If there's such thing as a team's Achilles heel, the Devils have a big one during afternoon games.
Since the start of the 2011-2012 season, the New Jersey Devils are 4-8-1 (including the playoffs) in games that begin at either noon or 1 p.m. EST. However, the Devils are 1-6-1 in their last eight "early" games.
What exactly is the issue?
The lockout forced many teams to condense their schedule and play many back-to-back games, but the Devils really haven't suffered from the lockout changes. Every early start for the Devils this year has come after a day off and most of those extra days didn't involve much travel.
In fact, the longest trip the Devils have made for a 1 p.m. start has been from Newark to Pittsburgh, which is roughly a five-hour commute. Their early game against the Ottawa Senators was at home after traveling from Long Island and the Devils had a noon start in Washington after playing at Verizon Center two days earlier.
Age is always considered an issue with the Devils because they have one of the oldest teams in the NHL with an average age of 30. That problem came to light on Sunday when goaltender Martin Brodeur was scratched 15 minutes before the game due to back soreness.
But if Devils fans compare this year's team to last year's, they can't really blame age either.
New Jersey has brought back most of the same team that made a run to the Stanley Cup final, but it replaced Petr Sykora (36) and Zach Parise (28) with Stefan Matteau (19) and Andrei Loktionov (22)—an average age difference of 12 years.
Believe it or not, it seems that the biggest issue with the Devils and day games is their routine.
Most NHL players usually have a certain routine to prepare themselves for a 7 p.m. start. This may involve a morning skate or eating a pregame meal, but many players agree that it's important for them to get a nap in.
New York Times writer Jonathan Abrams published an article last year about naps amongst players in the NBA. Although the piece focused on basketball, Abrams also touched on the sleep patterns of NHL players and Devils forward Patrik Elias shared his perspective on the matter:
I don't know if everyone else does it, but I do. Everybody wonders how you can just shut it off in the middle of the day, but it's routine, and you get used to it. You do want to relax and get strength.
Abrams also wrote that the travel plans of most NHL teams is tough and sleep doesn't come easy for most players. Noon or 1 p.m. starts almost completely eliminate that chance for sleep and change every player's routine, which seems to be making the Devils groggy on the ice so far this year.
Day games may be hurting the Devils, but it's a pattern that won't get a chance to hinder them much further in 2013. New Jersey only has one more early game scheduled this season and that matchup won't come until April 20th against the Florida Panthers at 1 p.m.
While it may seem ridiculous, this may be the reason why the Devils have been struggling in day games over the past two seasons.
Not all things are bad considering their run last season and their start this year, but there is something clearly wrong with New Jersey when it comes to playing early.
The season is almost halfway through, so the Devils are going to have to step up their game if they want to stay in the playoff hunt. Day games have certainly been a problem in 2013, but hopefully New Jersey will get back to a routine and start rolling again.
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