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1986-87 New Jersey Devils Team Photo - Click to View Full Size

1986-87: On The Cusp
By DAN ROSEN


John MacLean sensed a palpable difference around the Devils as the 1986- 87 season was just getting underway. Players were not only confident, they were maturing and growing in their NHL careers. The time wasn’t right just yet, but the Devils were getting closer to finally breaking the post-season barrier.

“We were starting to mature as players,” MacLean said. “We were just starting to feel a little more comfortable with ourselves as far as playing in the NHL. We were 23 and 24 now, and we had years under our belt only because there wasn’t a lot to begin with and we had to find our way. We were starting to become the ‘Draft Picks Team’ as opposed to all vets, who were good for us at the time.”

The “Draft Picks Team” won a franchise-best 29 games during the 1986-87 season. It wasn’t good enough to get out of last place in the Patrick Division, but it was another major step toward respectability. After all, it had been three seasons since Wayne Gretzky called the Devils a “Mickey Mouse franchise.”

Oct. 29, 1986 - Kirk Muller (shown, 1986-87) records a hat trick and adds three assists to establish a franchise single-game record of six points, as the Devils defeat the Penguins 8-6 at Pittsburgh.

Needless to say, with MacLean, Kirk Muller, Joe Cirella, Aaron Broten, Pat Verbeek, Bruce Driver and, of course, Ken Daneyko, there was no love lost for Gretzky in East Rutherford.

“The draft picks started to take over, and put a little more responsibility for the franchise,” MacLean said. “At one point we might have been right in the thick of things, and we were getting closer to being eliminated later rather than earlier. It wasn’t funny at the time, but there was progress. We could see the light at the end of the tunnel, making some progress. However little it was, we were making it. There was talk at times that we could make the playoffs.”

The Devils were in the thick of the race at the halfway mark. They had 16 victories, their most in the first half of any season to that point, and 35 points. They were also scoring plenty of goals. The Devils won six of their first ten games, and scored at least five or more goals in five of those wins. They beat Pittsburgh, 8-6, and the Islanders, 7-6 in overtime, in back-to-back nights in late October.


Following a quick offensive slump in which they scored just one goal in the next two games, the Devils went 5-1-1 over the next seven games, and scored five goals four times during that stretch. They were 10-8-2 at the quarter-point of the season, the first time they ever had an above-.500 record at the 20-game mark.

“We learned over the years what it took,” MacLean said. “We were just building bricks.” A pair of late-season swoons – a seven game winless streak, and a three-game losing streak wrapped around one victory in mid-March – all but eliminated the Devils from a chance at the post-season. The players, though, weren’t feeling sorry for themselves. For the first time ever, the New Jersey Devils weren’t a pushover.

“It wasn’t as bad as it once was,” said Cirella, an All-Star defensemen. “I think it was also a combination of young guys coming together, and new players coming in via free agency. The pieces were finally starting to come together. We were close. It was just a matter of putting a few more pieces together that would put everyone over the edge.”

 

Those pieces came the next season in the form of a systematic and knowledgeable General Manager (Lou Lamoriello), an All-Star goaltender (Sean Burke), a fiery head coach (Jim Schoenfeld), and the perfect role-playing forward (Patrik Sundstrom). For now, though, the Devils were one of the fastest rising teams in the NHL, even if a quick glance at the standings found them in last place.


For the first time ever, the Devils even had a starting goaltender finish with a record close to .500 as Alain Chevrier was 24-26-2 with a 4.32 goals-against average. The 24 wins shattered Chico Resch’s previous single-season team record of 15, which he had done twice. Finally, Daneyko proved he was the resident tough guy with 183 penalty minutes, the new single-season team record. It was a mark he shattered the next season when he headed to the box for 239 minutes.



“We were getting closer, and we could see an upside to it,” MacLean said. “It’s almost like the realization that you know what, they are putting the responsibility on us now as a young group to start taking over the team, putting our mold in it.” “Guys were having good years, and the young guys started stepping up,” Cirella added. “I’m not going to say we had dominant players, but we had more impact players than we did from the season’s before. We would have some spurts of good games and some spurts of bad games. “That really put us on the cusp of becoming something impressive.”

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - BOS 82 54 19 9 261 177 117
2 y - PIT 82 51 24 7 249 207 109
3 x - TBL 82 46 27 9 240 215 101
4 x - MTL 82 46 28 8 215 204 100
5 x - NYR 82 45 31 6 218 193 96
6 x - PHI 82 42 30 10 236 235 94
7 x - CBJ 82 43 32 7 231 216 93
8 x - DET 82 39 28 15 222 230 93
9 WSH 82 38 30 14 235 240 90
10 NJD 82 35 29 18 197 208 88
11 OTT 82 37 31 14 236 265 88
12 TOR 82 38 36 8 231 256 84
13 CAR 82 36 35 11 207 230 83
14 NYI 82 34 37 11 225 267 79
15 FLA 82 29 45 8 196 268 66
16 BUF 82 21 51 10 157 248 52

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Jagr 82 24 43 16 67
P. Elias 65 18 35 -4 53
T. Zajac 80 18 30 3 48
A. Henrique 77 25 18 3 43
M. Zidlicky 81 12 30 -3 42
M. Ryder 82 18 16 -6 34
A. Greene 82 8 24 3 32
E. Gelinas 60 7 22 -3 29
D. Zubrus 82 13 13 1 26
R. Clowe 43 7 19 -10 26
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Schneider 16 15 12 .921 1.97
M. Brodeur 19 14 6 .901 2.51