The Devils early season struggles point to several deficiencies with New Jersey, but one trend became evidently clear – the inability to win on home ice.
New Jersey’s struggles at The Rock, while loudly pronounced, should come as no surprise to Devils fans. Since it’s opening in 2007, Prudential Center hasn’t provided an overwhelming home-ice advantage, and this year continues to display the Devils’ struggles at home.
When the Prudential Center opened in 2007, it gave the Devils a building exclusively for their use. True, Seton Hall Basketball played its home games there, but the building was dedicated to the Devils. But in it’s first season, the Devils couldn’t establish a home-ice advantage. During the 2007-08 season, the Devils went 25-14-2 at home, good for a .609 winning percentage. The winning percentage looks gaudy, but the team only went nine games above .500 at home. The Devils matched their home winning percentage on the road, carrying a lofty .609 winning percentage on the road. The advantage, therefore, was negligible, as both percentages cancelled out. The Prudential Center became even more unwelcoming during the postseason, as the Devils lost all three games on home ice in a 4-1 first-round loss to the New York Rangers.
The 2008-2009 season presented the first definitive home-ice boost for the Devils. During the regular season, the team went 28-12-1, good for a .683 winning percentage. The team finished 15 games above .500 at home, still the high water mark for the franchise. On the road, the Devils held a .561 winning percentage, which is still a respectable number. During the playoffs, the team won half of their playoff games at home, but suffered a crushing, Game 7 defeat against the Carolina Hurricanes on home ice.
Last season, the Devils continued to improve on their own ice. Their 27-10-4 mark was the second-best record at the Prudential Center. The team once again finished with a high winning percentage (.659), helping them to clinch the Atlantic Division crown. The team once again turned in a worse performance on the road, playing to a .512 save percentage while finishing just one game above .500. But once again, The Rock failed to provide a playoff victory, as the Devils won only one home playoff game.
In the three years since its opening, the Devils compiled an 80-36-7 record, which isn’t bad. But, underneath the record, there’s an ugly number. The Devils have only a .491 winning percentage at the Prudential Center. The team was far more successful on the road, playing to a .528 winning percentage. Struggling at home is nothing new for the Devils, but this year has been more pronounced.
There isn’t any one thing to improve the Devils home play. The same problems that plague this team on the road hurt them at home. It could be the attendance numbers or the neutral site feel of some games against the New York Rangers and other rivals. While those would be valid reasons, I believe it simply deals with the Devils play. The Devils need to play better at home. They need to match the energy of a home crowd and make it tough for opponents. That deals with crowd atmosphere, but a fan base can only support a team that gives it a consistently good effort.
While they’ve struggled this season at home, the Devils’ struggles at home aren’t unusual because they haven’t been a great team at The Rock. The Devils need to reverse the trend and make the Prudential Center a tough place to play.