The New Jersey Devils won back-to-back games on the road to start the 2014-15 season for the first time in team history. Last year, it wasn’t until their eighth game that the Devils got a win. They look like an entirely different team, but were one of the least active in free agency this offseason. So, why the early success for New Jersey?
First and foremost, the Devils have consistency in goal that they lacked last year. It was never clear whether veteran Martin Brodeur or Cory Schneider was “the guy” between the pipes, with each playing for stretches here and there, and neither contributing much to the team.
Schneider was the better goaltender, with one of the best goals-against averages in the league, but the team gave him no offensive support. They’d score four goals in front of Brodeur, but the 42-year-old would allow five, and the Devils would lose. Having a consistent #1 guy in Schneider is setting the tone for this team in 2014.
The offensive explosion of the first two games is unlike any that the Devils put together over the last two seasons. They scored 11 goals in five periods to start this season; last year, it took them five games to score 11 goals.
Newcomer Mike Cammalleri leads the team with three goals so far, but eight other players have a goal in the first two games. This kind of balanced attack is what made the Devils successful in the early 2000s. They were a team without one superstar, but with a lot of players getting points on the score sheet every night.
This offseason, unlike the last two, the Devils did not lose a superstar – with the exception of Brodeur, who was not offered a contract after becoming a free agent in July.
Two years ago, it was Zach Parise who left New Jersey to head home to the Minnesota Wild. A huge blow to the team, the pressure then fell onto the shoulders of Ilya Kovalchuk and 30-goal scorer David Clarkson. Neither of them stepped up in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, though. In that offseason, Kovalchuk returned to the KHL and Clarkson left for his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Devils had most of their team return this year. Jaromír Jágr and Patrik Eliáš, while both older, were the two top scorers last season and are still in New Jersey. Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, and Michael Ryder, along with top-scoring defensemen Andy Greene and Marek Židlický, are also back, giving the Devils a season-to-season consistency they haven’t had since before the 2012 playoff run.
Despite missing the playoffs the last two seasons, this is going to be a fierce New Jersey team. With an offense this capable and a strong, young defense in front of the clear number one goalie, the Devils will compete all year in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.