Consistency. There it is. The Devils biggest problem. That 8-1-1 run after the all-star break seems a while ago right? Well the Devils have certainly hit one of their biggest bumps in the road right now after that all-star break hot streak. Let's look at the other bumps in the road:
October 21st to November 2nd: Devils lost 3 in a row and 5 out of 6.
November 26th to December 3rd: Devils lost 4 in a row.
January 19th to January 24th: Devils lost 3 in a row.
February 24th to (Bad streak not finished yet): Devils lost 3 in a row and 4 out of 5.
That hurts a bit. Anytime a team goes on cold streaks like that hurts them in standings. Obviously all teams go through that but the good teams don't. NOTE: I'm counting shootout and overtime losses as losses.
Let's look at the 4 best teams in the league by record:
New York Rangers- Lost 3 games in a row once this year and it was to begin the season. Never lost 3 games in a row since then and lost two games in a row 3 times since then.
Detroit Red Wings- Went on a 6 game losing streak at the beginning of the year. Then lost three games or less in a row 5 times.
Vancouver Canucks- Never went on a more than a two game losing streak this season. Lost two games in a row 6 times this year.
St. Louis Blues- Never went on more than a 3 game losing streak. Lost 2 games in a row 5 times and lost 3 games in a row once.
When looking at that I see the difference between those teams and the second tier teams like the Devils, Philly, and Penguins for example. Those teams above bounce back after losses better than other teams. Obviously Detroit losing 6 in a row is an anomaly but they've bounced back hard since then.
So basically if the Devils didn't fall into these sort of slumps then they'd be up there in points with the best of them. Sure the Devils can go on a hot streak and play almost unbeatable hockey at times, but they have a problem bouncing back from losses.
It's consistency that separates teams in the standings and not necessarily their level of play. The NHL wanted parity and they certainly got it by having so many teams bunched up in the standings especially out west.