New Jersey Devils Month in Review for March 2014

Devils fans often felt like Patrik Elias did in this picture at times in March and perhaps in February too. - Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

After a hot offensive start, the New Jersey Devils returned to all kinds of struggles to finish March 7-6-2 and outside of the playoffs. This is a review of that month, including a different choice for Devil of the Month.

As this season occurred at the same year as the Winter Olympics, the month was rather short. The traditional month in review for February was therefore ignored at the end of February. The Devils only played four games and one of them happened over two weeks after the one prior. I didn't think it made sense to recap it entirely. Before focusing on the far busier and crucial month of March, let's quickly touch on the abbreviated month of play.

In February, the Devils went 2-1-1. They lost a game in overtime to Colorado that went to overtime near the end of the game. The Devils did beat Edmonton at home in overtime later in that same week despite a less than good effort. They followed that up with a whimper and a lot of misses in a 0-3 loss to Washington on the next night. The winning record for February came at the end. The Devils smashing Columbus 5-2 at the Rock after the Olympic break on February 27. While not great, five out of eight points wasn't a bad set of results. Before the break, I highlighted how important March was and noted how the Devils would be playing a lot of teams that aren't as good as them in possession. The stage was set for a crucial month of results.

Indeed it was a crucial month. Unfortunately, they didn't get the results they probably needed. The team earned a record of 7-6-2. That's not bad, but not all that good. There was no run of wins and ultimately, they didn't win more than they did win. As a result along with their fellow teams in the standings, New Jersey's playoff hopes went from "Maybe? With some help and good form?" from the beginning of the month to "We need a miracle run" by month's end. Let's look back and go over what happened to get where they are now.

The Month That Was

After the big production of offense against Columbus, Devils fans had every reason to be happy about the first game of the month. The Devils went into Long Island and basically blew away the New York Islanders. They won 6-1, their power play went 4-for-8, and they just out-classed their opposition. The good times would not last, however. On March 2, the Devils hosted one of the perennial powers of the Western Conference: the San Jose Sharks. While hopeful that the team could win three games in a row for just the second time this season, the Sharks weren't having it that Sunday afternoon. It was a tight one, but the Sharks pulled ahead in the third and ultimately won 2-4. There were bigger games against teams the Devils had to deal with in the playoff picture later in the week back then. So perhaps that loss wasn't such a bad one.

Those games certainly weren't ideal ones. The Devils had a home-and-home set with the Detroit Red Wings. The first one was at the Rock and the Devils would prevail. It took a last-minute deflection in regulation by Stephen Gionta to put the Devils up 4-3 in a win. The crowd enjoyed it, Martin Brodeur didn't get get a loss in a game that could've been his last if any team wanted to trade for a 40+ goalie with bad numbers (Spoiler: there weren't any), and the good feelings returned. Two nights and a trade deadline later, the Devils went into Detroit and got kneecapped. Cory Schneider was lit up, the defense looked entirely lost, and the Devils' four goals were mostly for consolation in 4-7 loss to Detroit. The Devils couldn't dwell on that one too much as they had to host Carolina the very next night. They did well to get a three goal lead. They managed to botch one. But the acquired Tuomo Ruutu proved to be the hero of the night with the fifth goal for the Devils. The Devils protected that later one goal lead to win 5-4 over the Canes. The defense looked off all week, the goaltenders weren't that solid, but at least they were scoring. If they could tighten up one of the former two, then they'd be in better shape. That was the hope.

Hope didn't get fully realized in the following week. The Devils definitely got their defensive form back and Martin Brodeur played a very good game in Philadelphia on March 11. They could only get two goals, but that's all they needed in a 2-1 win. They won a big divisional game and still looked to threaten for a playoff spot. That's two wins in a row for the Devils with yet another big back-to-back set in the state of Florida. With the Panthers having nothing to play for, the stage was set for that elusive winning streak the Devils haven't had since mid-November. The Devils went up 3-1 in Sunrise - and then promptly coughed up the puck and the game to lose 5-4. It was simply disgraceful from the Devils. The next night, the Devils were even worse against Tampa Bay. They played dumb and so they looked like they were struck dumb by the Lightning in a 0-3 loss. But their play was more pathetic than anything else. For some, this is where the playoff hopes went from holding out some hope to bleak despair.

