The New Jersey Devils have turned their season around in the last dozen games, posting a record of 9-1-2, including an Devils defeat Canadiens 4-1 impressive 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens Sunday in Montreal. Despite losing goaltender Martin Brodeur to a knee injury in the first period, the Devils played a strong game and took the action to the Canadiens, a clear difference from the team that failed miserably in the first half of the season.
A major question that has arisen from the Devils positive play, has been what is the fate of Head Coach Jacques Lemaire, who retired last year? On December 26th, he was quoted in Detroit as saying he wouldn't return for next season, leaving essentially no wiggle room for that to change. However, on Sunday, and earlier today he was quoted as saying "I'll talk about next year after this year," which at a minimum, at least opens up the opportunity for Lemaire to re-consider and come back for another year behind the bench.
Maybe his disagreements with Jamie Langenbrunner were a bigger deal than people realize, and his departure is making it more enjoyable for Lemaire? (Completely speculation on my part). It's not hard to see the difference that Lemaire has made behind the bench for New Jersey, and the team has re-invented itself not only since the firing of John MacLean, but also compared to last year under Lemaire as well.
I also think the relationship Lemaire has with Ilya Kovalchuk needs to be factored in. I think Lemaire really thinks that Kovalchuk can continue to blossom and be one of the top all around players in the NHL under his tutelage. It's no coincidence that Kovalchuk's game has really taken off of late as he plays more and more of a two-way game under Lemaire's guidance.
With Zach Parise back in the fold for next season, there would and should be a lot of expectations thrust upon the Devils, assuming the Devils continue to play well over the last 29 games. Keep in mind though, one doesn't need to look too far back to remember it was very similar this past off-season, when many people cast the Devils in the mix as a Stanley Cup contender.
Next year, a whole different set of circumstances will present themselves, but it's nice to see this current combination put together a nice twelve game run. If it continues, then people can get real excited for next season, especially if Lemaire decides to give it another go.
A huge key to any playoff push the Devils want to make will take place in the next twelve days or so when the Devils take on the Carolina Hurricanes three times, as well as matchups with the Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks and New York Rangers. If the Devils were to win all six (which is going to be extremely tough to do to say the least), things could get very interesting, but let's hope the team isn't looking too far ahead and taking things a shift at a time, a day at a time, etc.
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