Tyler J. Altemose
If it's one thing you need to know about me, it's that I have to be right. It doesn't matter whether I'm actually right or not, I have to have the last word.
I also don't like eating my words. They taste bitter and gross, and not even Hershey's chocolate Kisses can get the taste out of my mouth.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because it seems as if Jacques Lemaire and the New Jersey Devils are trying to make me eat my words. Furthermore, they're trying to prove me wrong.
I hate that.
For those of you that have been living under a rock, the Devils have been on an absolute tear lately. So much so that we now have to beg the question: Can the Devils make the playoffs?
I would love to be able to say no and leave the article and at that, but alas—I'm subject to some sort of journalistic neutrality, so I have to consider the possibilities.
And why am I writing an article on the Devils? Well, for starters, because I can. But if you really want to get technical, I think it's an interesting scenario that's evolving here. And if that doesn't suit your fancy, consider this a "congratulations on your 600th win, Jacques Lemaire—I will write about your team now" article.
The Devils started this streak of theirs on 9 January. On 8 January they were 10-29-2 (22pts) and were dead last in the league. They are 11-1-2 since then, and now have 46 points. They have exactly 28 games left, which makes the 14-point game streak convenient (14*2=28). 11-1-2 gets you 24 out of 25 points. If the Devils perform exactly like they have in these past 14 games for the next 28, they should end the season with 94 points.
I don't care how much you hate the Devils (and I HATE the Devils), 94 points will get you into the postseason.
That said, we've come to an impasse where we have a battle of likelihoods. On one hand, you have the likelihood that the Devils go 22-2-4 in their last 28. While not impossible, it's highly unlikely.
However, on the other hand is the likelihood that the Devils go 10-29-2 through their first 41, then 11-1-2 through their next 14, effectively doubling their points. How many people thought the Devils could pull even this much off?
In the end, I think you have to think of the players involved here. Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Boston, Pittsburgh, and Washington are (to me) all locks to make the playoffs (yes, the Penguins will limp in—I figure that while Flyers fans are reading something they don’t want to see I might as well throw it to you all at once).
That takes up five of the eight spots, leaving only one of three for the Devils to theoretically grab onto. Alternatively, the New York Islanders and the Ottawa Senators are theoretically done. There is no need to worry about either one of those teams.
That leaves 8 teams fighting for the 6/7/8 spots: Montreal, New York (Rangers) (although I needn’t specify), Carolina, Atlanta, Buffalo, Florida, Toronto, and New Jersey. If you ask me, Montreal is the only one of these 8 teams that I would consider at this point to be “guaranteed” one of those spots.
So, who gets the other two? Furthermore, will one of those teams be the Devils?
Well, let me analyze. It’s apparent that each of these teams have their problems, and chances are more than likely that even if they do make the playoffs, they won’t be hanging around for long. Then again, I’m sure that was said about that team from the East that limped in after a SO win in game 82 last season.
Like every team in the Atlantic Division sans the Flyers (knock on wood), the Rangers are banged up. Their record of late has suggested this much. The Blueshirts are 7-9-2 in 2011 and are 0-4-1 in their past five. Will it keep them out of the playoffs again? Who knows? What I (and other Rangers fans) do know is that the Rangers undergo the same annual sky dive late in the season. They've been known to overcome it before, so I can't fully count them out, even with the injuries.
The Carolina Hurricanes look promising. They’ve got great leadership in Eric Staal, rookie sensation Jeff Skinner is a candidate (and likely favorite) for the Calder Trophy, and Cam Ward has been performing well in net. But this is a team that I’ve seen rise and fall throughout the season. Sitting in 8th place in the East looks fine and dandy now, but if this team gets caught in the final stretch of the season in an ebb and not a flow, look for them to be on the outside looking in.
What can I say about the Atlanta Blackhawks Thrashers? They made quite a number of adjustments in the offseason, and until very recently looked like they could be contenders. In fact, just about two or so weeks ago I specifically remember calling them a dark horse in the East (after I gave up on the Ottawa Senators). Their D was looking strong (holy Byfuglien!), and Pavelec was looking great in net. Then things took a turn for the worse. The Thrashers are just 2-5-3 in their past 10 games, and they now sit in 9th place in the East. I’m unsure of how convinced I am that this team can make it. Late-season plummets are pretty difficult to come back from, and it’s been three weeks since Atlanta has been able to get on their feet.
Buffalo is on a tear. In 2011, the Sabres are 11-4-1 and have experienced a very Devil-like turnaround. This latest 11-4-1 streak is equal to a .719 points percentage. Spread over their final 29 games, the Sabres are looking at a projected 78 points. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s too little too late in Buffalo.
Florida has been intriguing me all season. Here is a team that is allegedly “rebuilding”, yet they find themselves only six points out of playoff positioning. That said, they’re only 5-4-5 in the past month. I think mediocrity is going to get the best of this team once again, and with the recent trade the team made, it looks like things won’t be getting much better. [Hey! Tallon! If Vokoun is in a contract year, perhaps you shouldn’t go trading away arguably your best remaining goaltending prospects. And now Markstrom is injured. Way to go.] In any case, here’s to next season.
Toronto seems to have more internal issues than issues with winning. Jonas Gustafsson was underperforming in net, was demoted, and now apparently has a heart issue. Beauchemin is gone, and in comes (an unproven) Joffrey Lupul (no offense, big guy). Kaberle Trade Rumor Central is up and running once again, and even Kris Versteeg looks like he may be on the way out. In the end, it doesn’t seem like anyone is really safe, and that can make it difficult to focus on the game. I know they’re only 7 points out of playoff positioning at this point, but I can’t see things working out in Toronto’s favor.
So where does that leave the Devils? Well, I certainly can’t say that it leaves them out of the playoff mix entirely. Out of the “limbo” teams, I can (at this point) consider the Sabres, Panthers, and Maple Leafs out of it. That leaves two spots between the Rangers, Hurricanes, Thrashers, and Devils (if the Devils can keep it up).
The odds are against them, but I’ve seen crazier things happen in the NHL.