For years people have predicted the demise of the New Jersey Devils. They won’t be the same team after Scott Stevens retires, or with Scott Niedermayer in Anaheim, the Devils system will start to show leaks. The experts claimed that they couldn’t replace Bobby Holik, or Scott Gomez, or Brian Rafalski. We’ve seen it all through the years, and through it all the Devils just keep on being a perennial contender in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
In fact, last season saw the Devils defeat their arch-rival the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference final and go to the Stanley Cup. Sure they ended up losing to the Los Angeles Kings, but the Devils proved once again that they shouldn’t be written off.
Then came the off-season, and their captain, and one of their best wingers in Zach Parise left via Free Agency for Minnesota. Again the experts, and the pundits predicted that New Jersey would suffer. “They are a one line team with Kovalchuk now” they said. “Martin Brodeur is 40 years old and the lockout will effect him” or The Penguins, Rangers, and Flyers are too good, the Devils will miss the playoffs.
Well here we are 10 games into the season, and the Devils are proving everyone wrong. Their 6-1-3 record is good enough for 2nd in the conference in points percentage (behind only the Boston Bruins). The Devils keep on chugging along, and are again looking like a contender in the conference. Those who wrote them off, you’ve again done so far too soon.
In net, Brodeur is the ageless wonder. The 40 year old is again off to a solid start with a 5-1-2 record and 2.00 GAA in his first 8 games. As we all know Brodeur has been remarkably consistent in his NHL career and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down as he becomes a senior citizen (by NHL standards anyway). He’s backed up by another ageless wonder in Johan Hedberg, who has also been solid when called upon.
Upfront David Clarkson, last season’s surprise 30 goal man is out to show that it was no fluke. With 7 goals and 13 points in 10 games, he’s silenced the critics and shown that he has become a legitimate powerforward in the NHL. Meanwhile Patrick Elias must also be drinking from the goaltenders’ fountain of youth as the veteran centre also has 13 points and is tied with Clarkson for the team lead.
The 100 million dollar man Ilya Kovalchuk has played some decent hockey as well, but its expected that a player with his talent will soon breakout and improve on his current pace of 7 points in 10 games. Meanwhile Adam Henrique, Stephen Gionta, Danius Zubrus, and Travis Zajac are all being counted on to pick up the offensive slack that Parise has left behind. The Devils have done a very good job as their 27 goals for is a respectable pace through the first ten games.
The defensive system has always been the Devils trademark over the last decade. And while they’ve modified it a little, and certainly take some more chances offensively than they did 5 years ago, the importance of defence has not been lost in New Jersey. This strong team concept and support from the forward group has helped a no name defence consisting of Andy Greene, Marek Zidlicky, Mark Fayne, Anton Volchenkov, Bryce Salvador, and the young up and comer Adam Larsson to protect Brodeur.
Overall the Devils are doing things the New Jersey way, and its leading to points and wins this season. If you thought this was the year that their home froze over, and the Devils era came to a close, you’ll probably have to wait til next year (and quite possibly longer).