There’s nothing like a five-game road trip over 11 days for a team to get to know each other better. While the sky may be falling for some Devils fans, there’s more reason to believe than there is to worry.
After being shut out in the first game, they answered back with three goals on Friday. The defense had a bunch of breakdowns on Thursday. In Game No. 2, they played a much cleaner contest in their own third of the ice. The special teams have been sharp as well. The penalty kill is perfect thus far and the power play looks a lot smoother to this point in time.
The goaltending wasn’t hot, but that won’t stay that way for the whole year. Yes, there have been some little things like spacing and guys bumping into each other, but that’s to be expected.
“It’s a working process for these guys,” said Patrik Elias. “We play a certain style and we have to trust each other on the ice that everyone plays that way. If you have one guy maybe who’s still trying to second-guess and isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do out there, it affects the whole line and the whole team.”
As far as the eye test goes, things could look a lot worse. For the first two games, they’ve controlled the tempo of play, held possession for extended times in the offensive zone while not allowing much sustained pressure for the opposition. So while they don’t have a win yet, a lot of the little things have already appeared.
We mentioned on Friday, that once the Devils took that zero after the scoreboard, they would play looser and more fluid. Same goes for tonight. Getting that zero off the front of the record will go a long way towards building team chemistry and confidence. The longer it lingers, the more they’ll pop up in the media for all the wrong reasons.
Don’t get me wrong; there becomes a certain point where it’s time to worry. There’s no way to give this team a true grade until they conclude this road trip. It’s shortsighted to jump the gun and give this team an identity, for better or worse.
There were injuries in the preseason and lines were constantly mixed.
“Sometimes you still find yourself thinking out there, but that’s what practice is for,” said newcomer Michael Ryder. “That’s why you have to keep some things more simple until you get a little more comfortable out there.”
There’s no easy way to do this for Pete DeBoer. Right now, improvement, no matter how big or small, is what he wants to see every night. He’s seen a glimpse of what Ryder and Damien Brunner can do. It’s tough to evaluate Ryane Clowe because he hasn’t had any notable shifts yet. As for Jaromir Jagr, he may need more time than anyone. He didn’t play a single preseason game and lightly practiced. Then he got thrown into back-to-back games against full NHL rosters.
This trip will give the team time to bond, whether it’s hanging out in the hotel room or going out to grab a quick bite after the game. Throw in the bus rides from the hotels over to the rink and the team is around each other for about 15 hours a day, give or take. They’re going to have no choice but to get to know each other, talk hockey, talk life and overall and most importantly, get closer as teammates and humans.
“It’s a slow process,” said goaltender Martin Brodeur. “I think everyone wants it to be a fast process but the fact is, there are a lot of new players learning a lot of different things about our system and jelling as lines.”
“Sometimes it takes a little time.”
So while some may view a five-game road trip right out of the chute as a tough draw, it’s a blessing in disguise. The sky’s not falling. Once this team builds some chemistry, the sky is the limit.