On January 8, 2010, the New Jersey Devils lost 2-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers in their forty-first game of the NHL 2010-11 regular season. It was the halfway point of the season and the Devils were rock bottom. Here are the standings after games played on that date thanks to ShrpSports. Dead last in the league in goals scored with 72. One of the highest goals against counts at 130. A horrendous 1-10-0 record against Atlantic Division opponents. An awful away record of 4-16-0.
Most of all, they were dead last in the league with a record of 10-29-2. Their 22 points earned was 10 behind the 29th ranked Islanders. The Devils fired John MacLean earlier but to little immediate effect and they just traded their captain Jamie Langenbrunner. Even then, the season was as done as done could be in early January.
Then, on January 9, the Devils won a game. It was great. Almost surprisingly, they won another in a decisive fashion. Then they won some more. At home, and on the road. Against top opponents, and against not-as-top opponents. Before you know it, they started to claw their way out of last place. The Devils caught some fire to make January a .500 month, raged as an inferno in February to a 11-1-1 record, and have remained warm enough to go 7-3-0 in this month with 4 games left - guaranteeing another month of .500 play or better.
The Devils are 24-5-2 since that 2-1 loss to the Flyers on January 8. I repeat: 24-5-2. This needs to be appreciated by all Devils fans regardless of how the last 10 games go.
One more time: 24-5-2.
From 22 points at the halfway mark to 72 right now. The Devils picked up 50 points out of a possible 62 so far. That's a points percentage of 80.6%, and a winning percentage of 77.4%. Within these 24 wins, 14 of them were by one goal. Only 3 of those 7 non-wins were by more than one goal.
In this half of the season, we've seen Brian Rolston look like he's 7 years younger on some nights, Patrik Elias dominating games at center (though not at the dot), Travis Zajac showing that he's a good player without Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk becoming a beast at times, Jacob Josefson looking like a NHL player, Henrik Tallinder performing like the defenseman Lou thought he signed back in July, Mark Fayne playing like a veteran, and both Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg stop shots without getting hung out to dry to make their efforts futile.
No matter how you break it down, the results and performances since January 8 have been absolutely fabulous and beyond amazing. I cannot stress enough how impressive it has been even with 10 games left in the season.
The team is more than just watchable for those who buy tickets to the Rock or spend their time watching the games on TV or through legal streams online. The Devils are more than just respectable now, they have proven that this team is quite good. And all with Zach Parise on the injured list.
Personally, I'm not one of those believers. I still don't think they'll make it. As of right now, the Devils are still a ridiculous long shot to jump to eighth place by April 10. I'm not trying bring anyone down here, that's not my intention. I bring that up as the reality of the situation. Asking for 9 wins out of the next 10 against the following teams is asking a lot: at Boston, at Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, vs. Islanders, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Montreal, at Pittsburgh, vs. Toronto, at Rangers, and vs. Boston. That's 8 games against teams currently in playoff positions and one game against a team in a similar spot as the Devils. Yes, the Devils have went on crazy runs in the past, but then isn't anything like now. 9-10 wins out of 10 games alone is incredibly difficult, more so given New Jersey's remaining schedule.
Per Sports Club Stats, the Devils will have the best chance of making it if they win out - so the incredibly difficult is essentially their way in. Note that I didn't say a guaranteed playoff spot would come from winning out, just that they would have the best chance at making it. Even just one regulation loss drops the Devils' chances dramatically; and it looks like three or four non-wins will practically spell out doom.
Surely, if (more likely when) the Devils drop points, people will react as if something horrible has happen. I can understand. The Devils have got this far and who wants to see a few losses destroy it. On the other hand, that's all because of the incredibly terrible first half of the season. Blame the first half on whatever you'd like: John MacLean, Langenbrunner, bad luck, defensive breakdowns, the special teams, the rain, etc. or even all of it.
So my main message to all of the Devils fans who read this: appreciate what you have seen so far.
The second half has been so wildly successful that is has caused many to believe that the postseason is still possible in spite of a 10-29-2 first half record. That's how great it has been. A lot of great teams have played in the NHL and for them a 24-5-2 run would be simply unimaginable. Especially one where a majority of the games were one-goal games. Yet, it has been all too real for New Jersey this season.
As someone who doesn't think the Devils will complete the highly improbable run to the postseason (and admittedly wouldn't mind if it did happen), I want to highlight that the Devils have done something great even if they ultimately fall short. That can't be taken away from them even if they slump through the next 10 games. I hope that those of you who still believe in playoff dreams don't lose sight of this fact either. Be unhappy or angry or however you wish with any losses, but please don't forget what they have done just to get here in the first place.
24-5-2. Let's hope the Devils make it 25-5-2 tomorrow night.