By Pat Pickens
It’s hard to believe that just eight days ago, we were all sweating the New Jersey Devils season.
True, their 0-1-3 stretch that spanned Jan. 27 until Feb. 2 hadn’t cost the Devils many points. The easily could’ve been 3-1 in that stretch with some better bounces or a couple of less-involved officials.
But those four games could have been a wake-up call. The Devils were awful defensively, surrendering 15 goals in those four games. This past week— with games against the highly-touted Rangers, the offensively smoldering Lightning and a home-and-home series with the white-hot Penguins— would serve as a huge litmus test. Were the Devils contenders, or was their 3-0-3 start an aberration?
After those four games, I think we know the Devils are for real.
We know they’re for real because through 12 games, the Devils are the Eastern Conference’s best team. Their 19 points lead the east— and is one point better than second-placed Boston. They’ve been the second-most stingy team defensively, allowing only 28 goals in 13 games.
New Jersey’s allowed just nine goals in its eight wins. Simply put, you don’t lose games when you allow only one goal per game.
Yet, folks who followed the late-1990s, Jacques Lemaire Devils know that you can’t win simply by playing defense. And, although Travis Zajac has just three points and is pointless in New Jersey’s last six games, the Devils’ HEC line— Adam Henrique, Patrik Elias and David Clarkson— has been on fire. It’s no coincidence that the Devils are 5-1-1 since Henrique returned. Henrique has seven points in seven games, including a five-game point streak.
A reader suggested a follow-up 30-goal campaign for Clarkson, and I thought that fan was crazy. Yet, “Clarky” is on pace for about 36 goals. Throw in Elias’ 14 points, and Henrique-Elias-Clarkson has 36 points in 12 games.
Besides stymieing its opposition, the Devils’ defense has gotten into the offensive mix. Andy Greene has eight points, and every Devils defender has a point.
The Devils PK is killing penalties at an 86 percent clip; their power play is clicking at 21 percent. New Jersey’s goaltending has been the league’s best— especially when you consider Johan Hedberg’s allowed just two goals in three games to date.
Will the Devils lose again? Of course. But they’ve, evidently, found the formula to frustrate Pittsburgh— their staunchest division competition.
We were concerned before the year that New Jersey would hurt with the losses of Petr Sykora, Alex Ponikarovsky and, most notably, Zach Parise.
Yet, if 12 games– or even this past week– are any indication, there’s no cause for worry. No reason for concern.
The Devils are still a contender.
Pat Pickens is a lifelong Devils-fan and New Jersey native. To pay the bills, he works as a sports reporter for Hearst in Connecticut. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter here.