The New Jersey Devils are off to the best start in their franchise's history, going 8-1-3 through their first 12 games.
The Devils started the season strong but hit a rough patch when they lost three straight overtime games (one in a shootout) and then got pummeled by the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 on Feb. 2.
Today, nine days later, the Devils are sitting atop the Eastern Conference courtesy of a five-game winning streak. The team has been blazing hot, winning each game by at least two goals and only allowing a total of five goals over that span.
With everything clicking for the Devils, some talented players have emerged as team leaders, going above and beyond to secure wins.
Andy Greene came into this season without particular purpose. He's been a somewhat sturdy, reliable defender for the Devils but hasn't ever exceeded expectations by much.
Recently, Andy Greene has been spectacular. After scoring the loan goal in the loss to the Penguins, Greene exploded, notching six assists and a game-winning goal before ending his point streak in yesterday's win.
During the win streak, Greene has been a plus-five and managed eight shots while playing more than 22.5 minutes per game.
Patrik Elias is playing the same game he's been playing his whole career, and he's still doing it well at age 36.
Elias has been on all season, playing above a point-per-game pace, but his two best games have come during the streak.
First, against the Rangers, Elias assisted on all three Devils goals while helping to keep the dangerous Rangers forwards in check.
He had his second straight three-point game two days later against the lightning, when he put a goal and two assists up on the board.
In the five games, Elias has put nine pucks on net. Playing more than 19 minutes per game, he's been the calming, veteran presence on a fast, rough, exciting line.
Adam Henrique started the season late due to an offseason injury, but his presence was felt as soon as he returned.
In his seven games back, Henrique has four goals and two assists. He has a point in each game of the current streak, including goals in three straight games against the Rangers, Lightning and Penguins. His goal against the Penguins was the game-winner.
Henrique has centered the Devils' most effective line during the streak, and the sophomore is showing why he was named a Calder Trophy finalist last season.
During the streak, Henrique has earned himself a plus-four rating.
It's hard to be surprised by Martin Brodeur anymore; there really isn't anything left to be accomplished in his historic goaltending career. Still though, he keeps on going, and he keeps on playing well.
To be fair, Brodeur has only played in three of the five wins, while Johan Hedberg picked up the other two starts. And Hedberg played superbly, shutting out the Islanders before holding the Penguins to one goal yesterday.
Marty gets the nod here because of the difficulty of his wins. It started with the Rangers, led by their trio of Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Rick Nash, when he stopped 24 of 25 shots from the hated rivals.
Next, he faced off against the Tampa Bay Lightning. At the time, Tampa Bay's league-leading offense was averaging 4.4 goals per game, being led by Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and rookie sensation Cory Conacher. Marty was able to stop 17 of the 19 shots that came his way.
Finally, Brodeur faced off against a Penguins team that had won five straight games in which the Pens had outscored their opponents 23-8. Despite an impressive lineup including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz, Marty was able to hold the surging Penguins at bay, stopping all but one of the 25 shots he faced.
Surprisingly, Ilya Kovalchuk has not been the Devils' most important player during their streak. The Russian superstar came back to the NHL after playing some superb hockey overseas during the lockout.
It took Kovy a little time to settle back in, but he's certainly woken up now and is playing some of the best hockey of his career.
The above video highlights one of his two goals in the last three games, a short-handed laser that began when Kovy read the Lightning power play and intercepted the pass. His other goal was the game-winner in the second half of the Devils' home-and-home against Pittsburgh. He has three assists in that span as well.
Kovalchuk's always been a workhorse, but he's stepped it up even further recently, averaging more than 25 minutes per game. In the first game against Pittsburgh, Kovalchuk actually played more than 30 minutes. You read that right—Ilya Kovalchuk played half of the entire game. That would be impressive for a defenseman. For a forward, it's extraordinary.
During the win streak, Kovy's been pouring the pucks on net, registering 15 shots. Perhaps most impressively, Kovy's been a plus-three, raising his season total to plus-five. That may not seem too impressive, but for a player who is a lifetime minus-105, it's a humongous step in the right direction.
Of course, if you're looking for the cause of the Devils' success, you need look no further than David Clarkson.
Clarkson entered the season coming off of a career year where he managed his first 30-goal season. Now, in a shortened, 48-game season, Clarkson is on pace for 36. That would naturally be ludicrous, but when you watch Clarkson play with a mix of such ferocity and grit and some explosive skill, you might start to believe him to be up to the task.
Clarkson has been the Devils' main offensive weapon during their winning streak. The second-line winger managed a goal to start against the Islanders, two goals—including the game-winner—and an assist against the Rangers, an assist against the Lightning and finally another two goals in the second Pittsburgh victory.
The offensive explosion has left Clarkson tied with Patrick Kane and Patrick Marleau for second in the league in goals with nine.
After an offseason in which arguably the Devils' best player, Zach Parise, left via free agency, Clarkson quickly stepped up to fill the scoring gap in the roster. During the win streak, he's thrown 18 pucks on net while going plus-five. His constant presence in front of and around the net is creating a headache for defenders, and the result has left Clarkson vying to be one of the league's elite goal scorers.