April showered plenty of misery for the New Jersey Devils. The 2013 season started off well enough. They got hot at the beginning and didn't lose a game in regulation until February. Yet, the team started fading in the second-half of that month and they achieved a 7-6-1 record. The Devils ended a winless streak in March but never got really going and ended the month winless with a 5-5-5 record. The Devils were still in the top eight in the Eastern Conference heading into the final month of the shortened season. While they were then just winless in three games, the Devils still started April controlling their own destiny. However, as we all know, their final game of the month was the final game of the season as the Devils did not make the playoffs.
The Devils clearly did not get the necessary results in April. They went 4-7-1 in the month. That three-game winless streak the Devils had heading into the month was extended to ten games. While Ilya Kovalchuk wasn't having a productive season along with most of the team, the team's scoring rate just went dry in said winless streak. The Devils weren't shutout all season; they managed to get shut out in four games in April alone including two games in a row right at the end of the winless streak. And during that streak, they weren't big, blow-out losses either. The Devils only lost five games by more than one goal. Two of those came after that streak ended and one was only by two goals because the opposition got an empty netter. Nevertheless, the Devils needed points in the standings then, they didn't get them, and so by the time they actually won a game, their playoff hopes were just about dead. The Devils got mathematically eliminated from playoff contention by their hated rivals in the final week of the season. The final three games were just games to be played and so the season ended early. The only NHL event the Devils will be involved in until June will be the draft lottery on Monday night.
While the past month essentially doomed the Devils, the root cause lies a little earlier. The team had a bad slump going into March, and while they ended it but they didn't really get hot afterwards. The Devils dropped into another slump that drifted halfway past this month. Most teams cannot recover from spending a third of their regular season in winless streaks. While the Devils were strong in possession and outplayed a lot of teams in April, they couldn't get the goals needed or the near-perfect defense their lack of scoring required. Therefore, the team has the record that they have and we a long offseason for discussion.
The Games of April 2013
The Devils returned home after a road trip that ended with two straight games with dropped points in the final minute of each game to play the New York Islanders. The Devils and Islanders both needed the game for their playoff hopes. As we now know, it was a turning point for both teams. The Isles went up early in the game, doubled their lead, and just played a better game. It was a poor first period, it was a poor ending, and the fans booed the Devils off the ice at the end of the 3-1 defeat. I wrote that the Devils deserved it. The good news is that the Devils would go on to play better. The bad news is that there's a difference between playing good and winning games.
In what I still consider to be the most frustrating game of the season, the Devils went into Boston and competely outplayed the Bruins. The Bruins have been one of the best teams of the season and one of the few better than New Jersey in possession. For 60 minutes, the Devils were just the better team in all but one area: the scoreboard. The Devils just couldn't put a puck in the net and the Bruins got one by accident off Jaromir Jagr's skate blade. The Devils lost 1-0 and in retrospect, it should have been the tell-tale sign that 2013 wouldn't be New Jersey's year. It was the sort of game that one would expect cause a team to just give up. What more can one do? The Devils did not give up. However, there's a difference between putting in a good effort and winning games.
On April 6, the Devils dropped a 2-1 game to Toronto that was close and was surely a game but was nonetheless difficult to watch. The very next night, the Devils fell behind early to Buffalo, pinned back the Sabres, tied it up, gave up another goal, tied it up, continued to boss Buffalo around but then lost in a shootout 3-2. Three nights later, the Devils played Boston again and it looked like it was going to be rock-bottom as Boston ran up four goals (including two shorties) in the first 30 minutes. But the Devils clawed their way back to 4-3 before Boston tacked on one more. A late consolation goal made it a 5-4 loss. The one night the Devils scored a whole bunch of goals was also the one night there were several costly defensive errors. On April 12, the Devils were shutout by Ottawa and lost 2-0 despite a heavy shot and possession differential. On April 14, the Devils went into Toronto, played an even more one-sided game, and still managed to lose 2-0 with the second goal being an ENG. The winless streak became ten games and the playoffs weren't in my hopes - I just wanted the team to win one.
It was until April 17 when it all ended. The goalless streak that went for seven periods ended. The run of seven games where the Devils would give up the first goal ended. The ten game winless streak ended. All in the wonderful city of Philadelphia. The Devils didn't just outplay their opponents or lead in possession and shots. They actually scored goals. And so they looked great in winning. Even more, it was a 3-0 win over the Second Rate Rivals. There was reason to smile. The smiling continued when Ilya Kovalchuk returned from injury on April 20 at home against Florida. While Kovalchuk didn't contribute too much, the Devils overcame an early 2-0 deficit and a bad ten minutes to simply outclass the Panthers - who helped them out with so many turnovers - and blow them away. Yes, the Devils actually routed Florida 6-2 and there was more reason to smile.
Alas, the incredibly slim playoff hopes turned into nothing at MSG, the home of Our Hated Rivals. The Devils had a communication breakdown within the first minute and the game was just mostly-Rangers from then on out. The Devils lost decisively 4-1 and that was it for the postseason. At least playing for pride started off well. The Devils would host a struggling Montreal team on April 23, put up three goals, and held on to win 3-2. In their final home game of the season on April 25, the Devils played very well and yet went down to Pittsburgh 1-0 to start and it later became 2-0 in the second. But the Devils fought back with three unanswered goals and won comfortably over a lackluster effort from the Penguins by a 3-2 score. Alas, the Devils couldn't just take down the rivals another peg before they go off to the playoffs. The Rangers outclassed the Devils again at MSG only this time the Devils wouldn't even get a consolation goal. They lost 4-0, the fans at the arena chanted "Season's Over," and they were right. It was.
In between the games, the Devils didn't have a whole lot of roster changes. The team did add Steve Sullivan at the trade deadline for very little. He was used as an additional forward; he wasn't so much a Kovalchuk replacement as he was more like an additional forward. Think of a substitute teacher. He did put up two goals and three assists in ten games which isn't bad, but I think he shanked more scoring chances than he scored on. Kovalchuk did return for the team's final five games. Bryce Salvador sustained a bruised hand from blocking a slap shot by Zdeno Chara; he did not appear in the team's final eight games. Salvador's injury plus Mark Fayne's "nagging minor injury" opened the door for Alexander Urbom and Eric Gelinas to get in the Montreal and Pittsburgh games, respectively. Harri Pesonen and Mike Sislo were called up in the final week of the season, but they did not dress.
April 2013 Devil of the Month: Andy Greene
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Yes, I'm choosing defenseman Andy Greene as the Devil of the Month. No, he wasn't all that productive with only three points. However, this is meant for the most consistently good player and I'm not going to reward production in a month where the first six games featured eight goals total. Besides, Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias each led the team with seven points in April and most of those points came near the end of the month. The two had some pretty poor games mixed in. Greene, on the other hand, was solid from start to finish. Even in a game where he made a costly error, Greene settled down and was someone the team could lean on to defend. He averaged over 24 minutes per game, he registered a shot in all but two games, his one penalty came in the final game of the season that the Devils weren't going to win by the time it happened, and he was largely a positive force on the ice at evens. In my mind, he secured his spot as the team's best defenseman from this season with his night-in, night-out play in April. Therefore, I think Andy Greene deserves to be named the In Lou We Trust Devil of the Month for April 2013.
Now that the final month of the season is over, I want to know what you think. What will you remember the most from this month? What would you like to forget about it? Would you say Greene was the most consistently good player? Was anyone on the Devils consistently good in April? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils' performance in April in the comments. Thank you for reading.