The New Jersey Devils were one of those teams that going into this season most of the hockey world felt were going to be in the NHL Draft lottery. However, someone forget to tell New Jersey that as they currently hold the second wild card spot in the playoff race in the East.
There was no doubt New Jersey had a world class goalie and a real good group of young blue liners heading into the 2015-16 campaign. But one could make a strong argument that no NHL organization had a weaker group of forwards on their roster heading into this season. They have found a way to be relevant in the first half of the season.
First Half of the Season
New Jersey is fourth in the league in goals allowed per game at 2.31. This is the result of the strong goaltending of Cory Schneider combined with strong team defense and solid special teams (seventh in all three categories) and New Jersey finds itself in the playoff race. These stats are critical to New Jersey’s success as they are third from the bottom in goals scored per game at 2.21.
Make no mistake this team begins and ends with Cory Schneider. Schneider has a minuscule 2.12 goals against average and a solid .926 save percentage in 35 starts. The other key stat for New Jersey is they have been very good in one goal games. So far this year the Devils are 13-7-5 in one-goal games. Up front, New Jersey has received two big surprises as Kyle Palmieri and Lee Stempniak are well on their way to having career years..
Palmieri, who grew up in Montvale, New Jersey already has 17 goals and is second in scoring for the Devils. Stempniak is having one of his best seasons ever as he is third in team scoring. The fact these two players are having such big seasons is a life saver for the Devils because almost all of their scoring has come from five players in Mike Cammalleri, Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, Palmieri and Stempniak,. Defenseman Damon Severson is sixth on the team in points with 11 points.
Where Does New Jersey Go From Here?
Can New Jersey be part of the playoff race in the East to the very end of the season? There is some skepticism as to if the Devils will still be standing in the final week of the season. While there is no doubt this team plays hard every night, is well coached and will be in most games in the second half of the season due to the play of Schneider, their lack of scoring will be their undoing. This past week was a prime example of this fact. The Devils lost in regulation to the Red Wings, 1-0 and the Canadiens, 2-1. It’s very hard to win in this league by averaging barely over two goals a night.
Finally another important point is most of the teams around the Devils in the East regarding the playoff race will be trying to improve their squads for the stretch run. The Devils are an organization that need more talent on the main roster but their pipeline needs a ton of work.
HockeysFuture.com ranked the Devils farm system last, 30th overall in their spring rankings last year before the 2015 draft. While New Jersey had the sixth overall pick to select Pavel Zacha but they only had five draft picks in 2015.
New general manager Ray Shero has to keep these factors in mind as he heads towards the February 29th NHL trade deadline. As much as Shero would like to see his squad make the playoffs it cannot come at the cost of any of the few precious pieces he has in the cupboard. If New Jersey makes a trade for a player who can help them make the playoffs this season, that same player must be part of the solution long term as well. That is going to be a difficult task for Shero to pull off. Expect the Devils to be solid in the second half but come up short in terms of the playoffs. That might be for the best for them as a club as this franchise desperately needs to have top ten pick in this years draft.