The math said they still had a shot and the month of "big game night, every night" continued. Unfortunately, the next game was against the beasts of the Eastern Conference, Boston. The Bruins bossed the Devils in a 2-4 loss that was more decisive than the score implied. This was the first of five straight home games and it began with the team's third straight loss. A few nights later, some guy named Zach returned to the Rock for the first time in well over a year. He was greeeted appropriately with constant booing. The Devils did play a far better game at evens against Minnesota. However, the Wild came back to tie it up thanks to deflections and one awful goal conceded. But there would not be a fourth straight loss. In overtime, Andy Greene scored the game-ending goal to make it a 4-3 win. The win did boost spirits heading into a massive rivalry game against, well, Our Hated Rivals. The game was tight and the scoring was sparse. But one shot made all the difference and it came from New York. The empty netter sealed the team's eight shutout loss, 0-2 to the Rangers, and personally made me feel like I saw a season die at the end. Out with a whimper and all that.

Of course, there was more hockey to be played. As the Rangers game was on Saturday night, the home stand continued on Sunday against Toronto. The offense came quickly as they ruined James Reimer's night. The Devils scored three goals within their first ten shots. The Maple Leafs tried to make it a game and made things dramatic late, but the team held on for a 3-2 win. It was a good rebound game and it poured further misery on a falling Leafs team. Thursday night saw Phoenix come to to Newark to end the homestand. The start of the game was poor and the Devils eventually fell down 0-2 in the game. But a crazy bounce off Ryane Clowe's shoulder made it 1-2 right at the end of the second and Adam Henrique completed a wraparound to tie it up at 2-2. The Devils pushed in overtime but could not find that third goal. The Devils' nemesis returned for the first time since mid-January: the shootout. New month, new opponent, new circumstances, and same old no-goals-scored-in-a-shootout-loss. They lost 2-3 with the shootout. The Devils' first road game in two weeks took place in Long Island. There would be no repeat of the month-opening beatdown of the Islanders. No power play success was had. A lot of pucks not getting to the net also was present. The Devils tried mightily to get a second goal but they couldn't do so in 65 minutes. Different goalie, same no-goals-scored-in-a-shootout-loss finish. The Isles handed the Devils their tenth shootout loss of the season 1-2.

There would be a high point to end the month. The Devils hosted Florida. The Devils went up 3-0 during the first and Travis Zajac nearly had a hat trick in that period alone. But between Martin Brodeur and some great shots, Florida crawled back to a 4-3 score with plenty of power play time. Schneider made the saves, Jacob Josefson retook the lead with a third period shorty, and Zajac did get his first ever hat trick for the sixth goal of the game. The team won big 6-3. I'd love to say this kickstarted another shot at a late miracle run in April, but then that 0-10 shootout record turned into 0-11.

General Thoughts & Events in March

Ultimately, the Devils ended up treading water for yet another month. A hot streak, like what the Flyers did after they lost to New Jersey 2-1, could have made up for all of that in short order. That clearly didn't happen. In fact, there was a losing streak right in the middle that consisted of blowing a big lead, playing an awful game, and being bossed around across those three losses. The bloom in scoring was relatively shortlived. As the month progressed, the issues of not scoring that extra goal to avoid post-regulation play or avoid a shutout loss arose later on. Sure, they played some stiffer competition in those games, but the problem remains the problem. Overall, they did well enough to say that they were competitive overall. Unfortunately, they really needed to be great and they weren't for one reason or another. When you consider their continued futility in the shootout and the continued splitting of starts between Brodeur and Schneider, one could argue that March was a microcosm for the whole season. I leave that to you all to argue.

