Changing a culture doesn’t happen overnight. With the changing of the guard, the new regime of the New Jersey Devils promised to be fast, attacking and supportive. Though the club didn’t qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they didn’t hit rock bottom either, raising some eyebrows around the league.
This season saw the Devils compete for or in postseason position through the All-Star break. Their 38 wins and 84 points eclipsed the 2014-15 squad, which garnered 32 wins and 78 points. So what does one make of the 2015-16 edition of the Devils? I’ll examine the good and bad and attempt to sort it all out.
The Good Stuff –
Schneider was named an All-Star for the first time. Until suffering a late season knee injury, Schneider was in the Vezina Trophy conversation. Schneider undoubtedly kept the Devils in a number of close contests, which they otherwise would’ve had no business being in. Schneider posted a career best 27 victories, recorded four shutouts and registered a goals-against average of 2.15 and a save percentage of .924.
The first-year Devil, who grew up in Montvale, NJ, saw his career grow leaps and bounds following a trade from the Anaheim Ducks. Palmieri led the club and set careers bests with 30 tallies and 57 points. Palmieri’s eleven power play markers also topped all New Jersey players. Palmieri’s 30 goals were the most by a first-year Devils forward since Claude Lemieux netted 30 in 1990-91.
Henrique is streaky and clutch and he reached new heights in 2015-16. The man they call “Rico,” notched a career best and tied for team best, 30 tallies, finishing second on the squad in points with 50. As for the clutch component, Henrique potted a club high eight game-winning goals.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 10, 2016
The pipeline from Albany to New Jersey is as strong as its been since the late 1990s. Setting franchise highs for wins and points, the AHL Devils are enjoying their best regular season since the 1998-99 campaign. Many of those players, including Joseph Blandisi, Reid Boucher, Seth Helgeson, Mike Sislo, Blake Pietila, Vojtech Mozik and Scott Wedgewood, contributed to the growing youth movement in New Jersey. Sergey Kalinin made the club out of camp and posted 15 points in his rookie campaign. Plus, New Jersey caught a glimpse of Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood and Steven Stantini in the regular season finale.
A changed of scenery appeared to work wonders for Smith-Pelly, acquired in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens for Stefan Matteau. Smith-Pelly was red-hot down the stretch, posting eight goals and five helpers in 18 contests. Even in a small sample size, those number made him a steal at the deadline.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 21, 2016
A Sweet Send-Off for Patty?!:
It was a tough, injury riddled season for Elias but if this is indeed the end, it was quite the storybook finish. In addition to notching a pair of helpers, Elias capped off the season with a goal in the waning seconds of the third period, in a 5-1 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Prudential Center crowd was sent into a frenzy and Elias earned first star honors.
If this is it, congrats Patrik Elias, you've had a fabulous career. pic.twitter.com/pZRuG8f91x
— NHL (@NHL) April 10, 2016
Beating the Best:
New Jersey went a combined 4-0 against the past two Stanley Cup champions, sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings. The Devils also took the season series from the rival New York Rangers, 3-1. Additionally, the Devils split (1-1) with the Dallas Stars.
The Bad Stuff –
Lack of Scoring:
Once again the Devils lacked a consistently dominant sniper. Michael Cammalleri and Patrik Elias battled injuries and the rest of the club was too inconsistent. New Jersey posted a minus-26 goal differential. The Devils still haven’t registered 200 goals in a season since the 2011-12 or the last season Zach Parise was in town. While the Devils played solid on special teams, sporting a ninth ranked power play (19.9%) and an eighth rated penalty kill (83.0%), their 109 five-on-five goals were dead last in the league.
With Cammalleri essentially out for good, the Devils slipped and never fully recovered. After starting the month by earning points in six of their first seven contests, the Devils went through a brutal stretch, going 1-6-0-0 from February 16 to March 1.
Injuries are an inevitable part of the game. However, staying healthy is also a skill. If you’re not in the lineup, you’re not helping the team. The Devils and their 405 man-games lost were the second most in the NHL. Imagine how much of a difference it would’ve made if for instance the Devils had Cammalleri and Elias or players of their caliber for another 20 some odd games?
Playing Down to Opponents:
The old adage goes, good teams beat the teams they’re supposed to beat. Though the Devils beat some of the best, they also lost against some of the worst. New Jersey went 1-4 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, split with the Edmonton Oilers (1-1) and Calgary Flames (1-1) and went 1-0-0-2 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.