From the start of the regular season to the second week of January, no team had an outlook as miserable as the New Jersey Devils. With star forward Zach Parise sidelined for the better part of the remainder of the season, fans began to lose all hope in their home team. But after firing former head coach John MacLean, and re-hiring defensive minded Jacques Lemaire, things slowly began to turn around in Newark.
The low point for the Devils, on January 8th, 2011, saw the team sitting last place in the NHL and holding only 27 points. The very next night, however, you could sense a change. With the red hot Tampa Bay Lightning in town, the Devils rallied for a 6-3 victory, piling up the most goals in a game since a 5-0 rout of the Capitals on November 22. Five nights later in Tampa Bay we saw a repeat performance from the Devils, winning 5-2 and picking up only their second set of back-to-back wins all season. The next week, more of the same. The Devils picked up points in eight of their final nine games in January, and were no longer an afterthought.
Come February, the New Jersey Devils were the hottest team in the NHL. GM Lou Lamoriello, who brought in the talented Ilya Kovalchuck, was finally seeing his work pay off. Kovalchuk, who had been streaky throughout the season, began to settle in to his role and picked up points in all but one game in February, scoring seven goals in the process. The Devils added eleven wins to their record, and notched points in all but one game in February. For a team that had such a slim chance at making the playoffs one month prior, the goal was actually looking like it might happen.
Through the start of March, more of the same. The team looked brand new, and unbeatable, behind the stellar play of Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg. After their win against the Thrashers on March 15th, the Devils had worked their way up to a 5.74% chance of making the playoffs according to Sports Club Stats.
Unfortunately, a string of three losses in the four games following has taken a huge hit in their shot at the playoffs. With only nine games left in the season, we will have to see the Devils win virtually every game left, and have a great bit of luck, to keep them in it. While we can’t say they’re definitely out of it yet, things are starting to look grim again for the Devils.
On a positive note, for anyone who is still holding on to hope, Zach Parise is set to return to game action March 30th against the Islanders. Will he be a difference maker coming down the stretch? Can he help the Devils complete the impossible turnaround?