When Martin Brodeur went down early in the season, it looked like 2008 would be a long year for the Devils. But after 30 games played the Devils are a surprising 18-9-3, which gives them 39 points, tied for fifth in the conference.
Even more astounding is the way that the Devils are going about it. The Devils are finding ways to win games not only with defense, but with a new found offensive attack.
For so many years the trap was the way of life in New Jersey. Today's NHL is very different from the days when the Devils won their cups with the likes of Scott Stevens, Ken Danyeko and Scott Neidermayer on defense. Today, the best players on the team (aside from Brodeur) are not defensemen, rather they are players like Zach Parise and Patrik Elias.
This is a transitional period unlike any other for the Devils as they are finally moving up to par with the rest of the NHL in style of play. Perhaps more importantly though, the Devils have learned through the absence of Martin Brodeur that they can win without Brodeur carrying the load for 70 games a year.
In Brodeur's absence Scott Clemmensen has been solid. Sure, he has had some ups and downs, but Clemmensen has played relatively well since being named the starter over Kevin Weekes.
The importance of Clemmensen's play is not only crucial for the time until Brodeur gets back, but it will also allow the Devils to ease Brodeur back into the lineup, and split time all the way into the playoffs. There can't be a Devils fan out there who wouldn't be elated at the prospect of a healthy and well-rested Martin Brodeur heading into the playoffs.
Last night's win over the Ottawa Senators really showed how far this team has come in the first 30 games of this season. Zach Parise had four assists on the night. Parise is currently fifth in goals scored with 18, and is fourth in points with 39. The only players with more points? Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin, pretty good company for Zach to be in.
While Parise is putting up offensive numbers, he is not alone. Patrik Elias is playing at a high level, and has racked up 15 goals and 21 assists on the year. Brian Gionta (nine goals) and the reborn Travis Zajac (nine goals) have also contributed.
To say that these are not the typical Devils is correct. Brian Rolston is slowly finding his groove, and with Brodeur set to come back sometime around February or March, this team certainly is looking to continue it's playoff streak.
Don't look now, but while things are hot on the ice in Jersey, they face a huge task this week. The Devils play home to Philadelphia, Boston and Pittsburgh this week before taking on the Rangers at the Garden next Saturday Dec. 27.
Four games against the upper-echelon teams in the East will make contenders or pretenders out of this team. They are flying high going into this four game stretch, but it will take their best effort yet to come out of these next four feeling good. What a week this will be.