New Jersey Devils: 5 Reasons the Devils Keep Winning
The New Jersey Devils have got to be happy with how things look right now.
After winning in overtime Friday night against the Washington Capitals, the New Jersey Devils remain unbeaten a full week into the season. The team has started off the season running after falling in last season's Stanley Cup finals to the Los Angeles Kings.
The team has been firing on all cylinders: in three games, the Devils scored eight goals and only gave up three—two of them on the opponent's power play. The team has never trailed, and has scored both man-up and shorthanded.
What's allowing this to happen? What's kept the Devils running after losing captain and cornerstone Zach Parise in free agency? The answer is a lot of different things, but here are five of the main reasons the Devils have started their 2013 season so well.
Big Money Men Paying off
Ilya Kovalchuk had his best season as a Devil last season, finishing fifth in the league with 83 points (37 goals), and he also developed into a strong all-around player.
After coming to the Devils as an elite scoring threat—and not much else—Kovalchuk has spent the last couple seasons rounding out his game. He is now a threat on both ends of the ice, no matter how many skaters either team has.
It would seem last year was only a sign of good things to come. In the first three games of this season, Kovalchuk has two goals and two assists. He scored on a shorthanded penalty shot against the Flyers, and in the waning seconds of overtime against the Capitals.
He's also sporting a plus-five rating, a welcome change from his combined minus-35 rating over the last two seasons.
But just as big as Kovalchuk has been Travis Zajac. The Devils' top-line center signed an extension earlier in the week that will pay him $46 million over the next eight years.
It was nice to see another player sign on long-term to be a Devil, but it also could have potentially taken away Zajac's motivation.
Well that is not the case. Zajac has been deadly so far, especially when used alongside Kovalchuk. So far, he has two goals—one game-winner—a plus-two rating and a 60-percent faceoff win-percentage.
With nearly $150 million tied up in these two players, Devils management have got to be happy with what they are seeing so far.
David Clarkson Continues to Grow
It's hard to believe that David Clarkson was once viewed almost exclusively as a thug.
The Devils' power forward declared himself a scoring threat after notching a career-high 30 goals during the 2011-12 campaign, and he's showing no signs of slowing down.
Through three games, Clarkson has two goals and an assist, with one of the goals a game-winner.
He is still a physical force on the ice, but he's grown significantly more comfortable taking shots and it's paying off for him.
Marty Being Marty
Devils fans have come to expect a pretty high level of play out of Martin Brodeur. Luckily, the age-defying goalie is happy to oblige.
Entering the season at 40 years old, it was unclear if a combination of age and lockout-related rust would cause some sort of decline in Marty's play.
One thing's for sure: it certainly hasn't yet.
The league's third-oldest player is 3-0 through three games, sporting an impressive .958 save-percentage and .98 goals-against average. He also managed his 120th career shutout against the Flyers, extending his mind-boggling record.
While he may slow down at some point, it's exciting to see Brodeur in such top form so late in his career.
When Zach Parise left the team, he left a lot of gaps that needed to be filled. He was a great scorer, and Clarkson and Zajac are working to step up their games, but he was also a superb defensive forward.
His absence has not hurt the Devils nearly as much as it could have so far, and a big part of that is due to the play of Jacob Josefson and third-liners Steve Bernier, Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter,
The third-line came into prominence as the Devils' fourth line during last season's playoffs, where they forced their way into high-stakes hockey and won more than a few couple for the Devils. Josefson has been on and off the roster since being drafted in 2009, dealing with a long string of injuries that have interfered with his career.
Friday night, Stephen Gionta and Jacob Josefson became nearly unstoppable on the penalty kill. Gionta scored off a pass from Josefson just after a Devil penalty expired in the first period, and Capitals' power plays were spotted with Devils scoring chances throughout the night thanks to one or both of the unlikely stars.
It's good for the big players like Kovalchuk, Zajac, Patrik Elias and Clarkson to keep the team on track, but it's depth players like Josefson and Gionta that can make a team lethal.
Sorry to be a buzz-kill, but it's important to keep things in perspective.
So far, the Devils have defeated the New York Islanders, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Washington Capitals. The Islanders are usually somewhat mediocre, but both the Flyers and Caps have the potential to be great, right?
Well, not yet. The Devils have not yet defeated a team that's won a game.
Opening night, they beat the Isles 2-1. They handed an 0-2 Flyer team it's third-straight loss, and tonight handed Washington its fourth defeat of the season—though the Caps did manage a point this time. On top of that, the Devils' schedule has been spread out, with two nights' rest between each game.
Sunday, the Devils will visit Montreal, and it's hard to think of that as too tough a matchup. No disrespect meant towards the Canadiens, but Marty Brodeur relishes playing in front of his home crowd, and has historically dominated when playing in Montreal.
The real test should come next Tuesday, when the Devils take on the Boston Bruins. The Bruins have been a top team in the Eastern Conference for years now, and have also started out hot at 3-0-1.
This isn't to say Devils fans shouldn't be happy with their team; the Devils look great! It's an exciting beginning for a team that could have very quickly become depressing this season.
Rather, it's just a reminder that the Devils won't be going 48-0, and that there are still a lot of great teams playing great hockey out there for the Devils to match up against.