Instead of being thought of as a potential Stanley Cup Playoff team, the Devils were picked to be a potential NHL Draft Lottery team. They've missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past three seasons, and there was a general consensus among the prognosticators, regardless of newspaper, website or blog, that the Devils would make it four in a row.
The Devils have won six of their past seven games after starting the season with four consecutive losses, including the first three in regulation. They are 4-1-0 on the road and 4-1 in games decided after regulation, including 2-0 in overtime.
They're playing teams close and finding ways to win, which typically is what teams on the rise that are trying to become contenders do.
"The question has been asked numerous times: What is a good season for this team?" Devils coach John Hynes said after a 3-2 shootout victory against the New York Islanders on Saturday. "The answer consistently is we want to maximize the potential of what [the team] is. If the players keep raising the bar, that max continues to grow. That really is what our focus is; not where are we going to go or what's the end result. It's being able to maximize what we have in the room. It's a credit to the players that they've been able to continue to grow and get better."
There have been contributions from different lines in each game. Even fourth-line forward Bobby Farnham, who was claimed off waivers from the Pittsburgh Penguins, scored a goal and had an assist in his New Jersey debut Saturday.
The Devils' young defensemen are showing signs of growth, and goalie Cory Schneider has been, as expected, solid with a .919 save percentage and 2.17 goals-against average. The Devils have even won the past two games despite Schneider allowing goals he himself questioned.
Schneider, although not the captain or an alternate, does serve as a pseudo-spokesperson for the Devils. So he was the perfect person to ask for his thoughts on the team, the start, and if he's surprised about the fact that New Jersey, at this point in the season, is in a playoff position.
Here are Five Questions with … Cory Schneider:
I don't think anybody anticipated that the Devils would have six wins at this point, especially after starting the season with four straight losses. Does it surprise you at all?
"You know what? Now that we're in it and we're playing this way, it doesn't surprise me. You never know with so many new guys, new systems and new coaches. We believe, and everyone is optimistic to start the year, but I think that first win against [the New York Rangers on Oct. 18] was a big turning point for us. We could have sagged and gone to 0-4-1 or 0-3-2 and it could have really tailspinned from there. But that win really brought us together and gave us some confidence, and we've run with it. We're not satisfied. There are times we can play better. But where we're at right now, after the month of October, we're in a place where we can continue to move up and that's where we wanted to be. The staff has really got us headed in the right direction and they have us playing a game that is suited for our style."
What do you like about John Hynes as a coach?
"The first words that come to mind are energy, communication and detail. Everything we do has a purpose. Every drill we do in practice, every pregame skate we have, there is purpose to it. As you get into this League, at this level, you sometimes lose that. You go out there, you skate, shoot, pass and you say to yourself, 'Did I get any better today?' He has really been adamant about, 'Hey, what are we going to get better at today?' It can be one thing or two small things, but it has really caught our attention, young guys and older guys, who are energized by that. You can get stuck in this rhythm where you're showing up, throwing your sticks out and playing, so it's been great. And also everyone who has a question, there's an answer and a reason why we're playing a certain way. He communicates it very clearly for anybody who may not know why or may not understand. I think it's got us all on the same page."
Does the start you're having this season as a team have anything to do with the changes within the organization, everything being fresh and new?
"Maybe. Maybe it's too simplified to say that. But sometimes there is an air about your team and your guys carry that with you and you can't escape it. Whether it was the shootout streak or not making the playoffs three years in a row; maybe that can hang around. But now, new guys come in and all of that is somewhat forgotten. All of a sudden you have a fresh start, a blank slate, and I think some guys have really taken advantage of that. Guys are getting opportunities that they might not have gotten in the past. There was a lot of good things that have happened here and there are good things happening now, so it's a combination of both. I don't think we've lost our identity by any means, the one that was forged over the last 30 years here. And that's a point of pride for us."
We talked before the season about how the development of the young defensemen is so key to the success, and future success, of this team. What have you seen through 11 games?
"We're rolling seven [defensemen] right now and it doesn't really seem to matter who we put out there. I think maybe some teams look at our defense corps and maybe don't know who these guys are or haven't heard of them. But then they go out there and we limit teams to 22 shots and some good offensive teams we're keeping their chances down. Not a lot of odd-man rushes, point-blank opportunities-against at least right now. That's a testament to how hard these guys are working and how they're developing. We're obviously playing well right now and a big part of that is our defense corps."
Has it served as motivation for you to answer the people who were writing the Devils off before the season even began? Because that's basically what was happening here.
"We talked about it. It was said that we're the only ones who are going to change that narrative. If you want to be the worst team in the League you can be that; it's easy. That's the easy part. The hard part is to change that and go out there and prove it. We're only 11 games in so we've got a long way to go. But hopefully we're putting people on notice that we're going to be a tough out. Regardless if we win or not, we're going to be a hard-working team. I think more often if you're the harder-working team you can get wins."