Playoffs may be reality for Devils

Photo from nhl.com

One-fourth of the way through the 2017-2018 hockey season, the most telling of this season is the Devils are in a competitive Metropolitan Division race. Who would’ve thought that?

We know they would be improved from last year’s 28-40-14 campaign since they couldn’t be any worse, but what we did not realize is they would be contending for a playoff spot or a divisional lead, but here they are heading to Thursday’s game against the Rangers.

The Devils are 19-9-5 with 43 points to show for it, and they are two points behind the Washington Capitals for first place, tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for second place, two points ahead of the Rangers, four points ahead of the Islanders, six points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers and eight points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Here’s what’s impressive about this team so far: They have been resilient when it comes to coming from behind to win in the end. Two games that stood out was on Nov. 12 when the Devils rallied from a 4-1 deficit to earn a 7-5 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center and Monday night when they rallied from a 3-1 deficit to celebrate a 5-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks at the Prudential Center.

To come back and win against two Stanley Cup contenders shows this Devils team is for real. They are not winning by fluke. This team is never out of it, and they certainly know how to make it interesting. That’s a mark of a winning team.

It certainly would make a fan or even a cynic believe that this Devils team could be on the verge of doing something special. We are not saying they are going to win the Stanley Cup since they are far from a finished product. What we are saying is they could end their five-year postseason absence this season with the trajectory they are in right now.

The Devils are a better team because of better talent provided by Devils general manager Ray Shero. Drafting Nico Hischier and signing Will Butcher have been a boon for them. Hischier has done a great job setting up the offense, and Butcher has been invaluable as a defenseman. Players like Jesper Bratt, Blake Coleman, Jimmy Hayes, Miles Wood, Brian Gibbons and Pavel Zacha have developed into productive players. The Devils have received the veteran leadership they needed out of Brian Boyle.

John Hynes deserves credit for the job he has done as the Devils coach. In his third year as the Devils head coach, the fruits of his labor are starting to show as the young players have blossomed into serviceable players with the potential of getting even better. He has been even-kneel, which is so important for a young team that needs leadership. He has done a good job of smoothing out of the Devils’ roller coaster rides of the past.

No question better talent has made him a better coach, which is the way it works in pro sports, but he deserves credit for leading the way, too.

Maybe fans are taking a wait-and-see approach, but the players have to be feeling good about their playoff chances. These guys know how to win, and that’s why they feel good that they can play in late April and maybe May. They won’t say it out loud publicly that they are a playoff team. They know better than to say it when it’s only December and the margin of error in the division is small.
But privately, they have to feel good about their chances of playing in the playoffs by the way they have played this season.

When a team knows how to win, that’s a quality attribute of being a playoff team. The Devils can only be confident as the season goes on. It will serve them well heading to the final months of the season where two points become valuable, especially in February when they play divisional games.

Another thing about this team is they have not had a long losing streaks that would affect the team. They only had a four-game losing streak in early November, and they responded by winning two in a row, including that comeback win against the Blackhawks. Last year, they lost 14 of 18 from December to Jan. 12, which doomed their season. They finished the season by losing 21 of 24 games last year.

Now we still have games to go, but this team has showed they can avoid long losing streaks so far. The true test will come in February. But right now, Devils fans should enjoy the moment since it’s been too long that this team was winning and entertaining.

From this seat, the Devils have the ingredients of being a playoff team this year.