The Cardiff Devils currently sit second in the EIHL with 38 points, two points off top spot with two games in hand. That’s a very favourable position to be in.
There has been a lot of criticism of this team that I’m not going to get too into, What I am going to do is explain how the Devils have actually improved from last year, the issue is so has the league.
We’re 25 games into the 2018/19 season for the Devils, that means 35 to go. To be two points back from the top spot with four points available in those two games in hand is a huge factor for the team. Sure a hand from the Glasgow Clan who beat the Belfast Giants on Saturday night helped them into this position, but still, it’s a great spot for the reigning champions to be in right now.
The Devils currently have a record of 17 wins, four regulation losses and four overtime/shootout losses, good enough for 38 points through 25 games.
Compare that to the 25 game mark last year? They had 18 wins, six regulation losses and a single overtime/shootout loss which gave them 37 points. There’s only a point difference, but that’s still one point better off this year.
Goals scoring is higher as well, they had 94 goals at this point last year, right now they have a league leading 102, while goals against has dropped too from 71 to 69.
This Devils team at times can frustrate you, but that’s more because the league around them is getting better. Over the past two seasons the Devils have been the pace setters, now teams like Belfast are catching up.
There was a few changes in the roster for Adam Keefe and the Giants and lets give them credit for a fantastic bit of recruiting over the summer. With some guys like Sébastien Sylvestre, Steve Saviano and Jackson Whislte leaving the side, Keefe brought in the likes of Kyle Baun, Patrick Dwyer and netminder Tyler Beskorowany (who has been incredible this year) so that the Giants could go on a run of silverware themselves, and not many would bet against them lifting something this year. Whether it’s the league title, playoffs or the team defending the Challenge Cup, you have to imagine one of those trophies will be in Northern Ireland.
The Giants are the closest competition the Devils have this year and it’s shaping up to be a more interesting finish to the EIHL season with these two expected to go right down to the wire, and let’s not ignore the fact that the Panthers and Flyers are still lurking around near the top, this could be more than a two-horse race. Even Sheffield can’t be ignored, it’s a hell of a long shot but the turnaround job going on there is impressive in its own right.
Cardiff won the league last year on March 16th with a couple of games still left to play, finishing 10 points above the next placed team the Manchester Storm, while the year before they finished seven points clear at the top. If it’s going to go right down to the wire it’s better for the league as a whole.
A lot can change between now and the end of the season, but if these two teams can keep up their pace it’s just going to add to the drama and excitement throughout the season. After all, sports is an entertainment business. It may make losing more unbearable with another team nipping at your heels and the threat of falling behind getting bigger and bigger, but it’ll make winning those crucial games down the stretch even sweeter. Be gracious in defeat and humble in victory.
Don’t get me wrong, nobody is saying you’re wrong to be annoyed at a loss, the Devils have a passionate fan base and losing just isn’t in the teams DNA over recent seasons. Even Head Coach Andrew Lord has said in recent interviews that the team hasn’t played a full 60, or certain guys haven’t been giving it everything they’ve got. If you notice this you’re okay to question it (how some go about it leaves a lot to be desired), but the best teams have these moments. Belfast are going to have a few of them i’m sure, and they’re honestly an incredible team in their own right.
You may feel the team aren’t as good as last year, and I’ll admit the statistics available in the EIHL compared to ones available in the CHL or NHL for example can only tell part of the story, but for now, despite being second the Devils are actually in a better position points wise, goal scoring is higher for the team and the league in general, and despite what some think, Ben Bowns isn’t having a bad year (he’s actually in a tie for fourth place in save percentage in a year where some teams have dramatically improved their netminder situation, just look at Milton Keynes for example.)
There are going to be more losses, more bad nights, more bad luck and awkward bounces of the puck, that’s inevitable. There are also going to be more wins. They’re in the thick of a run for the league title, and with the Challenge Cup out of the question now, the Devils can go full steam ahead for a three-peat. But in a tough league where anyone can beat anyone on any given night, it’s going to be difficult.