As the the rest of the the NHL starts to talk about playoff races, the New Jersey Devils are beginning to show signs of life.
While it’s likely far too late in the season to make a playoff run, seeing the Devils playing solid hockey is great as a fan. However, the team is still leaps and bounds behind the elite teams in the league such as the Canucks, or divisional foe, Flyers.
Jacques Lemaire might be the one to thank for the recent improvement in play. Since Lemaire took over the coaching position 12 games ago, the Devils have a record of 4-7-1. However, the Devils have points in four consecutive games (3-0-1) for the first time all season. The last time the Devils earned at least one point in even three consecutive games was April 2nd through 6th, 2010.
The Devils opened the season 3-8-1 under John MacLean, but were unable to earn points in consecutive games. They earned points in consecutive games only twice under MacLean, and never in more than two games in a row.
Under Lemaire, the Devils have picked up their physical play over the past week. Their forecheck has been remarkably better than at the start of the season. No longer are the Devils dumping the puck into the offensive zone and almost instantly turning to play defense. The forwards are now chasing into the corner to battle for the puck. The Devils don’t look scared on the forecheck. They appear willing to attempt a check to free the puck off of a defenders stick in the offensive zone.
Defense, Jacques Lemaire’s specialty, has come back to the spotlight for the Devils. In recent games it has become expected to hear the announcers say, “Kovalchuk making a defensive play on the puck.” Under MacLean’s leadership Kovalchuk was rarely, if ever, mentioned in the defensive game… unless it was mention of how his man got an open look or good scoring change.
The Devils, as expected under Lemaire, have returned to a ‘trap’ style game. Letting the opposition come into a congested neutral zone leaving no option but to dump the puck in and race to the corners. The Devils are also making their opponents take shots from farther out and from tougher angles.
As the Devils look towards the back half of the season, they have begun to show what they have been capable of all season: winning. The team has been competitive, even against some of the best teams that the NHL has to offer.
With nowhere to go but up, the Devils are making the proper steps to move out of last in the NHL standings.