5 Games That Will Define the 2013 Devils Season
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The New Jersey Devils are a team of intrigue in this 2013 season. The past eight months have been a wild ride for the club and its fans. From putting together an unexpected run all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals to losing the face of the franchise Zach Parise in free agency to a lockout that almost killed a second season in nine years, there is much to consider as we start anew here in late January. It goes for all teams when I say we don't know exactly what to expect, but especially so in New Jersey.
In the NHL, a team's schedule typically does not matter much. It's not like football where there is debate over the difficulty of opponents or timeliness of the bye. Over 82 games, it is more about staying healthy and approaching every game with the same intensity. But in this shortened, 48-game schedule, we look for any way to measure a team. Every game and every matchup is magnified.
So let's look at five games that could define the Devils' 2013 season.
1. February 2nd: Devils at Penguins
With Sidney Crosby expected to be back at 100 percent after two years of concussion woes, the Penguins may be the team to beat in the NHL.
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On February 2nd, the Devils meet the Penguins for the first time this season at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. This is a big road test in the young season for New Jersey. With Sidney Crosby expected to be fully healthy, the Penguins have to be in the conversation as one of the favorites for the Stanley Cup.
The two teams split the season series last year, 3-3. How the Devils come out against Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, generally understood as the two best players in the league, may provide a hint towards the trajectory of their season.
2. February 5: Rangers at Devils
Adam Henrique burying the sudden death overtime goal in Game 6 last year against the Rangers, winning the series and propelling New Jersey to the Stanley Cup Finals.
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Just three days later, New Jersey hosts their cross-river rival the New York Rangers in a game that needs no introduction for hockey fans. The first time these two teams meet since their showdown in the Eastern Conference Finals last year, this one should feature playoff intensity from start to finish.
The Rangers must have this game circled on the calendar and will be out for revenge. The Devils will be looking to maintain the upper hand in this clash on their home ice.
3. February 23: Devils at Capitals
In recent years, the Washington Capitals have failed to produce the success their talent might indicate.
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In a rare schedule quirk courtesy of the 48-game season, New Jersey will play two straight games in Washington against the Capitals. Usually you would see a home and home, instead, the Devils have a nice little weekend in the nation's capital on their hands.
Patience in D.C. is running thin. The Caps are uber-talented but have failed to reach expectations over recent years, and a short season may be the strange circumstance that brings it all together. Alex Ovechkin is still a powerhouse in this league and is no fun to play against.
Adding intrigue is Washington's new head coach, former Devils assistant Adam Oates. He knows New Jersey's system well and how the Devils fair during this two-game stretch will be telling.
If they play well, coach Pete DeBoer may even let them see a monument or two.
4. March 5th: Lightning at Devils
An older group, the Devils must make it a point to stay fresh this year. Johan Hedberg, Martin Brodeur's backup, is no baby himself at 39.
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This season is not condensed the same way last year's NBA was, and amen for that. Hockey is just too physical to play three nights in a row. It helps that there will be no inter-conference play.
That being said, New Jersey's most tiring stretch of 2013 will take place in late February/early March.
It begins with an away game Feb. 28th in Winnipeg, which is still technically in the Eastern Conference (how the heck that is I do not know). Two days later they play in Buffalo, and on March 4th they play in Toronto.
The very next day, New Jersey will host a young Lightning team on withered legs. Their top priority will be containing Steven Stamkos, the most lethal sniper in the NHL. How they come out of the gate will indicate their stamina, and their focus level will reflect Pete DeBoer's influence.
5. April 27: Devils at Rangers
There is no love lost between these rivals.
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The schedule gurus knew what they were doing with this one. Devils and Rangers at the new and improved Madison Square Garden on the final day of the regular season. Will there be seeding, or possibly even playoff hopes on the line? Gary Bettman sure hopes so.
Both teams should have a playoff spot locked up by this point. With the offseason addition of Rick Nash, there are no excuses for this Rangers team. Anything less than kissing the Cup will be a failure. The Devils, on the other hand, will look to finish their season strong the way they did last year, momentum that carried over into the playoffs.