Devils Surprising Some, Winning as a Balanced Team

The New Jersey Devils have been victorious in 15, one-goal games this season (15-7-5 overall in those games) and a large part of that is because they have an elite NHL goalie in Cory Schneider. Another part of that equation has been that they are winning as a team, with no real superstar talent among their lineup. Nothing new for this franchise, as even though Patrik Elias was a legitimate top-tier NHL player in the late 90s-early 2000s, they were always considered to be an ‘interchangeable flock of forwards’ (thank you Colin Campbell for that gem) and this year, under new management and new vision, it has almost become a mantra.

The players along with head coach John Hynes have said that when players come out of the lineup due to injury or suspension or whatever reason, the next man up should be completely capable of coming in and contributing so that the team does not miss a beat. Sounds nice in theory, but it’s obviously more of a challenge to pull off. This season for New Jersey there have been 30 different players to suit up in a Devils uniform and 24 of them have registered at least one point. Ten players have put up at least ten points — and five of them are defensemen. Twelve different players have registered at least one game-winning goal aka balance.

“Guys here are working hard and have been given more of an opportunity (than they have elsewhere),” Lee Stempniak told The Hockey Writers following the Devils 3-2 win over the New York Rangers, “and guys are seizing that opportunity. I played with David (Schlemko) in Phoenix and he’s a great player, he’s really smart and he’s great with the puck. He continues to get that opportunity to do a little bit more; he’s played a little more on the power play and he’s delivering.”

David Schlemko delivered his third GWG of the season in the Devils second win over NYR in 2015-16:

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Schlemko was the hero in the win, netting the game-winning goal on the power play with 8:46 remaining in regulation, but was almost the goat (and not meaning the Greatest Of All Time) when his blind pass was intercepted by Rangers’ captain Ryan McDonagh, who took off on a clear-cut shorthanded breakaway. “I was pretty low after giving up that breakaway,” he said afterwards with a relieved/almost nervous laugh. “Obviously Schneids came out and took away the angle, he must’ve gave him nothing to shoot at. I was lucky to get a chance there at the end and buried it.”

Schlemko. Stempniak. Joe Blandisi. Three goal scorers that were not part of this team 365 days ago. There’s a lot of players on this team contributing now that are also in that boat. “You have to compliment Ray (Shero) there — him knowing what this team needs and what to bring in,” Travis Zajac told THW after the Devils’ fifth win in six games. “Obviously those guys have been great for us, they’ve been difference makers. Stempniak is a solid player, he’s a pro, he does things the right way and he gets rewarded for it.”

The Kid is Alright 

Zajac continued to explain the impact and life these players have injected into the team. “Blandisi is a really good player. He has great speed, he creates things on the ice when he has the puck; it’s good for us, we need some skill and speed up front. He’s contributing, and I think him and Boosh (Reid Boucher), these guys that come up — they have to make a difference this time of year. They have to come in, play well and fit the system; right now, they’re doing that.”

“He makes things happen out there; he’s got a lot of speed and I realize when we play with him (on our line) he tends to create offense,” Stempniak said of Blandisi aka Blender. “He uses his speed, goes into the high traffic areas. He’s dangerous with the puck and has a good shot; he made a big impact in a lot of ways tonight. This was a big win for us, they were four points ahead of us and now it’s at two. You have to keep pace, you have to start catching teams; there’s only 31 games left now and these two points are big.”

“We showed some resilience battling back from being down 1-0, 2-1 — and I think this time of the year you can’t quit, you can’t give up; it takes a full team effort to win at this time of the year and we had that tonight (against the Rangers),” Zajac said. “We’ve always been a team that our success is based on everyone contributing. I think that’s how teams win in the playoffs — individuals don’t win you Stanley Cups, don’t win you playoff games, don’t get you into the playoffs. For us, obviously the loss of Cammy (Michael Cammalleri) is some big shoes to fill, but we had guys come in and do the job. We need that going forward until he comes back.”

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General Lee Has Found a Home

Cammalleri was the team’s leading scorer with 38 points (14g-24a) in 42 games until Stempniak tied him (15g-23a) in the win over New York. Stempniak’s value almost can’t be put into words, as he’s been one of the more consistent players all season for New Jersey — one could say that he is definitely exceeding expectations for a player playing on his eighth NHL team.

“I almost thing that’s a compliment because — teams want him at the trade deadline,” Zajac said of the oft-traded Stempniak. “He can put those teams over the top and get to the playoffs, just the way he plays, and he’s reliable defensively. Obviously offensively he can chip in and we’re seeing that now. Right now he’s rolling for us.”

The Devils have to be ecstatic about the production they have gotten from not only Stempniak, but almost every move that Shero has made (save for the injured Jiri Tlusty) has been golden. Bobby Farnham (seven goals), Blandisi (seven points), Schlemko (13 points), Kyle Palmieri (20 goals), John Moore (ten points), Sergey Kalinin (nine points), Tyler Kennedy (five points). All of them, aside from Blandisi, were brought in by Shero.

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“We’re focused, going into each game prepared and we just need to keep it rolling,” defenseman Seth Helgeson told THW. “I think throughout the time I’ve been here there’s been some points made about continuing on this somewhat of a streak (five wins in six games) — the Pittsburgh game obviously we lost — we just need to keep on rolling and doing what we’re doing.”

Whatever they’ve been doing, it’s working. with 31 games left they are tied for a playoff spot and within striking distance of the two teams directly ahead of them within the Metropolitan Division. Maybe more than ever, this is a New Jersey Devils team that wins as a team, and loses as a team. There have only been a handful of games through the first 51 that they didn’t really have a chance to win the game. Perhaps they are playing a little above their heads, but maybe not. On a large percentage of nights, the effort is there, even when they lose. It’s cliché to say that they deserved better some nights, but as every player admits – there is luck involved also.

The questions Shero likely asks himself every morning are: do I need to make another move or two to get this team into the playoffs? Do I stick with the process and continue to reboot/tinker with the roster in the offseason, with expiring contracts on the way out and the arrival of players like Pavel Zacha on the horizon?

Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiabloTHW or via Email: drdiablo321@yahoo.com.