This time last year, the New Jersey Devils were one of the worst teams in the NHL. They found themselves 16-30-3 with 35 points and were coming off a 3-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on January 26th.
But as the calendar changed, so did Jersey's team. The Devils would go on to win 10 of their next 11 games, including an overtime loss, and New Jersey finished the month of February with a record of 11-1-1 with 23 points.
The winning would continue through the month of March, but the Devils would ultimately miss out on the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.
This year, they find themselves locked into the eight seed with 57 points and a much better 27-19-3 record, but they know they still have a long way to go.
"You have the top teams playing well. Then, at certain times, everybody is struggling. So, there’s no easy games," Patrik Elias told The Record. "You just have to worry about yourself and play your games and we believe we’re good enough to be in the playoffs.”
New Jersey started the second half of the season with a big 4-3 shootout win against the New York Rangers, who are currently tied for the points lead in the NHL with 69. They are set to finish their six game homestand tonight against the Montreal Canadiens, but the rest of the season may find to be tough.
The next five matchups for the Devils will all be against current playoff-bound teams, including three games against Atlantic Division foes Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and the Rangers. According to ESPN, New Jersey has the third-hardest schedule for the second half of the season (.583) and still has 13 division games remaining before the season concludes in April.
However, the main concern for New Jersey will be injuries, as they continue to add to the list of scratches they have game in and game out. Defenseman Andy Greene returned to action on Tuesday against the Rangers, but the Devils are currently without Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique and Anton Volchenkov.
“Hopefully, if we get everyone back, just from where we are right now, if we get everyone healthy, you would expect us to get better,” Parise told The Record. “Hopefully, that day is going to come soon, but I don’t think it’s going to be in the near future.”
For now, the Devils will have to rely on players like Steve Bernier and Brad Mills to step up and fill in the gap left behind by injuries. However, Elias believes the team still has the talent to make a playoff push.
“Maybe we had a couple of questions marks in the middle, but guys are stepping in and doing the job," Elias said. "We have some centers playing wing and some wingers playing center.”
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