Obviously, it’s still early in the season and the Devils are for the moment cruising along fine with a 9-4-1 record after getting three of a possible six points on their Western Canada swing, although they returned home and laid a predictable dud against the Blues last night. Amazingly enough, their 9-2 start to the season was the best opening eleven games in team history. However, the last two home games against the Oilers and Panthers in this brief homestand are important if the Devils want to keep their cushion at least through Thanksgiving before facing another challenging road trip through Chicago, Toronto, Winnipeg and Minnesota starting this Sunday. While I’m loathe to say these two games are must-win, at some point the Devils are going to have to establish a home-ice advantage to maintain their good standing (where they’re just 4-3, compared to 5-1-1 on the road so far), and if you’re going to have a good home-ice advantage, you need to beat bad and struggling teams in Newark.
Granted, the Devils failed miserably in Edmonton dropping a 6-3 decision last week, but despite that game the Oilers are still off to a subpar start to the season while the Panthers are a rudderless ship in general. Yes, the Devils have had a couple of key forwards missing during this stretch but should get one of their key cogs back tomorrow night when Kyle Palmieri is set to return from his second IR stint of the year. Palmieri’s absence was truly felt last night against the Blues where a power play that was potent early in the season was a dud without his shooting threat. Perhaps to a degree the power play was also rusty, since they didn’t exactly get the benefit of the refs’ whistles in Western Canada (just three power play attempts to show for three games).
Also during this stretch John Hynes continues to prod his younger players, scratching Damon Severson last night (and having him skate with the fourth pairing in practice today) while Pavel Zacha may be the next underperforming younger player to see pine after being an extra forward in practice today. I can be down on Severson at times but hardly think he’s been bad enough to warrant two straight benchings. Especially when the alternatives are Ben Lovejoy and Mirco Mueller – although granted Lovejoy was fine in Calgary while Mueller had been improving before taking a step back last night. Even Will Butcher hasn’t exactly been great defensively though he’s a neccesity for the power play – when we actually receive power plays. I do think sitting a game for Zacha is warranted although the continued blind loyalty to keeping Jimmy Hayes in the lineup is questionable at best.
Our forward lines have been compromised by both Palmieri’s absence and the sidelining of Marcus Johansson due to a concussion. Not to mention the lines also get juggled further when Hynes decides to go with the 7-11 lineup (seven d-men, eleven forwards) because we continue to insist on trying to rotate eight guys. Yet the offense hasn’t completely shut down aside from last night, scoring nine goals in three games on the Canada swing. It’s still been the defense and goaltending that’s been the bigger issues for the team, although Cory Schneider did play a lot better last night only allowing two goals despite facing a shooting gallery – particularly in the third when the Devils collectively hit tilt and suffered the post-trip letdown. Still, there were times in Canada when both Cory and Keith Kinkaid struggled. You can possibly deal with goaltending and defensive issues if the offense is going to continue to put up 3-4 goals a game but I’m not yet convinced we keep up the sizzling offense we’ve shown the first month of the season.
Haven’t felt much like writing lately so I’m not going to give much of a recap of the last four games, then again as with all the Western road trips my viewing was sporadic at best. Wednesday I did watch the last several minutes of the 2-0 shutout in Vancouver but spent most of the night watching Game 7 of the World Series. Friday I napped and missed the first two periods of the game in Edmonton, figuring for some reason the game started at 10 or 10:30 instead of 9, but it was just as well given the game got away from the Devils by then. I did watch Sunday’s game in Calgary and was at last night’s game sitting in a mostly family and friends crowd, which was a bit inevitable given three November home games in five days. I’ll miss tomorrow’s game but I will be at Saturday’s game against the Panthers. In a best case we’ve won two in a row and gotten Palm back before the next big road trip. Further slipping up this week could be problematic though.