The New Jersey Devils’ road trip to the west coast was anything but a vacation. The team managed to steal three points in the three games they played. Still, the bigger story continues to be their lack of goal scoring and the injury bug.
West Coast Woes
Over the three games, the Devils only scored four goals. They were shut out by a bad Anaheim Ducks team. They scored two against both a below-average LA Kings team and a decent San Jose Sharks team. The fact that this team heads back to the Garden State with not only one point, but three is a victory in its own.
In Tuesday’s nightmare of a game against the Ducks, the Devils lost star defenseman, Dougie Hamilton to a lower-body injury. Hamilton did skate before Saturday’s game but remained out of the lineup. In hockey, there’s no telling how long a player is going to be out for. Every update is day to day, or “he’s close,” but him skating yesterday is a promising sign that he’ll return to the lineup this week.
Ten games in, the New Jersey Devils are on pace to finish with 96 points this year. However, with Hughes out for the next month and there being no timetable on Hamilton, this team will need their goal stoppers and goal scorers to play the best hockey of their careers if they want to sniff that point total.
All-Star caliber goaltending
For the first time in a long time, the Devils have one of the better goaltending tandems in the league. With Mackenzie Blackwood having made his return on Friday and Jonathan Bernier already putting up quality 1B goalie numbers, it seems like the Devils have finally solved their goalie room, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Currently, the Devils rank seventh worst in goals per game, averaging just 2.5 per contest, and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to improve anytime soon. If the Devils are going to survive without Hughes for the next month, they will need some great goaltending from the duo unless they can learn how to put the puck in the net.
Speaking of lack of goalscoring, the Devils have tons of it all over their roster. Another week has gone by, and Tomas Tatar and Yegor Sharangovich are still scoreless through ten games. Two guys I predicted to have big years for the Devils have been invisible. The Devils won’t continue winning games if Tatar and Sharangovich don’t pick it up. The goaltending isn’t going to be lights out every game, and if Hamilton is out for an extended stretch, they’re going to get into some higher scoring matches, and will need a diverse box score. As for someone who has lived up to my pre-season predictions, Pavel Zacha has been their best player. He leads the team in goals with five and is tied for the most points on the club with seven.
The next stretch of games will give an early indication if the Devils are prepared to push for a playoff spot this year. Three of the four teams they play this week were playoffs teams last year, and the other is the Rangers, who owned the Devils last year. On Tuesday, the Devils play a smoking hot Panthers team that can score more goals than anyone. Followed by a date with the Islanders, then Bruins and Rangers on a back-to-back next weekend. If the Devils can manage to go .500 over these two games, Devils fans should be ecstatic.
“Photo: Jae C. Hong AP”