Being a Devils fan over the past decade has been a dark experience, as anyone who has been a fan during that period knows all too well. Defeats came in torrents, while victories usually came in singles and doubles. The team was often painful to watch and many times fell short of expectations by a wide margin. So something like what happened the last two weeks with the Devils takes a little getting used to these times. What exactly happened? Well, the Devils have been upending teams on the scoreboard and in the stats with some regularity, and they’ve also rattled off some hard-hitting, hard-hitting wins, including over mighty defending champions Colorado last Friday.
The Devils have now won six of seven, and with the exception of the 50/50 game they played against the aforementioned defensemen, they’ve won most of them by getting on the scoreboard while pretty much doubling up their opponents on the scoreboard. number of shots and expected goals. Last night’s game vs Columbus Blue Jackets7-1 victory on the scoreboard, was one of the most thorough reflections ever recorded in the analytics era. The Devils had 24 high-danger chances (an insane number in itself) and Columbus mustered just ONE going the other way (for a natural statistical trick). Meanwhile Miles Wood scored off rookie David Jirichek for the Devils’ seventh goal.the game essentially devolved into this GIF:
The Devils don’t have any notable conflicts with the Blue Jackets (except maybe Johnny Gaudreau’s decision to go there after being repeatedly linked to New Jersey), but they crushed Columbus like John Wick, and the Blue Jackets “They just killed their dog. And they did it on the heels of the aforementioned White Bones defensive affair with the Avalanche. Bad teams don’t usually win six of seven, and they certainly don’t often do it in the dominant fashion the Devils have over the past two weeks. Old feelings are stirring in New Jersey that even the sharp 2017-18 team couldn’t contain.
Even with all of that, it’s hard to shake the feeling of waiting for another shoe to drop that has been so thoroughly ingrained in the fan base over so many seasons. The Devils are now in a position I haven’t had much experience with in the nearly ten years I’ve been writing for this particular blog: they’re dominating opponents and the subject of a lot of buzz around the NHL. The time periods during which you could describe watching Devils as entertaining or even bordering on hilarious have been very limited in the last decade. Taylor Hall’s MVP year and a few other limited stretches early in the season are pretty much the extent of the excitement on the ice. However, the Devils have been an absolute joy to watch over the last two weeks.
The funny thing is that after two games there was an overwhelming feeling of “here we go again” and a feeling that the team could be fatally flawed, just like last season. I already fired the coach 14 days ago on this site. Many, many others shared those sentiments as chants of “Lindy’s Fire” echoed through the home opener crowd. When you’ve suffered as badly as the Devils have over the past ten seasons, it doesn’t take much to turn cautious optimism into disgust and despondency. The team may have done good things, but people have obviously reached their “we did good things” limit when you go 5-2 to bad teams after a 63 point season.
However, seven games later, the Devils are 6-3 and have just delivered a historic dismantling of a division rival right after holding the champs to 23 shots (despite having to score six penalty) in a 1-0 win that felt like a statement. It really feels like there’s something about the team that was a little different before, even knowing the Devils started 6-3-2 and 7-3-2 the last two seasons, respectively, and then slumped in standings. But overcoming the great aura of doom that the Devils have built up since the summer of 2012 is difficult.
It’s hard not to be shocked by the level of hockey we’ve been seeing from the Devils lately, but I’d be lying if I said I knew exactly what to make of the results that have been produced over the past two weeks. Objectively, with a dynamic offense and stifling defense, they look formidable at the moment. They are outscoring their opponents in major numbers on a nightly basis and those performances are actually starting to show on the scoreboard, but the Devils have been a train wreck for so long that confidence will take some time to regain itself.
Still, the fact that the Devils are turning heads nationally and even starting to melt the frozen hearts of some of their most jaded fans is a testament to just how good they are. I’m thrilled with what they’re doing on the ice, and the leap everyone has been waiting for in New Jersey for years seems to be potentially be upon us. For now, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach. As if trust, but check. The Devils look great right now, but I need to see a team that can play winning hockey for months, not weeks. Give me a team that won’t be in a corkscrew until Thanksgiving and I’ll feel a lot more confident about the prospects. It’s a great first step, but it’s a long season, and the last iteration of this team lost 50 of 70 games to end the campaign.
I’m not ready push in the old chips just for now, that’s what I’m saying. The Devils made me entertain that thought for the first time in a long time, and that’s saying a lot considering how bad the atmosphere was two weeks ago.