Stephen Gionta celebrating a goal against the Senators Monday afternoon.
On February 22 of last year Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils sat in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. First-year head coach Pete DeBoer's success was a nice story, and the Devils seemed ready to return to the playoffs after a one-year sabbatical which featured a failed experiment with John MacLean as head coach.
As nice as the regular season was going for New Jersey, some hockey heads did not consider the Devils a threat to win the cup. They, like other Devils' teams of the late-2000s, would come up short in the playoffs.
The critics were wrong, however, as the Devils pieced together a run that lasted until Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
On February 22, 2013 they are in a position that is not so different from the year before. A strong start to the year has come as a surprise to some. New Jersey doesn't seem to be in the same conversation as the Penguins and the Blackhawks are as true contenders to the crown.
What's to say things are shaping up similarly to last postseason, with a well-built Devils team using their depth to get hot at the right time? Here are a few reasons why they are a threat to be reckoned with.
Clarkson has 10 goals through 16 games in 2013
In the wake of Zach Parise's exodus to Minnesota, the Devils seemed to lack a legitimate No. 2 scoring threat behind Ilya Kovalchuk.
Sure, Clarkson was coming off his first-ever 30-goal season, but it was unclear whether he would be able to repeat that kind of success.
Clearly he can.
With 10 goals in 16 games this season, Clarkson is a player the opposition needs to account for around the crease. If DeBoer keeps Kovalchuk and Clarkson on separate lines, the Devils will be all the more tough to defend come playoff time.
As the fourth line last spring these three dominated their matchups.
Last year they were the fourth line. This year they are the third.
In either scenario the combination of Steve Bernier, Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta will probably be more physical than the line they are opposing.
This line was the single biggest reason the Devils beat the Flyers and the Rangers in the playoffs last year. Their relentless forecheck and physical presence wore down opposing teams by the end of the game.
These three embody the offensive depth the Devils boast this year. While the offense doesn't have the potent scoring other clubs do, Pete DeBoer feels comfortable rolling the lines in the most intense of games.
Andy Greene lays a clinical hip check in Monday's shoot out loss the the Sens
Pete DeBoer says often that he has eight NHL-caliber defensemen on his 25-man roster.
Usually only six of them dress, but all eight of them were on last year's team. No turnover must make Martin Brodeur feel comfortable with who he is in communication with.
This defensive corps has a nice mix of guys with some offensive touches like Marek Zidlicky and Andy Greene, as well as some big bruisers like Anton Volchenkov and captain Bryce Salvador.
Their chemistry is great, and the defense will be a strength of this team moving forward.
Lamoriello is the longest tenured GM in the major North American sports.
No other franchise can claim the longest tenured general manager in pro sports.
Also the president, Lamoriello handles everything in the Devils' universe from who is on the blue line to what is on the snack line.
Lamoriello is acting with added urgency in this short season and has already made two trades. Trading for Alexei Ponikarovsky for the second time in 13 months sounds a little quirky, but it doesn't surprise when it comes from Lamoriello. With Dainius Zubrus out indefinitely, the Devils needed a forward that fits, and we know Ponikarovsky does.
The trade deadline isn't until April. Lamoriello has time to find another piece in the quest for the franchise's fourth cup under his watch.
Brodeur has done it all, and wants to do it one more time.
Ten all-star games. Four Vezinas. Three Stanley Cups. Two Olympic gold medals. There is nothing that Martin Brodeur hasn't done. There is no moment that is too big.
If all else was in disarray, things would still appear calm as long as Brodeur is between the pipes in New Jersey.
He has a goals-against average barely over two in his playoff career and continued to look stingy last spring. In the midst of another strong season at age 40, this wily ol' codger wants to drink from another cup.
If anybody has the power to take the Devils to the promised land, it is Brodeur.