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Hartnett: Devils Defy Kings; Victory An Exception Or Rule?

True Test Awaits Against Flyers, Bruins And Capitals
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Patrik Elias

Patrik Elias had a goal and an assist in the Devils’ 5-3 win in Buffalo on Nov. 16, 2011. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

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‘Hart Off The Ice’
By Sean Hartnett
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Only the most optimistic New Jersey Devils fans could have foreseen their team escaping the Staples Center with a 3-0 victory.  After all, many hockey experts are putting faith in the Los Angeles Kings to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Kings already possessed a loaded roster even before their off-season acquisitions of former Philadelphia Flyers teammates Mike Richards and Simon Gagne.  If not for a devastating injury to top scorer Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles might have made a deep run during the 2010-11 playoffs.

Adding Richards and Gagne to a talented group of forwards including Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams and Dustin Penner gives the Kings a plethora of scoring depth.  This makes the job done by Johan Hedberg and the Devils’ blue-liners on Tuesday night even more impressive.  To keep Los Angeles off the scoreboard in their own building could be seen by Devils fans as the sort of result that could spur on a winning streak.

Browsing through post-game Twitter search results under the hashtag of #Devils, one would easily find some overenthusiastic tweets coming from their fan base.  So is their optimism rational or misplaced?

My answer might sound like a compromise to some.  I can see New Jersey going on a short winning streak over their next three games against the Coyotes, Stars and Maple Leafs but difficult match-ups present themselves further down the schedule.  The Devils outworked Los Angeles for the entirety of sixty minutes — but determination can only get you so far.

From top-to-bottom, I can’t see New Jersey getting consistent scoring on a nightly basis.  Outside of proven point-getting veterans Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, they appear to be a top heavy roster largely dependent on youngsters like Nick Palmieri, Adam Larsson, Mattias Tedenby and Adam Henrique producing straight away.  Losing Jacob Josefson for 3-4 months could further expose their lack of offensive punch.

Upcoming are key away dates against the Flyers and defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins as well as a home-and-home series with the undefeated Capitals.  All three of these teams play an unrelenting style and boast a strong mix of skill and grit.  These match-ups could provide a true barometer for how the Devils’ season will unfold.

At present, I’m not willing to veer from my opinion that New Jersey will finish just outside the playoffs.  A lot of things need to go right for the Devils to stay in the hunt around the February NHL trade deadline.  If they are hovering around 8th-10th place, Lou Lamoriello will likely need to acquire an additional veteran scorer down the stretch.

Nothing is impossible and sometimes teams stockpiled with young talent can all click at the same time but the Devils appear to be banking on this to make the playoffs.

Devils fans – has New Jersey’s 3-0 victory over the Kings changed your expectation level?  Leave your comments below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.

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