A quick look at the standings will show that the Devils are still in the NHL's basement. However, for the first time in a while, ESPN's Pierre LeBrun moved the Devils to 29th overall in the Power Rankings (from 30th). I thought to myself, if LeBrun thinks the Devils are the 29th team (over the Oilers), then is it possible that by February we can finally move up in the standings? Follow after the jump to see my analysis and prediction.Before we look at the Devils remaining schedule lets look at our targets, the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Islanders.
The Oilers are sitting at 35 points with a 14-24-7 record, but have put up an abysmal 2-7-0 record so far in January. Their two wins came against the Islanders and the Sharks. In fact, you have to go back to December 16th to find the Oilers 3rd last win, going back to a game against Columbus. Since that game they are 3-10-2. Remind you of anyone? The Oilers are on the fast-track to being the new Devils. They score a lot in the games they win but struggle to put up more than two goals in the games they lose. Their remaining schedule for the month looks like this:
These games are all against teams currently in the Western Conference top eight, with Dallas in 3rd, Nashville in 4th and Phoenix in 6th. This is pretty stiff competition and it seems likely, given their recent performance, that Edmonton will come out of this stretch with an 0-3-1 or a 1-3-0 record, 1-2-1 at best. I would be surprised to to see them come out the back-to-back games against Phoenix and Dallas with more than two points. I'm confident that Edmonton will end the month with no more than 38 points in the standings.
What about the recently defeated New York Islanders? With one less game than the Oilers they have a similar 14-23-7 record for their 35 points. Their January record has been much better than Edmonton having gone 3-4-1 since the new year, with wins over Calgary, Colorado (OT) and Buffalo, along with a SO loss to Vancouver. After their 5-2 loss on Monday to Jersey's team they have five games left in January:
With two sets of back-to-back games, and a home-and-home against the 20-20-5 Sabres, this is going to be a tough stretch for the Islanders. Still, they've managed to beat Buffalo before, and Carolina has been hit-or-miss. I expect Washington and Pittsburgh to play strong since Washington needs points to take back the Southeast division and Pittsburgh is battling for the top seed. Realistically there's no reason the Islanders can't come out of this stretch with four to six points, giving them 41 at the end of the month.
So where does this leave New Jersey? Since starting the month 0-4-0, the Devils have gone on a bit of a tear with a 3-0-1 stretch, giving them an identical monthly record to the Islanders. With only four games left in the month, the Devils have the potential to go from 29 points to 37 points. Their schedule though is fairly tough:
The Devils combined record this season against these four teams is 1-6-1, with the one win coming against the Flyers in a shootout and the overtime loss coming to the Panthers just last weekend. If there was ever a time for the Devils to prove they can be more competitive in the second half of the season this will be it. Based on the team's performances in the past month, wins against all of these teams should be possible, and it isn't unreasonable anymore to expect the Devils to come out of this stretch with four points, putting them up to 34 on the season.
While the possibility is there, the Devils could win the next four in a row and the Oilers could lose the rest of their games for the month, the likelihood is slim. The Devils have still been unable to put together a three-game win streak all season. A win against Pittsburgh could easily be followed with a loss in Philadelphia and the Red Wings will obviously be a difficult game on the road.
In conclusion, I think that given the improvements in the Devils game as of late, and the complete collapse of the Edmonton Oilers, it's only a matter of a few weeks before the Devils will move up to 29th in the NHL, and 28th isn't far off from there depending on how the Islanders continue to play over that span. Only a few more wins after that could be the difference between being behind the Maple Leafs and Senators or being ahead of them. Sure the playoffs may be a long-shot, but there's no reason for us to finish the season in the basement.
Let me know if you agree or disagree with my assessment that the Devils will climb out of last place in the next few weeks. Do you think Edmonton and the Islanders will collapse and we'll be in 28th by February? Maybe the last few games have been a fluke and the Devils are poised for a return to failure. Perhaps you just want the Devils to get the first overall pick in the draft...