There is no doubt that the New Jersey Devils have taken huge strides this season.
That may actually be an understatement. As of this writing (Tuesday, January 3), the Devils are second in the Metropolitan Division and sixth in the league with a 23-11-3 record for 49 points through 37 games.
The team’s youngsters have stepped up, the club has improved their defensive play, and they are a hard team to play against on a nightly basis. When you put all of these things together, it is easy to see why the Devils have had a lot of success up to this point.
With all of that said, to the naked eye, at least, there is still a scenario where this team does not make the Stanley Cup playoffs this season. Yes, they have one of the best records in their division, conference, and league, but there are still certain things about this team that could end up holding them back.
For starters, this team is very top-heavy. The Devils rely too much on the likes of Jack Hughes (42 points), Jesper Bratt (37 points), and Nico Hischier to produce consistently.
While that certainly worked during the long winning streak back in October and November, it cannot be sustained for the rest of the season. With that said, can the team really turn to other players such as Tomas Tatar (22 points), Dawson Mercer (21 points), Yegor Sharangovich (17 points), and Erik Haula (16 points) to produce at a much higher level than they are now?
Another issue that could end up hurting them down the line is their goaltending. Yes, Vitek Vanecek (13-5-0-2 with a 2.38 goals-against average, a .911 save percentage, and two shutouts) has been outstanding this season, but can he keep up his fine play for the duration of the season?
What about backup goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood? Blackwood has not been great this season as he is 5-3-0-1 with a 3.05 goals-against average and a .888 save percentage, and he also missed six weeks this season with a knee injury.
Lastly, the division they play in is unbelievably competitive. The Washington Capitals are just two points behind the Devils, while the likes of the New York Rangers (46 points), Pittsburgh Penguins (44 points), and New York Islanders (44 points) are all within striking distance.
With so much hockey still left to be played, there is a chance that despite their unbelievably strong start, the Devils could find themselves on the outside looking in come April.