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Devils take mostly positives from four-game road trip

by Dan Rosen

NEWARK, N.J. -- When the 2014-15 schedule came out in June, New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer immediately noticed a major challenge his team would have to overcome.

DeBoer looked down the schedule to mid-December and counted 21 road games in 17 buildings. He counted 11 games at Prudential Center.

He knew right then that if the Devils were going to give themselves a fighting chance to break a two-year Stanley Cup Playoff drought, the longest the franchise has had in 27 years, they were going to have to pick up points in a lot of unfriendly buildings, including 11 in the Eastern Conference, in the first two-plus months of the season.

They're off to a good start.

The Devils open their home schedule Saturday against the San Jose Sharks fresh off a 3-1-0 road trip that featured wins against the Philadelphia Flyers, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Devils will be the last team to play a home game this season.

New Jersey still might be smarting from a 6-2 loss to the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on Thursday, but in the big picture what the Devils did in Philadelphia, Florida and Tampa Bay was enough to give them a quiet sense of confidence and relief.

"When you've got new people in a new year and you're putting your systems in place, it's important that you have some success early so it enhances the buy-in," DeBoer said. "I think we saw that. When we played the way we need to play we had success, and we've got to continue building on that."

There were a lot of positives before the Capitals broke open what was a close game by scoring three times in the first 8:55 of the third period Thursday.

The Devils scored 11 goals to win against the Flyers and Panthers. They played tight defensively and got a strong performance in goal from Cory Schneider to win a 2-1 game against the Lightning. They lost their structure after a wide-open first period against the Capitals and were burned.

Consider that a lesson.

"We recognized the mistakes we made and we got away from our game in the second and third period," DeBoer said.

DeBoer, though, said he felt the game was winnable going into the third and that the Devils were even a bit snakebit. He said they could have had four or five goals earlier in the game because of the quality of the chances they were getting.

"It got away from us a little bit, but a couple of mistakes by me makes it look worse than it is," said Schneider, who was pulled in the third period in Washington after allowing five goals on 26 shots. "I thought we played better than the score indicated, but it was a good road trip nonetheless. I think we're feeling good about ourselves. We're feeling we can play with anybody anywhere and we're never out of a game."

A big reason for that is their offense.

"I said right from Day One that I'm confident we're going to score enough goals this year," DeBoer said.

The Devils didn't last season, and it cost them a playoff berth. Their lack of offense combined with strong defense landed them in 13 shootouts, where they scored four goals on 45 attempts and went 0-13.

New Jersey fell five points short of a playoff berth despite allowing 2.38 goals per game (sixth in the NHL), having a League-best 86.4-percent penalty kill and allowing a League-low 25.5 shots on goal per game. The Devils were 27th in goals per game (2.40).

"The way the team played defense, the way the goals-against were down, those factors are usually a formula to make a playoff team and a team that has a chance to win a championship," forward Mike Cammalleri said. "For whatever reason that wasn't the case here last year, but it was all of our hopes that that would be the case this year."

Cammalleri has done his part. He signed a five-year contract July 1 with the promise of giving the Devils' offense a jolt, and he has with four goals, six points, 18 shots on goal and 22 shot attempts in four games. He has fit in well on a line with Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr.

"I was pretty comfortable even before he started scoring with just how he came into training camp, how hard he worked, how all-in he was as far as how we wanted to play," DeBoer said. "With guys like that you know the offense is going to be there at the end of the day. You might have to wait on it sometimes, but I was pretty comfortable with him after spending training camp with him that he was going to fit in with us."

Offense out of rookie defenseman Damon Severson has been a pleasant surprise.

Severson, 20, scored New Jersey's two goals against Washington and has three through his first four NHL games. Severson had a team-high eight shots on goal against the Capitals. He has 15 on the season and a team-high 23 shot attempts.

"It's a little bit surreal for sure," Severson said. "Lucky could be another word. I'm just trying to get my shots through to the net and they've gotten through so far."

There are, however, issues the Devils need to address, starting with their discipline. New Jersey has taken 23 minor penalties, more than all but five teams entering play Friday.

The Devils were first in the NHL on the penalty kill last season because for the most part they kept their penalties down. They committed the sixth-fewest minor penalties in the League, averaging 3.3 per game.

They're already averaging 5.75 minors per game this season and have been shorthanded 22 times. Only the Colorado Avalanche had been shorthanded more times than New Jersey entering Friday, but they had played one more game.

"It's definitely been an issue the first four games here on the road," DeBoer said of the penalties. "The guys know it's an issue. Usually that's half the battle in fixing it."

DeBoer said the penalties are a big reason why the Devils have been getting outshot. Their penalty kill is yielding seven shots on goal per game. The Devils overall have been outshot by an average of 6.2 per game (32.0-25.8).

"It's way too early to look at some of those trends," DeBoer said.

He's right, particularly when the big picture, at least so far, looks good for the Devils even though the challenge DeBoer immediately noticed in June still looms quite large.


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