New Jersey Devils v Pittsburgh Penguins

Be honest, non-Devils fans: you’re kinda surprised by New Jersey’s success this year. Even last year, you didn’t consider them one of the better teams in the east, right? It’s not that you thought they were actually bad, it’s just that…c’mon: everyone loves on the Penguins. The Flyers seemed poised to win it all. The Rangers seemed to have all the pieces. The Bruins were just a year removed from a Cup and had barely changed. There were a ton of teams you would’ve put on a pedestal before them, but…there they were. In the Stanley Cup Final, pushing what seemed to be an unstoppable Los Angeles Kings team to Game Six. NOT GLAMOROUS ENOUGH, I thought.

Still…it did feel like they overachieved to get there. Then they lost their star player Zach Parise to unrestricted free agency in the summer, a tough go considering few people considered them an offensive juggernaut (15th in goals-per-game last year). Add to that Brodeur being another year older and yeah…I picked them to miss the playoffs this season. Here come the Islanders, etc. etc.

As it stands, the Devils are first in the Eastern Conference, a quarter of the way through the regular season schedule. They’ve lost just a single game in regulation (to Pittsburgh, who they’ve beat twice since), posting an 8-1-3 record. Martin Brodeur is still Martin Brodeur (including having the odd, shall we say, “moment”), and he seems like he’s only getting better (four goals against in his last three games, 2.29 GAA on the year).

David Clarkson went from having the grinder label to being a 30-goal guy, and hasn’t regressed a lick so far this season. Yesterday he pulled ahead of Steven Stamkos is the race for the Rocket Richard by scoring his ninth goal in just 12 games, which can hardly be called a fluke, given that he’s 3rd in the NHL with 51 shots on goal (just one behind Sidney Crosby for second). I’m not implying Clarkson is suddenly going to hang with Stamkos in goals, but he’s definitely exceeded the whole “bit player” picture some people have of him. Plus hey, he does commercials!

Ilya Kovalchuk continues to be more than worth his $6.66M cap hit, averaging four minutes of ice time per game more than the next-closest forward, Alex Semin. Points aren’t quite stacking up at the rate he’d like, but he’s still put up 10 in 12 games, including two shorties (his 41 shots are pretty impressive too). He plays in every situation, he’s big, he’s fast, he can shoot…he’s just a tough guy to play.

Travis Zajac got himself a new contract, and still has room to get better this year. Adam Henrique is back and healthy (and has four goals in seven games). Patrick Elias continues to put up numbers, piling 14 points in 12 games so far. Their d-corps doesn’t blow your mind with any huge names, but it’s a rock solid group – Volchenkov, Tallinder, Zidlicky, Salvador, Larsson, Greene and so on. That group has the Devs fourth in goals-against-per-game, and third in shots-against-per-game, which speaks to the quality of their team defense and coaching.

So yes, I relent: the Devils aren’t going to miss the playoffs this year. Not even close. They’re a tough team to beat every time they play. They’re not just winning their easy games right now, they’re basically winning all their games. They’re going to battle Pittsburgh and New York for the Atlantic Division crown until the bitter end. They’re a good hockey team, and I haven’t given them their due so far this season.

Do I think they’re the toast of the Eastern Conference? I do not. But I can see them being a home ice team in the playoffs. As an Isles fan, it’s annoying to admit, but these Devils are pretty damn good.

Comments (9)

  1. As a Devils fan, it is really frustrating that writers often go out of their way NOT to give this team their due (no pun intended). The Devils are solid at virtually every spot on the ice and have young players who continue to develop. Things are looking up, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to see them flip some of their depth in defense and a younger forward for someone like Iginla though.

    • Yeah, pretty much every year everyone decides that the Devils are either a non-playoff team or a bubble team. This has been going on this way for like 20 years – and it’s always wrong! Nobody should ever bet against Lou Lamarello. That dude has some serious voodoo.

  2. On behalf of Devil fans everywhere, thanks for the love, JB. Still hope for the Islanders eh?

  3. You know why they get no love? Because they play such an ugly, boring game. There is no doubt about it’s effectiveness but, man, you see them coming up on the schedule and you find something else to do that night because you know the game will be a snoozer.

    • Why are people stuck on this “Devils are boring’ line. The team has been one of the most exciting in years. The trap is long gone, and now its the Rags that play a boring shot blocking snoozefest of a game, but they are the second coming of the 80′s Oilers in peoples minds. NJ Plays a balanced aggressive forechecking type of game, but now that’s boring? i guess from the perspective of your team never getting a chance it could be boring, but its only cause you are pinned in your own end the whole game. NJ just flat out wins, and the rest of you are just jealous that we never have to rebuild and are rarely out of the playoff race.

    • This silly talk has been going on forever. Was the team pretty boring circa 1995-97? Yeah, if you don’t like defensive strategy. Since then, they haven’t been boring at all. When they won the cup in 2000, they were among the top teams in the league in goals for.

      They currently play an up-tempo, cycle down low style with lots of puck movement in the offensive zone (the powerplay is a lot more interesting this year in that respect). There’s a ton of skill on this team between Kovalchuk, Elias, Henrique, Zajac, Clarkson, etc. They don’t give up many goals because they play the game in the offensive zone, not because they trap.

  4. Thanks for the NJ love JB. Top of the conference and we still get no love from most of the media. It is good to see some can see what is actually happening though.

  5. I must say that though I knew the Devils would be good, I didn’t think they’d do this well. I mean, they lost about 50 goals between Parise, Sykora, and Ponikarovsky this off-season.

    Clarkson’s stepped up nicely, it helps having Zajac from the get-go (injured much of last year), Elias is Elias, Kovalchuk has bought in and does everything. Not only that, but we have a great blueline (in fact, we have too many blueliners).

    The playoffs weren’t a fluke, this team is for real.

  6. You look at all the players they lost over the years, Niedermayer, Rafalski, Parise, Gomez ( one is a joke, can you find which one ? ) and they almost never acquire a big name player ( Kovalchuk being the exception ), so it is easy to dismiss them but they are a team where the sum is greater than the parts.

    One of the greatest organisation in the league.

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