It’s debatable that the New Jersey Devils were a normal shootout record away from making the playoffs in 2013-14, but the bottom line is that they were pretty close.
With a 35-29-18 record (including a stunning 0-12 mark in the shootout), the Devils finished with 88 standings points, leaving them tied for 10th in the East (although they would have taken the tiebreaker from Ottawa if that mattered). The Devils finished five points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings for wild card spots.
That’s not to say that the Devils were a great team with awful luck. Instead, it might be better to describe them as a one-dimensional team that lacked the goaltending needed to make their defensive strengths pay off. New Jersey tied Calgary for the third-fewest shots per game (26.8) while limiting opponents to an NHL-low 25.5 per contest, so chances rarely happened for either side during their games.
While that doesn’t exactly sound fun, it could prove to be an effective formula if Cory Schneider backs up that mammoth extension he received this offseason and the team improves on offense.
It’s tough to imagine Jaromir Jagr replicating his astounding work from 2013-14, but the Devils are likely banking on improvements from within (maybe at least a sign of life from Ryane Clowe?) and nice outputs from Mike Cammalleri and injury-ravaged former star Martin Havlat. There are quite a few ifs at work for the offense – example: will Adam Henrique make another step in the right direction? – but it’s conceivable that things might be a little better next season.
Unfortunately, their defense doesn’t look as stout now that sorely underrated defenseman Mark Fayne is a member of the Edmonton Oilers. The Devils tend to make the most of their defensive groups, so don’t be surprised if they’re still stingy.
In broader terms, the Devils seem like they’ll make their living being “pesky,” at least if Schneider can carry a workload that will conjure up comparisons to departed icon Martin Brodeur. Much has been – fairly – made about the struggles Brodeur faced the last few seasons, yet if things don’t go well, the pressure could really start to wear on Schneider.
(Some might even call it a “be careful what you wish for” moment for a guy who’s faced a lot of roadblocks to becoming the No. 1 goalie.)
This team seems just as likely to be a bubble team as it could be a cellar dweller, but here’s one near-certainty: the Devils will probably have a better shootout record in 2014-15.