New Jersey recorded at least a point in four of the last five games as they went 3-1-1 in the past week. Points do them well, but they still have to a lot of work ahead of them this season.
The Devils have three more games before they hit the halfway mark in the 2013-14 season, but they’re hovering in the middle of the Metropolitan Divison. They reached as high as third in the division prior to Monday’s loss to the Blackhawks; despite losing in Chicago, they’re still just one point behind both the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers, and five behind the Washington Capitals.
New Jersey beat Washington last weekend, which bodes well, but the Devils upcoming games against the Columbus Blue Jackets – who sit one point behind the Devils in the division – the New York Islanders, and the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins will set the tone for the second half of the season.
The Devils started their point streak by crushing the Ottawa Senators, 5-2, at the Prudential Center. Jaromir Jagr surpassed Steve Yzerman on the NHL’s all-time goals list as he scored his 693rd career goal; it was his 122nd game-winning goal, too, which powered him past Gordie Howe for the most in league history.
Some other positives from the win over the Senators are that Stephen Gionta scored his first goal of the season (shorthanded), in his first game back after missing 11 with a right ankle sprain. Rookie forward Reid Boucher tallied his first career goal and fellow rookie defenseman Eric Gelinas recorded a goal and an assist.
However, Damien Brunner, who scored a goal in the win over the Senators, suffered an awkward knee-on-knee hit by Mark Fistric in the next game against the Anaheim Ducks and it looks like he won’t be returning for at least four weeks. The timing of his injury is brutal – both for him and the Devils as a whole – as he’d racked up four goals, including a game-winner, and an assist in his last four games (plus just over four minutes against Anaheim).
Defenseman Andy Greene tied the game against the Ducks with 5:02 left in the game, then went on to record two assists and the gamewinning overtime goal over the Capitals the next night, finishing last week with two goals and three assists. His 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) this season make him the Devils third-leading point scorer behind Jagr (33 points on 13 goals and 20 assists) and Patrik Elias (24 points on seven goals and 17 assists). Greene’s point tally puts him in 18th in the league among defensemen, too.
Against the Caps, another defensemen kicked off the scoring for the Devils as Marek Zidlicky notched his fourth goal of the season. The Devils allowed the Caps to score three consecutive goals, though, digging quite the hole for themselves. Jagr continued his offensive tear in the second period as he scored his 694th career goal – tying Mark Messier for seventh all-time – then Zidlicky scored his second goal of the game to pull the Devils within one goal. And then, Greene’s heroics.
Hooked On Hockey Magazine’s research editor, Prashanth Iyer, wrote a solid piece on Jagr’s 2013-14 campaign, and one of the salient take-aways is:
Jagr has factored in on a whopping 36.7% of all the Devils’ goals. Let that number sink in. That is the 5th highest percentage in the NHL, trailing only Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, John Tavares of the New York Islanders and Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.
But while Iyer’s numerical analysis is spot-on and intriguing, his piece doesn’t factor in the Devils close calls that easily could have gone their way, but didn’t.
I could go on more than I have already in previous weeks about that, but let me just leave it with my agreement with the fact that numbers don’t lie. Being 23rd in the league in scoring is rotten, and surely it would be most excellent if they could find a way to score more consistently across the board. It’s neat that Greene is the third highest point-scorer on the team but what that really means is that the forwards aren’t scoring enough.
All that being said, though, the Devils aren’t in nearly as bad shape as Iyer and others I’ve talked to seem to think.
Here’s another number that doesn’t lie: the Devils are only four points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs (41) in the Wild Card standings, with the Rangers being the only team between them.
And, we all know that the Devils have the Rangers’ number this year – New Jersey is 3-0 and has outscored New York 11-5–so let’s not pretend like my preseason prediction of the Devils making the playoffs is so far out of reach.
Plus: Two pluses this week, because I said so. Jagr has been on a tear lately, with 11 points in his last eight games. That includes moving up to seventh on the NHL’s all-time scoring list, as I mentioned above. Second plus: both Bryce Salvador and Ryane Clowe traveled with the team to D.C. and to Chicago. With the injury to Brunner, getting Clowe back could prove to be vital for the Devils offense.
Minus: Brunner being out for the next four weeks, just on the heels of heating up his offensive production, comes at a time when the Devils need as much scoring as possible. Terrible news.