New Jersey Devils: Showdown with Penguins in the Atlantic Division

Nicholas SteblenkoContributor IIIDecember 30, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 05:  Maxime Talbot #25 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jacob Josefson #16 of the New Jersey Devils take a face-off at Consol Energy Center on April 5, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

As the NHL and the rest of the world get ready to ring in the New Year, the New Jersey Devils are quickly becoming a team to watch out for in the Atlantic Division.

Winners in eight of their last 11 games, the Devils have slowly begun their climb back into the playoff race and now face an opportunity to gain ground on one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

One of the reasons the Devils have been successful is their level of consistent play. Even in a loss, New Jersey has found ways to be aggressive on the forecheck and to keep pressing the play, no matter how far they fall behind. In a loss to the Hurricanes, New Jersey fell behind by three goals only to bounce back in the third, before eventually losing 4-2 with an empty net goal at the end of the game by Carolina.

Today, New Jersey will face off against Pittsburgh, a team that has been successful even without their star forward Sidney Crosby. Players like Jordan Staal and James Neal have stepped up to fill the void, while the return of Evegeni Malkin has sparked the offense further and provided the Penguins with another tenacious weapon to turn to.

Yet, the veterans in New Jersey believe the Devils have as good a chance as anybody to compete down the stretch.

"Do we have the ingredients here to be successful? Yes, I think so. We have good balance here this year with Adam (Henrique) stepping up with the role in the middle, Travis (Zajac) will get better as the season goes on. (Adam) Larsson has stepped up nicely. I like the ingredients we have here with the young guys stepping in." (taken from nj.com)

With a win against Pittsburgh, New Jersey would put themselves in a great position to make a run at the Eastern Conference during the first week of January. With match ups against the Senators, Bruins and Panthers, New Jersey could find themselves staring at a showdown for the fourth or fifth seed when they play Pittsburgh next on January 7th.