A Devil of a Chance

In an interesting twist of fate, the New Jersey Devils are now one of the top contenders in the East to make the playoffs.

According to NHL experts, Craig Button and ex-Devil Kevin Weekes, they believe that the Devils are making it to the playoffs.

NHL.com reports that “Button’s data suggests the Devils would have to win 76.5 percent of the rest of their games in order to qualify for the playoffs, but he couches that by saying the teams they’re chasing can’t get hot at the same time.”

There are similar predictions held by many analysts watching the Devils, who have gone 20-2-2 in the last half of the season. This resurgence has developed new fans and media touting “We Believe” as their new banners.

The Devils of today are unlike any of their predecessors. You can’t compare what they have done in this second half of the season to any other year in their franchise history. They have gone from nobodies to being the biggest contender to make the playoffs.

This is where “History Will Be Made.”

Back in December, no one could have imagined that Jacques Lemaire would be able to turn this team around. They were worse than a train wreck. The numbers started to dwindle both on the stat sheet and in the arena. The miracle wasn’t in Ilya Kovalchuk (like so many had hoped) when Zach Parise went out with an injury in October.

Kovalchuk needed direction. The pressure from his contract weighed heavily upon him. He needed a coach that understood those things and would be able to push him in the right direction. Lemaire’s return enabled Kovalchuk to focus on his game and learn new ways to become a better hockey player.

Before Lemaire, not too many coaches in Kovalchuk’s past focused on how to make the star forward a better athlete. They just let him go out there and do his thing. That, of course, can be disastrous, because the team then needs to work around the talent.

For the Devils, that’s not their way.

That was the main problem with the Devils in the first half. They played like individuals, and not as a team. They had no chemistry because each person was trying to do their own thing. No one was forcing them to play as a team, so instead, they played like a group of individuals.

But that’s all changed.

“The main thing with them now is the way they defend,” Weekes told NHL.com. “They defend with five and they’re not giving up the neutral zone as easily when they defend. When they get into their own zone they are defending with five. There are not as many instances with double and triple coverage as there was early in the season.

“And, when they attack they attack as a wave of five and they’re actually making plays through the neutral zone now. They wanted to be more of an offensively aggressive team, but now they are attacking through the zone with five and generating speed.

“Earlier in the year there was a lot of one-on-one play and a lot of 3-on-5 offensive play. Now not only are they defending with five but attacking with five and they are making short passes. They don’t have the defensive personnel to be making long passes. There ability to breakout of their zone from longer range isn’t what it was before and they’ve compensated for that by making shorter passes.”

All of those mistakes they were making from the start, no one had the answer as to how they could do things differently. Not even the players knew what to do. No one had the right answer.

They needed a miracle…and that miracle came in the form of Lemaire.

He took a team that was completely defeated with no hopes of going into the playoffs and made them believe in themselves again. As they started to believe, the fans started to believe. Now, the entire hockey community believes that the playoffs are a possibility for the Devils.

They have defied all of the odds…and those odds were stacked against them. Who would have thought just three months ago that this team would have a chance at the playoffs? Just three months ago they were dead last in the league. Now, they’ve steadily risen to 25th in the league, and just eight points outside of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

If they keep up the pace they are on, they could reach that finish line. They needed an unbelievable .820 winning percentage in order to be considered a playoff candidate. They surpassed that with a winning percentage of .875.

This amazing run only faces one obstacle in the “What Ifs?” What if the teams ahead of them have the same success?  If the other teams ahead of the Devils see a surge as well, their effort will mean nothing. That is their greatest fear.

Martin Brodeur remarked recently that if the ‘Canes went 15-4, the Devils would be done for the season. But luckily, the ‘Canes did not have that kind of record. Since Brodeur made that comment, Carolina has only won three out of their last five contests. The Buffalo Sabres advanced into the eighth seed in the playoff berth, pushing the Hurricanes down into the ninth spot.

For the Devils, the standings are more intriguing now than ever. They’re climbing a mountain with a belief that they will make it to the top, one step at a time. They had a lot of naysayers and non-believers three months ago.

Now, everyone is saying, “How about them Devils?”

They’ve done the unbelievable. They’re not there yet, but with one more month to go, anything is possible. They only have to believe.

If anything, Lemaire will be winning the Jack Adams Award. He has done the unbelievable that now has everyone believing in the New Jersey Devils again.

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  1. A Devil of a Chance « Michelle Kenneth's Hockey & Musings - March 8, 2011

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