First, it was Patrik Elias, again. Then, it was Jacob Josefson. Then Mike Cammalleri on New Years Eve, and then Tuomo Ruutu and John Moore a week later. Jiri Tlusty joined them after 48 hours. Each of these players found his name added to the Devils’ Injured Reserve list in the few weeks between December 20 and January 9, forcing head coach John Hynes to call up Reid Boucher, Joseph Blandisi, Paul Thompson, Jim O’Brien and Marc-Andre Gragnani.
The Devils did not, by any accounts, fare poorly despite the trail of blows to their roster, and Ruutu, Moore, Josefson and Cammalleri have since returned to the lineup. They split a four game road trip, playing solid games in their victories against Arizona and Minnesota, where they won 2-1 and 2-0, respectively, but were absolutely blown out in losses to St. Louis and Colorado. Ruutu, though, has been essentially quiet in his return to the lineup, and in Cammalleri’s first game back after missing eight, he set up Lee Stempniak for his 22nd assist of the season in a 4-2 victory over the Flames, continuing his stellar production this season. Moore has continued to play solid defensive hockey, but has cooled down offensively since his return from injury. Josefson, in his return to lineup last night, scored the game-winning goal in a 3-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
These returns don’t necessarily signal the end of the Devils’ woes, though. On January 13, the surprising offensive breakout forward Bobby Farnham was suspended for four games because of a late hit on the Blues’ Dmitrij Jaskin. And, a few days later, defenseman Jon Merrill was placed on the IR with an upper body injury. Merrill’s game had substantially improved in the new year, and he was playing solid hockey both offensively and defensively prior to his injury.
In a tight Metropolitan division race, every point counts for the Devils, as they are now over halfway through the season. They are, at the time of writing, six games above a .500 record, boasting an impressive 25-19-5 record and sitting in eighth place. Their biggest divisional competition continues to be the two other teams in the Tri-State Area, the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders. Their last game before the All-Star breaks sees them matching up against another divisional rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and they will take on the Rangers on the 2nd and 8th of February. They will host the Islanders on the 19th of February, and then the Rangers again on the 23rd. All of these match-ups are, essentially, must-wins for the Devils if they want to find themselves in a post-season position when April rolls around.
In the meantime, they will continue to look to core players for leadership and for production. Reid Boucher and Joseph Blandisi have also been solid call-ups, with a couple of goals and assists each.Kyle Palmieri, the New Jersey native, has had a breakout season thus far, scoring a career-high 20 goals just over halfway into the season. All-Star goaltender Cory Schneider is continuing to steal games for the Devils. The victory against the Flames marked a milestone for him — it was his 20th win of the season, earning him back-to-back 20 win seasons for the first time in his NHL career. If the second half of the season looks anything like the first, the Devils’ Cinderella season may just land them a spot among the top eight in the Eastern Conference.