In terms of roster moves, the Devils were relatively inactive in the trade deadline. The possibility of Brodeur being traded never turned into anything. They remained crowded on the blueline. Instead, Andrei Loktionov and a conditional pick was shipped off to Carolina in exchange for Tuomo Ruutu. My reaction was lukewarm at best, but Ruutu has been a useful winger up and down the lineup. He certainly had his moments and at least hasn't been ice cold in terms of scoring. The end of the month saw the return of Peter Harrold and Adam Larsson to the lineup due to multiple injuries on defense. Harrold has been solid overall and Larsson hasn't provided any major issues in his first game back.

Additionally, it's worth noting that a number of players on long cold streaks did actually break them. Michael Ryder scored his first goal in seemingly forever against Minnesota. Jacob Josefson got his first of the season in the last game of the month against the Panthers. Bryce Salvador got a goal in the first March game against the Panthers, his first since the 2012 playoffs. Ruutu was on an eleven-game goalless streak when he was acquired by the Devils. That only lasted one more games before scoring against his former team on March 8. Unfortunately, he went back to being goalless until the first game of April. More unfortunately that not a lot of players got hot enough along with snapping their respective run scoreless games.

Lastly, the Devils got a first round pick for 2014. It's locked in at 30th overall, but it's better than the not-pick they were slated on getting.

Devil of the Month

That said, there were quite a few productive months among the Devils players. Adam Henrique was easily the hottest player at the start of the month. From February 27 through March 8, he scored at least one goal per game. His goal scoring streak lasted six games for nine goals. He overtook Jagr for the team lead in goal scoring and has not relinquished it. That streak was impressive as his goals were legitimately great. While he was being named among player of the week by the NHL, I can't in good conscious name him the ILWT Devil of the Month. After that six-game streak ended, he spent the next seven games scoring no goals, only contributing three assists, and taking only nine shots. He did get two more near the end of the month to finish with 14 points in 15 games, but he wasn't as consistently productive as I think a player of the month should be.

It wasn't just Henrique putting up good numbers anyway. Patrik Elias, Jaromir Jagr, and Travis Zajac either were or were just one point shy of a point-per-game average in March. (Also: Ryane Clowe putting up 12 points in 15 games was a nice discovery.) Jagr and Zajac going off for four-point nights against Florida on March 31 did boost them up to that level. They're a safe bet for driving the play forward and creating plenty of opportunities. Jagr continues to be all about generating shots, pivoting to make plays, and continuing to be best offensive weapon for the Devils; when he went pointless in four games, he generated 19 shots. He was most certainly trying to produce

But I'm going to go in a different direction. Unlike Henrique, Jagr, and Zajac, Elias' production was more consistent. He only went pointless in four games in March, including the two games the team was shutout in. Each time he went pointless, he managed to contribute something on the scoresheet in the next game. That didn't happen on April 1, but that doesn't count for March. He and Henrique weren't entirely dominant on the puck like Zajac, Jagr, and whoever lines up with them. But considering that scoring has been the big issue for the team, I have to credit someone who's been regular about it throughout another up-and-down-to-finish-in-between month from the team. Maybe the fact he wasn't extremely excellent makes it a more appropriate to name Patrik Elias, the In Lou We Trust Devil of the Month for March 2014. Here's my favorite goal he scored in March; where he made James Reimer look really stupid for biting on a fake slapshot on a breakaway:

Your Take

March is now over and perhaps the team's fate is sealed. Maybe not completely, but it's a rather long shot in a short month of games where they already dropped one important point. Nevertheless, how do you rate this past month? What do you think happened to scoring going away somewhat after a hot start? While we all wish they did, could the Devils really have done better than 7-6-2? Would you say what happened in March was really a microcosm of the whole season? What's there to play for in April? Do you think Elias should have been named Devil of the Month. If not, then who? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the month of March (and February, I suppose) in the comments. Thank you for reading.

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