I have a question for the entirety of the Metropolitan Division...
Look, it was no more than about 13 months ago that the New Jersey Devils overcame the absence of Taylor Hall to pick up an extremely unexpected win against one particularly star-studded team from Texas. That win gave a false sense of confidence to both a team and fanbase that - despite expectations that were as meager as the amount of talent - they could compete in one of the most tightly contested divisions in hockey. What followed, of course, was potentially one of the most depressing months in franchise history that ultimately gave way to a season so dejecting that the finale of it felt like a mercy killing.
I say that to say this. It's a good thing that I typically need to be fooled more than once before I learn my goddamn lesson, because managing a victory over that exact same Dallas Stars team with a similarly depleted lineup has me ready to declare the Devils legitimate postseason contenders. If I'm wrong again then shame on me, but what New Jersey did in bouncing back from the weekend from hell to kick the crown off the Kings prior to picking up three points without three members of their top six is the type of thing that playoff teams are capable of. Getting contributions up and down the lineup when said lineup looks like something that was produced by a random name generator is a sign of the cohesiveness necessary to consistently play above your pay grade. It wasn't always pretty and it required the help of some exemplary goaltending. However, the Devils never looked overmatched over the weekend, and with a trio that was at one point considered their top line sitting in a luxury suite, they damn well should have.
As has been the case since the dropping of the first puck, John Hynes is continuing to make decisions that turn out so well that they seem like absolute no brainers in retrospect. There's not a more perfect example of that than the decision to put Travis Zajac between two fast, feisty puck battlers in Blake Coleman and Brian Gibbons. I almost can't imagine a scenario where all three don't get the best out of each other, and that's been a theme throughout a roster that - pending the imminent return of Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri - looks exponentially deeper now than it did in September. The play of Brian Boyle has been so intriguing that it's turned his dominance of cancer into a secondary storyline. Stefan Noesen just finished riding a scoring streak gave some giddy up to a team that desperately needed it. Miles Wood looks more like an NHL player than unleashed bull with each passing day. The defense hasn't given themselves any reason to get talked about since last weekend, and - considering they are the most noticeable when they are at their worst - that's actually the highest of compliment. Need anymore evidence that all is currently going right? Even Pavel Zacha hasn't wronged his way off the ice as of late!
Things could easily turn with a goddamn gauntlet of divisional games on the horizon, but it's not the early wins that has me sure that this rendition of the Devils isn't going to negligently wander off a cliff during their hike up the standings. Rather, it's the fashion in which they've recovered from both injuries and devastating losses in keeping their bottoming out process to but a blip on the radar.