Devils: Contenders or Pretenders?

Doug GausepohlCorrespondent INovember 8, 2009

SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 10: Head Coach Jacques Lemaire of the New Jersey Devils watches action during the third period of the game against the Florida Panthers on October 10, 2009 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The Devils defeated the Panthers 3-2.  (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

While the Devils were a second away from a 0-3 start to the season, Travis Zajac changed the momentum of things. 

The Devils were down 3-2 in Tampa Bay on Thursday, Oct. 8 in the closing seconds, as a shot whiffed on by Jamie Langenbrunner trickled right in front of Zajac by the crease, who slammed it into the net with barely a second left on the clock. 

The Devils would win in the shootout, gaining their first win of the season, while avoiding an 0-3 start that very well could have turned into a landslide that could have had New Jersey joining the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Carolina Hurricanes at this very moment. 

Instead, the Devils won that game. As a matter of fact, they've won a lot of games lately. Since Oct. 8, in 13 games, they've gone 11-2. Eight of those wins have come on the road, and they haven't lost on the road a single time this season. 

Are these Devils, the same team looked upon as a borderline playoff squad as the season began, shaping themselves into a formidable contender?

Or is this 11 out of 13 stretch just an abberation?

To find the answer to that, you just need to look at one of the stats I already gave you.

8-0. The Devils have played eight games on the road, and have come out victorious in every single one—in buildings like MSG, Verizon Center, Mellon Arena, and Scotiabank last night. These aren't easy places to play, folks. 

There's a certain toughness to these Devs, which is extraordinary considering there are five rookies getting a significant amount of playing time right now.

You have to give a lot of credit to coach Jacques Lemaire, who absolutely has to be an early (very early) candidate for Coach of the Year. He has his players as well positioned as any team in the NHL. If you don't believe me, ask Chico! He said it last night as well.

You must also give credit to GM Lou Lamoriello. He finds kids that can get the job done with a high hockey IQ, there's no doubt about that. How many times can you say a kid like Mark Fraser or Bergfors has looked lost this season? Not too many.

Granted, time is still of the essence. The Devils still have 67 games to play, and they play in the toughest division in the NHL, hands down (no offense to any other divisions, but look at the standings and then get back to me). The projected Cup champion Flyers (according to THN) are in our division. The defending Cup champion Penguins are in our division. A cakewalk it is not! 

And as nice as it is to have the Devils undefeated on the road, they're not going 41-0 on road ice; it just isn't happening, as much as we'd all love it too.

The best start on the road by any team was the 1952 Red Wings, and they only went 15 games (granted, some of those games were ties). So if the Devils go 11-0 or 12-0 on the road without the benefit of ties, is that a bigger feat than what the 1952 Wings did? Interesting question.

But these Devils; they are not pretenders. They're giving up a tad over two goals a game, good enough for second in the league only behind Colorado, and they don't give up power plays (third in the league).

As long as they have Martin Brodeur between the pipes, Lemaire behind the bench, and Lamoriello in the press box, this team will be a force to be reckoned with. 

My vote: contenders.