Monday, January 17, 2011

Devils' resurgent offense leads the way on a successful trip

Earlier in the season it was an accomplishment for the Devils to score more than one goal in a single game. However, during these last eight days a hibernating offense has suddenly come to life by getting eighteen in just four games, including five today on Long Island - finally gaining a measure of revenge for two humiliating defeats this season by disposing of the Isles 5-2 to conclude a three-game trip where the Devils got five of a possible six points. Yes, they failed to win Saturday in Florida to extend a streak to three straight wins for the first time in thirteen months but even getting points in four straight games is something of an accomplishment and now I'm finally starting to feel some life watching this team.

Not so coincidentally the kids have figured prominently in this recent surge, with Nick Palmeri getting a goal Saturday to help the Devils get to overtime against nemesis Scott Clemmensen. Our younger players were even more prominent today though, with Matthais Tedenby finally getting out of the doghouse after six straight games as a healthy scratch in a big way, registering a goal and an assist. Most satisfyingly, that assist went to second-year player Vladimir Zharkov, who finally scored his first NHL goal off a rebound in his 49th game early in the first period though if you watched him play you'd be astounded it didn't happen sooner.

Even our kid defensemen haven't been too bad lately since Jacques Lemaire came back. True, Mark Fraser was caught out of position twice as the Isles put on their one surge in the game, turning a 3-0 lead into 3-2 in a matter of less than a minute but Fraser also got two assists in just over eighteen minutes today. And Mark Fayne has been a lot better since his second recall from Albany. Heck, Lemaire's finally gotten Andy Greene above a -20 on the season, how about that?

Yes, other than a young, flawed Tampa team the Devils haven't exactly been playing the murderers' row my Jets are going through in the NFL playoffs and might catch a break Thursday if Sidney Crosby is still out due to a concussion that's caused him to miss the last several games but who we play is kind of irrelevant at this point. You're just looking for progress, particularly from the younger players but you also want to see the vets show they not only can still play but want to be here.

Sure enough, the vets figured into today's game as well with Ilya Kovalchuk scoring on the power play in the first, creeping his goal total upward (he now has 13 on the season). Danius Zubrus scored a second-period goal for his seventh of the season and the Devils' fifth of the game. Even fourth-line grinder Rod Pelley was getting into the act with a goal and an assist this afternoon against Isles prospect Kevin Poulin. And there's no way I can leave out the resurgent Martin Brodeur, who was again strong with 27 saves for his fifth straight good-great performance since returning to the lineup last Saturday in relief of Johan Hedberg.

About the only dark cloud over this streak was the fact that the team's continued improved play seems to prove that much more that longtime Devil John MacLean was over his head earlier in the season. You do start to wonder how different things could have been this season if then-captain Jamie Langenbrunner didn't lead a mutiny against Lemaire last year, causing Lemaire's 'resignation' at the end of last year. Of course this recent streak didn't start until Langenbrunner's trade so one could say having an unhappy captain around was part of this team's malaise, which to be fair did start late last year.

Whatever the case it's clear Lemaire's a lot stronger of a coach with Langenbrunner no longer here. Not to mention having old buddy Larry Robinson behind the bench with him for the first time since 1995 helps. Having Brodeur return to form certainly doesn't hurt either, you can't really blame MacLean or goaltender coach Chris Terreri for Marty's early-season injury and uncharacteristically long slump. And if Lemaire actually lets the kids play then hey, just leave him alone and let him do what he does best - teach.

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