January was not necessarily a month that many New Jersey Devils fans would like to remember. While it began with an exciting overtime win against the Dallas Stars and even encompassed a four-game winning streak at the end, the middle was muddled with losses and inconsistent play. It was a tale of what could be described as two different teams. The middle of the month provided glimpses of a New Jersey team from previous years that no one wants to revisit. But the end emphasized that the Devils were not done and still attempting to surprise the league.
2016 arrived with the reemergence of New Jersey’s past scoring issues. The Devils seemingly could not find that extra goal or two that they desperately needed and in turn were dropping games by 2-1, 4-1 scores as well as being shut out twice within a 10-day span. In many cases the offense could not find the energy level that they had been displaying. The offensive unit simply went cold and New Jersey’s low shot totals did not help its cause.
However, New Jersey’s offense was able to regain some of its rhythm toward the end of the month. The team also received a standing ovation from their home crowd after producing five-goals in the first period against the Ottawa Senators.
Furthermore, forward Kyle Palmieri reached the 20-goal mark and continued his pace to break 30-goals this season. Palmieri would be the first Devil to do so since Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson each tallied 30-goals during the 2011-12 season.
Specialty Teams: C
New Jersey’s specialty teams struggles appeared to peak in January as the power play dried up. While a select few power plays displayed sustain pressure, the vast majority were riddled with mistakes, poor puck movement and unsuccessful zone entries. Every team’s power play eventually encounters a rough patch during the season, but the timing of New Jersey’s issues could not have been worse. A poorly performing power play only magnified the Devils even strength scoring woes. Fortunately, as the team began to get healthy, the power play started showing signs of life again.
As the power play took a step back the penalty kill also began to stutter and that did not pay dividends as the Devils found themselves in the box often. While the penalty kill never entirely collapsed, New Jersey was allowing the opposition to capitalize on at least one of their opportunities, which did not help the Devils’ sputtering offense.
Overall Play – C+
Whether it was the scoring challenges, inconsistent play, or struggling specialty teams, everything seemingly came to a head at the same time for the Devils. Moreover, New Jersey also displayed a troubling trend. Even in games the Devils won, they backed off during the second period which allowed the opposition to pepper goalie Cory Schneider with shots and gain momentum. That is not a recipe that the Devils want to carry into February.
Additionally, the Devils also dropped one of the team’s most critical games thus far in a 2-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins prior to the all-star break. The game was viewed as a must win for the Devils. Unfortunately, New Jersey could not capitalize on several golden opportunities early in the game and a fortuitous bounce to Penguins captain Sidney Crosby on a Pittsburgh power play gave the Penguins the lead and control.
Nevertheless, there were some bright spots for New Jersey in January including a four-game winning streak. Many fans hoped it was a sign that the Devils had fought through adversity and were on the right track heading into February. The winning streak highlighted the team that fans had grown accustomed to seeing which was an opportunistic, grind it out group. Moreover, forward Reid Boucher returned to the big club and forward Joseph Blandisi made his long awaited debut and did not disappoint with his speed and aggressiveness. Blandisi’s arrival provided the Devils with a boost of much needed energy. Additionally, forward Lee Stempniak’s offensive game hit its stride and as a result he was a major factor in the team’s winning streak.
Final Grade: C
While January was not New Jersey’s best month, it also did not remove the Devils from the postseason race and that is the most important takeaway. As New Jersey embarks on the final stretch of the season, it cannot afford another month like January. Teams are now starting making their final push and if February emulates January in any way, the Devils will likely find themselves in a hole and chasing teams for a coveted playoff spot.