Friday, January 14, 2011

Devils sweep home-and-home, break road skid against Tampa

During 2010 there wasn't much to cheer about as a Devils fan, what with the team being dead last by a mile during this season and going 30-42-8 overall in the calendar year. Despite the fact the team was finally starting to be more competitive after a series of frightening blowout losses, 2011 wasn't starting much better with losses in their first four games and trailing 2-1 against Tampa on Sunday after two periods at home.

However, the third period Sunday and the first period tonight show that maybe, just maybe there's some fun to be had watching the Devils in the second half after all. In the third period of that game Sunday the Devils scored five - yes FIVE! - goals including a couple of empty-netters to break a four-game losing streak with a 6-3 win. Fortunately four days off didn't dull the momentum from that sudden goal-scoring binge as the Devils came out flying with four more goals in the first tonight (all after Steven Stamkos opened the scoring for the Bolts on the power play), getting vet Dwayne Roloson pulled before the first twenty minutes were over en route to a relatively smooth 5-2 win.

At some point last week, Jacques Lemaire compared the Devils' predicament to having heart surgery. What he could have added was that the surgery entailed actually giving this team a heart. Or at least an opponent it can get goals against although perhaps they deserved a better fate in some recent games. Still, the team needed tangible proof of progress and these two games against a playoff-caliber team provided it. Tonight's win, in particular was our first road win in over two months after eleven straight losses outside of New Jersey.

Perhaps just as encouraging as the goal-scoring is who's getting them. For only the second time as a Devil, Ilya Kovalchuk had a multi-goal game tonight, pushing his total to a team-leading twelve. Patrik Elias also got into double digits with his tenth during the first period tonight and a short-handed tally by Travis Zajac near the end of the period gave him his seventh. Even twice-waived Brian Rolston got into the act, with a goal and an assist. Other struggling Devils, such as David Clarkson and Jason Arnott were among the heroes in Sunday's third period outburst and Clarkson in particular is finally starting to look like the well-rounded player of two years ago again.

If the scoring's been encouraging at last it's also nice to see Martin Brodeur start to resemble his old self again, after sitting out those three games he's been strong since returning to the lineup early last Saturday against the Flyers in what turned out to be a scoreless 50+ minute relief effort (though the team still lost 2-1) to go along with 30+ save performances in the last two games against Tampa. Ironically with the team so far out of the playoffs there's really no reason to worry about Marty's workload at this point so I'd expect him to get the call tomorrow in Florida for a big game.

Why is tomorrow a big game, you ask? Well, the Devils' last three-game winning streak was two Decembers ago - that's December 2009. In case you've been hibernating for the last month we're now in 2011. And even if the Panthers play ex-Devil Scott Clemmensen against us again (he won both his starts last year in New Jersey), Florida's still a beatable team. If we finally get over that hump and win more than two in a row, maybe this could be the start of a really fun second half...well unless you're one of those weenie fans that wants the highest draft pick - in a weak draft ironically enough.

And if you're keeping score at home that's three straight good performances by the team (including the loss in Philly) since former captain Jamie Langenbrunner was traded. Coincidence? It's starting to look far less so with each game. Maybe that was the real heart surgery Lemaire was talking about. Yes the coach isn't thrilling me with placing top prospect Matthais Tedenby in limbo, scratching him for the last several games without either giving him a chance or sending him down but that's an argument for another day.

For now I'm just glad to see a competitive team again, one that can actually score more than a goal a game. Hopefully this success isn't fleeting.

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