When Brian Rolston went down with an ankle sprain, the collective Devils fanbase (all seven of us) waved goodbye to the team's scoring ability. Hell, the team had scored no more than two goals a game up to that point, and their big-name free agent signee had just gone down for a month.
But their next game featured their highest scoring output of the season, with three goals in regulation, and one more in a shootout, which they won. But in that game, their other free agent prize, Bobby Holik, fractured his pinkie. He is out for three to four weeks as well.
And it was choice timing, too. The Devils' next game was tonight against the Dallas Stars, with their own free agent acquisition, Sean Avery. Avery has made quite a bit of noise the past few seasons, particularly against Marty Brodeur and the Devils.
New Jersey had signed Holik, among other reasons, to be their Avery—a pain-in-the-behind enforcer that could also provide a competitive spark for his teammates. And right before playing against their nemesis, their answer goes down.
But the Devils flat-out wasted the Stars tonight, shutting them out 5-0. It was a delicious showing of both offense and defense—something the Devils feared they'd lost when their new-old guys went down.
The Devils dominated from the start (a Jamie Langenbrunner goal less than two minutes into the game) to finish (a late goal by none other than David Clarkson). Brodeur's 98th shutout was a one-sided affair, and don't think Devils fans aren't aware that this same Stars team just beat the Rangers two nights ago.
In these two games, the young replacements have made the most of their ice time. Petr Vrana has been skating on the top line in Rolston's place, and he scored in his first ever NHL game against the Capitals. Tonight, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (or, PL3) made his debut, and looked solid, assisting on the Clarkson goal and delivering a very solid hit late in the game.
I expect the injuries will begin to affect the Devils sooner rather than later, but right now the team is on fire, and everyone is stepping up. Plus, with Holik out, I get to show off that I know all of PL3's names.
One negative though: twice during the game, Clarkson tried to dupe Avery into a fight. I know Clarkson is our badass now, and he wanted to show Avery that he's not welcome in Joisey, but it looked awfully amateurish.
The Devils took care of their bidness on the scoreboard, and didn't make this into a clawing match. Avery never really had a chance to tip the scales for his team (nor did he factor into the Ranger game), and Clarkson looked immature trying to induce him.
There was no reason for Avery to fight in this blowout, and Clarkson was basically saying, "I don't care, I want to play up all the stupid hockey stereotypes and fight you anyway." It was goonish, and not something I like to see from Clarkson, who is very talented. After the second attempt, a ref did come over to the bench to reprimand him. Kudos to Avery for not caving in.
Anyway, until this lets up, I'm thrilled with the way the Devils are playing. Let's hope they can keep it up for longer.