word shootout anymore. The Devils are developing sustained success in the skills competition and not leaving points on the table, which is also in part due to Schneider standing on his head.
Final Grade: B
As the Devils compile wins and continue to beat tough opponents, they will not be able to sit in the shadows and quietly keep winning. The team will start catching people’s attention. Overall October has been a successful month for the Devils who have seemingly embraced being the underdog and have taken full advantage of it. Maybe an overall grade of a “B” seems low; especially considering the streak the team has been on. Or maybe it even seems high. But it is the first month of the season and while the Devils have been impressive, the team still has more to prove and fans should be excited to see it.