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Devils' road to playoffs starts with offense

by Staff Writer / New Jersey Devils

For the Eastern Conference teams that missed out on the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoff party, their goal since the second week of April has been figuring out how to extend their seasons into May -- or even June, like the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

So how can the teams that missed the fun turn into postseason hits? With the regular season nearing its start, NHL.com looks at how Devils fans could see their team back in the playoffs this spring:

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

Last season: 32-36-14, 78 points, 20 points out of final East wild card.

How it ended: The Devils' season-long offensive struggles ended with 17 goals in the final 13 games, when they went 1-7-3.

How they get in:

1. Finding some offense -- Adam Henrique led the Devils with 43 points last season, tied for the lowest team-leading point total. Mike Cammalleri had 27 goals, but two other players scored more than 15. The Devils' 2.15 goals per game were the third-fewest in the League, and they generated 24.5 shots on goal and 36.3 shot attempts per game, both the second-fewest in the League. Who steps up? Kyle Palmieri, acquired from the Anaheim Ducks in June, should be motivated by playing closer to where he grew up in Montvale, N.J. Patrik Elias is 39 but is a 1,000-point scorer who had 13 goals last season. Travis Zajac needs to bounce back from the worst offensive season of his NHL career. Pavel Zacha, the sixth pick in 2015, will be given a chance to boost the offense as will Stefan Matteau and Reid Boucher.

2. Carried by Cory -- Entering last season the question was whether Cory Schneider was ready to be an undisputed No. 1 NHL goalie. He certainly answered it, ranking in the top 10 in GAA (2.26) and save percentage (.925) despite facing the third-most shots in the League (1,982). He also faced some of the toughest chances in the League; according to war-on-ice.com he faced 412 high-danger shots at 5-on-5, tied for third-most in the League, but among goalies to play at least 2,000 minutes at even-strength, his .854 save percentage on those shots was No. 7. With the Devils' potential offensive shortcomings, Schneider will have to be at his best again this season if there's any hope of a playoff push.

3. Quick development -- One of the strengths of John Hynes' coaching career has been his ability to develop young talent. In New Jersey he'll have a number of younger players to work with. Zacha, 18, nearly was a point-per-game scorer with Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League last season. Matteau, 21, the 29th pick of the 2012 draft, has two goals in 24 games in two stints in the NHL. Boucher, 22, has been a strong player in the American Hockey League who likely will get a chance to show his skills in the NHL. Defensemen Damon Severson, 21, Adam Larsson, 22, and Eric Gelinas, 24, are being counted on as the cornerstones of the defense. If Hynes can have a positive impact on those players, as well as the veterans, the Devils could push for a playoff spot.

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