I know, I know. It's only been three games and it seems a little early to tip-toe out on to the most vulnerable of limbs, but I think I'm already comfortable conceding that the Devils are better off when their fastest, most talented forward has two fully functioning knees. I don't want to jump any guns or anything, but not having a creative playmaker - that can make something out of nothing - at their disposal may be of detriment to an offensively starved team.
That's not to say Taylor Hall's stint on the IR is going to completely counterbalance the Devils unlikely hot start. I actually think there has been a lot to be optimistic about during his short absence from the lineup. Unfortunately, the decrease in margin of error - that is the direct result of his injury - is the type of thing that's going to cost them games like their undeserved loss to the Ducks. Giving up two goals in such a short amount of time that they could both be included in one social media clip isn't exactly going to lend itself to the success of a team that's playing without a top 5 shot producer in the entire league.
Now, if someone found the fuse box and gave a particular special teams unit an injection of power in their play then it would probably do wonders in easing the burden of losing their best winger for a month. If the two guys that combined for 60 goals last year contributed even 60% of what they were expected to coming into the season then maybe the Devils aren't currently treating a game against a Cup finalist as a chance to salvage a road trip. If the rest of the forwards didn't collectively decide to sit back with their thumb in their ass and stare in awe as Devils' defenseman actually produced offensively then maybe the last two contests play out a little differently. Not having (the new, improved) #9 on the ice certainly isn't the only thing has cost this team points. It's that not having #9 on the ice makes the rest of their issues that much more glaring.
That said, the Devils proved they can handle the adversity in Dallas. Unfortunately, they also proved that it can get the best of them in Los Angeles. The fact of the matter is that they are far superior to last year whether or not Taylor Hall is playing. The depth, team speed, and offense from the backend are all markedly improved. The real question is whether or not they are superior enough to hold serve towards the top of standings until he returns. I think this upcoming game against the Sharks should do a hell of a job of answering that, because the mixed bag of results has been filled with anything but consistency.