December was a mixed month for the New Jersey Devils. It consisted of exciting victories coupled with lackluster losses. After coming off of a strong November, there was a sense of optimism when someone looked at the December schedule. Even though the Devils would have to play 15 games to close out 2015, the team was clicking, the chemistry was evident and the opponents were beatable in fans’ eyes. However, while the team still possessed their impressive resiliency, there were glimpses of New Jersey beginning to encounter some struggles.
There was concern surrounding the Devils’ offense entering the season. It had been well documented that the team had previously struggled to find the back of the net in recent years. Nevertheless, New Jersey looked like it had overcome some of those issues with the top-six performing at a high level. But it would have been hard to imagine that forwards Mike Cammalleri, Adam Henrique, and Lee Stempniak as well as Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri would continue to tally points at the rate they were. They were almost destined to drop off and that is exactly what began to happen. Unfortunately, as their play cooled, it only magnified the offenses’ lack of secondary goal support.
Throughout December the Devils had scoring spurts. Games against the Florida Panthers as well as the Carolina Hurricanes resulted in four and five goal victories in favor of New Jersey. The team also showed that their clutch scoring which had been on display in November was still in tact with wins against the Detroit Red Wings.
But while there were some positives, New Jersey’s scoring did slow and the team began to have trouble breaking through. In many games the Devils had limited shots on goal, which is a bad recipe as they run into scoring woes. Even in some of the games that the team won, their shots on goal were not high, but they were able to be opportunistic. New Jersey fell into the trap of making that extra pass, which was something they were not regularly doing during the first two months of the season.
Specialty Teams: B
December proved to be a bit of a role reversal for New Jersey’s specialty teams. At the beginning of the season, the power play was effective but the penalty kill was slightly inconsistent. But while the penalty kill had momentary lapses in December, it did its job the majority of the time and helped prevent penalties from costing New Jersey the game.
In contrast, the power play ran into some issues. It was a key part of the team’s game plan entering the season. The power play helped lock up several victories including an important 3-2 overtime win against the Red Wings in December. But as players were injured and the personnel changed, it began to appear disorganized. The team encountered challenges entering the offensive zone and sustaining pressured. It was often times dumped and cleared. It has been said many times but the power play is critical for New Jersey and will be throughout the year. It is crucial for the Devils’ specialty teams to both be consistent and most importantly successful.
Overall Play: B-
Every Devils fan was hoping that December would consist of an upswing and be the month that New Jersey pulled away from the tight Eastern Conference. However, there were games that the Devils simply played too sloppy to win, which was acknowledged by the players and coaching staff.
Additionally, there were several bad losses including ones to teams that New Jersey should have beaten at the time, such as the Anaheim Ducks. Points are at a premium and while there are no easy games, as the season wears on, injuries mount and teams make their final push. The last thing New Jersey wants is to look back at games that it should have had but did not get.
Nonetheless, the Devils still receive a B- due to the fact that the team did pull out some important wins as well as closed the month with victories in three out of four games and was still able to claim points in some of the games that they did lose.
Final Grade: B-
By no stretch of the imagination was December perfect and the team is barely holding onto a B-. It consisted of ebbs and flows. But every month that New Jersey stays in the playoff race is a good month. The season is now reaching its midway point and there is still a lot of hockey left to be played, which means there will be more excitement, comebacks, struggles and disappointment.
The Devils had their fair share of success and challenges to end 2015. However, every team goes through a rough patch and faces adversity. The difference between a good and bad team though is how they come out of it on the other side.