Every hockey team has a different identity. Some are defined by their speed and freewheeling offenses while others are recognized for their grit and defensive instincts. But who are the New Jersey Devils?
Devils head coach John Hynes previously said that the team’s identity should become clearer between the 15 and 20-game mark, and New Jersey has officially reached that point.
Throughout the first 18 games of the season, the Devils have delivered several strong performances, with their best being a 2-1 overtime road victory against the Dallas Stars. That victory also secured the team its first five-game winning streak since 2013.
Throughout New Jersey’s five-game streak, which also featured two home and home series against the Carolina Hurricanes and the Buffalo Sabres, the Devils forced the opposition to play their game. But more importantly, New Jersey was resilient.
With star forward Taylor Hall out of the lineup for the next three to four weeks, resilience may be key, especially if the Devils want to stay in the race for a wildcard position or even something higher. While the California road trip was ugly, every team, even the most elite, have those games, and people have to look at the big picture.
Prior to the games against the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks, the Devils were playing terrific hockey. They controlled the puck, outshot opponents and were playing with confidence, which was evident as the team won several games after failing to score the first goal.
Coming off of the California trip, the Devils will have to prove how resilient they actually are and bounce back in a big way. Fortunately for New Jersey, the next two games are at home where the team has a 6-0-1 record.
When people around the NHL think of the Devils, the first word that often comes to mind is defense. New Jersey has always been a defensive-minded team. Although general manager Ray Shero traded one of the franchise’s most promising young defenseman, Adam Larsson, the Devils will always be built around strong goaltending and a sound defensive structure.
New Jersey’s defense since the start of the season, but particularly throughout the month of November, has silenced some of its critics by consistently producing impressive performances. Defensively the Devils have suppressed their opponents’ shot totals and not given the opposition many high-percentage scoring opportunities.
The Devils have played tight and seldom allowed their opponents much room on the ice. But not only are the defenseman shutting down the opposition, they are playing a big role for New Jersey offensively. Defensemen John Moore, Kyle Quincey and Damon Severson have already tallied multiple goals this season. But even when the defense is not producing on the score sheet, in many cases they are driving the play out of their defensive zone and feeding the puck to the forwards.
Forward Kyle Palmieri has referred to the Devils as a blue-collar team and that is a fitting description. New Jersey relies on a strong team game. The typical Devils victory not only displays strong goaltending and defense, but also chemistry.
The team’s win against Dallas is the perfect example. All four lines connected on passes, cycled the puck almost effortlessly and consistently applied pressure in the Stars’ zone. All of those factors contributed to New Jersey outskating one of the NHL’s quickest teams.
New Jersey needs all four lines to click to create balanced scoring, especially since the team’s offense has gotten off to a slow start. While Adam Henrique and Palmieri are both 30-goal scorers and must produce, the offense cannot solely rely on them while Michael Cammalleri and Hall are unavailable. The goals may not have come easily but during the team’s winning streak the Devils were digging deep, working hard and finding ways to get on the scoreboard when it mattered.
Nevertheless, one aspect of the Devils’ identity that remains to be seen is whether or not New Jersey is a team ready for the postseason. For much of the year, the Devils have sat in a wildcard position and hovered around the third-place seed in the Metropolitan Division as well. Unfortunately for New Jersey though, the Metropolitan Division is arguably the most competitive in the NHL, so it will not be an easy task to stay in the race.
Even though the team has encountered some challenges on their most recent west coast road trip, though, their play throughout a large portion of November indicated that New Jersey should not be overlooked. There is still work to be done and things to improve, but if the Devils continue to be a stingy, blue-collared team, and prove to be resilient down the stretch, then New Jersey could soon identify as a playoff team too.