The January 2010 Month in Review will be posted later this evening, but first let's take a look ahead at what is to come. After a month of inconsistent play (call it a slump, call it what you will), the New Jersey Devils (35-17-2) are amazingly and surprisingly still in first place in the Atlantic Division. Even more amazingly surprising is that it wasn't even their worst January in the last 5 seasons in terms of points earned. Further proof of why the games in October, November, and December does matter in the regular season.
Nevertheless, this February will be shortened due to the 2010 Winter Olympics, leaving the Devils with little time to get out of their recent struggles and to get back to winning. The Devils have 7 games in February as opposed to last season's 12. Oddly enough, the difference between the two seasons is that all 5 fewer games were home games. Therefore, those were moved (sprinkled?) across October, December, January, and March. Regardless, the Devils have 3 home games and 4 away games, including two back-to-back home-and-away sets (2/5 vs. Toronto, 2/6 at Rangers; 2/12 vs. Nashville, 2/13 at Carolina).
According to this strength of schedule analysis at On the Forecheck, the Devils have the easiest remaining season schedule on paper (h/t: ILWT user Space Weed). This month provides a good example as to why. There are two games against Toronto, a game against the Rangers who are currently in the big Eastern Conference mess between 6th and 13th, two games against the Philadelphia Flyers who are the top of the mess for now, a game against Nashville, and a game against Carolina. The Flyers and Predators are currently the only playoff-eligible opponents, but by the time they come to play New Jersey, it's possible they may slip downward.
Recent history has shown February to be good to New Jersey. OK, 2003-04 definitely wasn't, but the rest are very good. Even with the 2006 Winter Olympics cutting in, the Devils came out of the truncated month with most of the points. Of course, the Devils haven't gone into February with slumps or terribly inconsistent play in the last four seasons. That, along with the fact that four of the Devils opponents could make the playoffs and the other three can play spoiler, means it will not be an easy month for New Jersey.
Still, I think the Devils can and should make the most of these matchups and go into the break with a winning February record. No disrespect to the opponents, but they aren't San Jose or Pittsburgh, who both are opponents in March. The games on paper are winnable and with three of them going against the bottom feeders of the East, one may justifably think the Devils should win those games. Either way, I think the goal for this month really should be to pull out at least 4 wins, not only effectively ending any slump, but give the team confidence going into the break and beyond. I think it can be done. What do you think the Devils should be able to accomplish in the next 7 games?