Full disclosure, it's entirely in retrospect that I am able to find any sort of positive in the Devils ending up with a sore ass at the hand of a 5-0, buzzer-to-buzzer spanking from a team in the Arizona Coyotes that was thankful for no more than two regulation wins as they used a stuffed bird to eat away their sorrows. I may have said something to the effect of "well, every team is going to have a stinker during an 82 game season" to myself, but it was up to a young team that had previously yet to be embarrassed to get their house in order and Febreze away the smell before they became accustomed to it. Due to a perhaps the Devils most significant win of the season, the night they spent playing so far down to the weakest of competition that they made them look like 80's Oilers by comparison can be looked at as a part of developmental process. I don't know how many people genuinely believe that "every setback is a set-up for a major comeback", but the New Jersey Devils - under the veteran-like leadership of their rookies - proved it's not always just an empty saying used to uplift otherwise doomed spirits.
Now, despite helping them leapfrog back to first place in the Metro, the Devils' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets was far from division defining. If it weren't for Cory Schneider spending the entire first period defibrillating the body then who knows if they are able to spring back to life in the second. Between a handful of sphincter-clenching stops and the most slump-busteriest of goals from Travis Zajac, they had no shortage of pucks bounce their way during the initial 20. However, the way in which it served as wakeup call in a fairly dominant final 40 was nothing short of a breathe of fresh air.
I don't want to say the Devils ran a well-structured, defensive sound team with top notch goaltending out of their own building during the last two periods, but look no further than a 17-5 differential in scoring chances for proof that they ran them up, down, and around it. Stefan Noesen came out of absolutely nowhere to make his presence felt in his promotion to the Top-6. Gibbons, Coleman, and Wood continued to be a day-after-leg-day-esque pain in the ass to everyone they play against. And most importantly, the top line - in minutes limited by the smart killing of stupid penalties, mind you - reminded everyone how expectations have became so inflated by a roster that's being kept afloat by the play of teenagers.
Nico Hischier brake-checking Seth Jones five feet backwards before looking off another defender as he wired a tape-to-tape pass to a streaking Taylor Hall wasn't just a show of patience that had me feeling more anxious than some drunken foreplay. It was a sign of the steadily-increasing confidence that has allowed the Devils' best play driver to relinquish control of the wheel to two kids that are basically a year removed from having a learner's permit...
Jesper Bratt putting the finishing touches on Columbus after springing Taylor Hall with a silky saucer wasn't nearly as surprising as it was pretty, and that speaks volumes about he's been able accomplish as a 6th round pick that has already shed doubt onto every scouting department in the NHL...
There are inevitably going to be nights that remind you that this team is currently ahead of schedule, but if they respond to them in a way that reminds you exactly why they are then it will be tough to suppress the potential of the postseason for too much longer. The word resilience is probably overused seeing as they are maturing as a hockey team and not leading the rebuild after a natural disaster, but - considering the exasperating way last season ended - the mentality of the Devils' recently laid foundation is starting to look sturdy enough to withstand even the most tragic of defeats.