Devils on top of NHL at Halfway Mark

Sports Radio NY AM1240-WGBBContributor IJanuary 3, 2010

Who would have thunk it? Head Coach Brent Sutter walks out unexpectedly on the Devils this past Spring after 2 consecutive first round playoff losses. The Devils loose veterans JohnMadden, Brian Gioant and Mike Rupp  to free agency. They loose top defensemen, and USA Olympian, Paul Martin (still out) for much of the season. They have been or are without without key starting forwards, Danius Zubrus, Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, Jay Pandolfo, and Rob Niedermayer. They currently are playing without Clarkson, Salvador, Martin, and Zubrus. All of these players have been or are being replaced by:

1. Brilliant free agents pickups such as Rob Niedermayer and Dean McAmmond

2. By a procession of AHLers from Lowell

3. By some younger players that have finally made the Devils’ team like Nichalos Bergfors, who is second in rookie scoring behind the Isles’ John Taveres and has 8 power play goals.

Last night the Devils improved their LEAGUE LEADING winning percentage and  59 points in 40 games (Sharks have 61 in 42 games) by beating Jacques Lemaire’s previous team of 8 years, the Minnesota Wild 5-3.  One could argue the Devil’s should have easily beaten the Wild and the victory was no big deal. But what is most interesting and so typical of the Devils is the way they won last night. They beat Minnesota at their own game. The Devils have been very successful this year adapting their game to meet the way the other team plays. If they need to run and gun they can. If they need to play tight checking, simple hockey they can. Whatever it takes to win Jacques dials up the answers and the Devils respond…seemingly no matter what players are on the ice. Last night the Devils played with essentially 4 defensemen, and their top center, Travis Zajac, having an off game. That’s no problem for these Devils. Captain Jamie Langenbrunner registers his first career hat trick, Martin Broduer continues his stunningly brilliant play in goal, Patrik Elias played like the underrated superstar he is and Andy Greene played defense like the all-star player he is becoming. The result is another Devils victory. To paraphrase Ken Daneyko’s from the other night, “I sat next to Gordie Howe tonight and he remarked that the Devils are playing the best team game in the NHL right now. They work hard shift after shift as a 5-man unit.” And that is why the lead the league.

There was a sequence of plays from the game last night that typifies the Devils’ season. The Devils were changing lines and Patrick Elias had the puck on the boards, trying to delay long enough for his teammates to come on the ice. Dean McAmmond (a player no one wanted this September), alertly came on to the ice. Elias flipped the puck up the boards to him and he out-skated the defenders to the goal and shot a back-handed, highlight reel goal past the Minnesota Goalie, Nicholas Backstrom. While that was a fantastic play, and typifies the smarts, awareness and teamwork the Devils have shown most of the year, it is what happened next that is what the 2009-2010 Devils are about. After the very next face off, with McAmmond’s line on the ice, Devils’ defenseman Johnny Oduya, made a mistake. He pinched into the neutral zone and missed his man and the puck. McAmmond, who could have been distracted by his own glory, was on top of the play. McAmmond sped into Oduya’s position, press the puck carrier to slow him down and then rushed toward the Devils’ net to recover the Minnesota forward breaking to the net, waiting form the cross pass from the man McAmmond just delayed. The play was defused. There’s no stat for that kind of play from your 4th line center other than in the win column.