Are the Devils the Biggest Surprise Early in the 2013 NHL Season?

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Are the Devils the Biggest Surprise Early in the 2013 NHL Season?
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
New Jersey has started strong, collecting points in eight of nine games

The New Jersey Devils have collected points in eight of nine games so far in 2013. They stand just one point behind the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.

Considering a 5-1-3 start, we have to ask: Are the Devils the biggest surprise this young NHL season?

When Zach Parise bolted for Minnesota and his childhood pastures, many believed he took the Devils’ competitive edge away. Without their top winger, captain and emotional leader, the Devils were expected to wither into mediocrity. Martin Brodeur’s tires would finally blow out and the lack of scoring couldn’t hide behind stout defense any longer.

Even Bleacher Report’s own Nicholas Goss saw them finishing last in the Atlantic Division.  

Maybe the doubts did not reflect a diminishing Devils team as much as an improved Atlantic Division.

Sidney Crosby is back at 100 percent and makes the Penguins a Stanley Cup favorite. With the offseason acquisition of Rick Nash, the Rangers are a cup-or-bust team as well. The young Islanders are expected to make leaps and bounds this year around a blooming superstar in John Tavares.

But the Devils? All they did was lose a superstar. Their big offseason addition was a guy named Bobby Butler. And they are a far cry from a young roster.

Yet, through nine games, New Jersey is 4-1-1 against division foes. At least for the naysayers, this has to be unexpected.

Paul Bereswill/Getty Images
David Clarkson leads the way with seven goals.

 

But what shouldn't surprise anybody is the way they are winning. It's a similar type of formula the Devils employed last spring—scoring goals in and around the crease. The garbage goals. Also contributing is a top-10 penalty kill and of course, the ageless Martin Brodeur. Not much has changed in terms of how they are winning.

And although everyone points to the loss of Parise, not much has changed on the roster either. Including Petr Sykora and Alexei Ponikarovsky, that leaves just three departures from last year’s Eastern Conference Champion. The second line, third line and entire defensive corps are intact.

This is especially beneficial in a lockout-shortened season. With just a week of training camp, some teams barely had time to get to know each other let alone develop set plays and on-ice chemistry.

Just look at the Rangers. In exchange for Nash, they had to cough up Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Tim Erixon. Regardless of production, those three guys were key to New York’s energy and flow. You can see how they are struggling to find themselves in the early going. Rick Nash seems to be pressing a bit, as athletes often do when they relocate to New York. Unfortunately for them, every game counts twice as much and they have half the time to right the ship.

Yet things remain the same in New Jersey. Consider this: what if last year’s slow start was simply a period of adjustment for the Devils under new head coach Pete DeBoer? They finished strong last year, floored the gas pedal in the playoffs and have continued their strong play in 2013. This kind of success may just be the norm.

What team is the biggest surprise in the league so far?

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Hey, hasn't that been the standard for the past 20 years?

If the same naysayers are stubborn enough, they’ll highlight the measly plus-three goal deferential the Devils are currently sporting. Then they’ll say once David Clarkson cools off, the scoring deficiency will return to the forefront.

These are the same types of doubts the Devils have been facing for the better part of a decade. And they have missed the playoffs just once.

So are they the biggest surprise in the league? No. I’d give that honor to Tampa Bay and the defense they are playing after allowing the most goals in the league last year. They are a team I wouldn't want to face in the playoffs. Chicago looks pretty darn impressive as well. 

Honestly, I bet if you asked Martin Brodeur, he would be surprised if New Jersey hadn't started out this way.

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