When the hockey prognosticators predicted where teams would be at the quarter mark of the NHL season, nobody predicted that the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders would be atop the Metropolitan Division or that New Jersey would hold the NHL’s best record.
But with the Thanksgiving holiday come and gone — the unofficial market that tells if a team will make the postseason or not — the two clubs have started to prove the doubters wrong. The Devils had been expected to take a step forward after a solid offseason, but what has transpired has been nothing short of unbelievable.
At 19-4-0, the Devils are atop the Metropolitan Division, Eastern Conference and the NHL. Jesper Bratt has turned into one of the Devils’ top point producers, Nico Hischier has had a breakout year, New Jersey has gotten what it needed out of Jack Hughes and goaltending and defense have combined to lead the Devils to an average of 2.22 goals against per game which is best in the league.
Offensively, the Devils have become one of the highest-scoring teams in the NHL, averaging 3.78 goals a game and their 87 total goals this year is the second-highest among all 32 teams.
Out on Long Island, the Islanders’ resurgence has come under similar circumstances. The Islanders’ 77 goals are seventh in the league and their defense has held opposing teams to just 2.57 goals per game, and overall the Isles have just looked like themselves again.
The Isles had been known as a defensive first team under Barry Trotz, but the change to Lane Lambert behind the bench has opened up the offense a bit more. Still, the offensive uptick has come in part from their defensive roots.
“Our D have stepped up. I think they’ve been big contributors,” Islanders forward Josh Bailey told amNewYork. “Get more pucks to the net. created more opportunities and I think good defense leads to good offense. We’ve been able to get of our zone more efficiently and that’s not just on the D. They’ve done a great job. That’s a group of five and your goaltender. So I’d say that’s contributed to it.”
All of that has lined up to create a scenario where New York’s best hockey team isn’t the one that plays in Manhattan. Rather, it’s the two clubs that play outside the city limits that have stolen the show.
The Islanders and Devils found themselves on the right side of the standings when Thanksgiving arrived last week and the Rangers on the wrong side. Last year, 12 of the 16 teams that were in playoff position at Thanksgiving were still alive at the end of the season.
Only one team in the Eastern Conference changed its positioning.
Inside the Isles’ dressing room, there isn’t too much stock put into the Thanksgiving theory. Bailey said it wasn’t something he paid attention to and Scott Mayfield viewed another point in the season as a better indicator.
For more on the Islanders and Devils, visit AMNY.com
“I mean, I’ve seen teams low in the standings that come back and make playoffs and I’ve seen teams up in the standings that don’t make playoffs even though just because it’s Thanksgiving, I don’t know. I like looking at it more All-Star break,” Mayfield said. “I think the All-Star break gives you a little better idea maybe but no. I don’t look too much into it. We’re just worried about playing the game and racking up points.”
The Devils likely have a similar mindset as Bailey and Mayfield, but both teams have shocked hockey observers and put themselves in a pretty good position after the first quarter of the season.