The New Jersey Devils go into the final day of a dismal year for the franchise above what they call hockey .500. What that means is they are over .500 if you do not count overtime and shootout losses. The Devils are there for only the second time all season, and first since Nov. 21.
The Devils end the year at 17-16-8 after they defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 on New Year’s Eve. It was a great win for a Devils team that needs all the points it can get. They played the Pens at the perfect time, with them being without Evgeni Malkin, Pascal Dupuis and Kris Letang, among many others. They still played well without those players, especially their top line of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and James Neal.
Martin Brodeur was fantastic throughout the game. He made big and smart plays throughout the game. There was a play where Chris Conner was coming in and would have a one-on-one with Brodeur, but he came out and drilled the puck out of play in the Penguins bench. That kind of awareness is why Brodeur has lasted as long as he had. He saved 19-of-20 shots. The only goal they scored against him was a one-timer by Matt Niskanen off a pass by Crosby.
The line of Adam Henrique, Michael Ryder and Ryane Clowe accounted for all of the Devils scoring. Henrique scored the first goal just 1:38 into the game. He put the puck in the net off of Clowe’s poke check. Ryder’s goal came off a clear snap shot that just went past Marc-Andre Fleury.
Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come for the Devils. This team is notoriously a second-half team. Outside of the lockout-shortened season last year, they have been great after New Year’s the past few years. In 2011-12, they went 27-13-4 in the second half of the year. In 2010-11, which started off as one of the worst years in franchise history, they bounced back by going 28-14-3 down the stretch to just miss the playoffs. 20-17-6 wasn’t the best in 2010, but it still got the job done. 30-15-1 was their record after the ball dropped on 2008 and went into 2009.
If this team improves in the second half like they seem to do every year, then they will be in good shape. There doesn’t seem to be a team outside of the Penguins who could really separate themselves in this division. If the Devils could make a run, they could really do some damage and get a playoff spot.
Nick Villano is the New Jersey Devils writer for Rant Sports. He also adds to their NFL, MLB and NBA content. You can follow him on Twitter here.