New Jersey is on a hot streak with wins in their last three games
They certainly look different, but is it real?
The new-look Devils are taking to the ice in what can be described as a late blooming of sorts. The return of Travis Zajac and the emergence of a couple rookies has fueled the surge lately.
The question will now turn to the reality of this team. They have a few wins, and that is the goal, after all, but can they continue? And if so, how do they do it?
I'll take a look at six conclusions that can be drawn from the Devils' 6-3 victory over the Dallas Stars tonight, and what they might mean for the future of this team in the 2011-12 season.
They say sometimes the best defense is a good offense
The Devils have a staggering 93.1 percent success rate on the penalty kill so far this season, but that's not even the best part.
They also lead the league in shorthanded goals, and they added another against the Stars. Zach Parise forced a turnover at the Dallas blue line and slipped it over to an open Adam Henrique, who promptly put the puck home to give New Jersey their seventh shorthanded goal and second in the past two games.
What's working for the Devils?
Rather than sit back, they are attacking the puck and making the opponent earn every inch of ice no matter how many players are out there. The key is sustained pressure, and the Devils are doing just that.
The Stars went 0-for-4 on the power play Friday night and gave up the shorthanded goal to Henrique in the second period. If New Jersey can keep killing penalties, they can continue playing as aggressive as they want down the stretch.
Relentless puck pursuit is the key to creating turnovers
At this point in the season, New Jersey has been averaging around two goals per game at home. Yet over the past week, the Devils are being aggressive in the offensive zone.
Against the Stars, the Devils scored goals off of turnovers, a result of their aggressiveness on the attack. With a sniper like Ilya Kovalchuk on the ice, turnovers can create space for him to take his time and pick his spot.
Zach Parise's presence on the ice is one of the keys to this aspect of the game. Captain Zach has been pressuring opponents with total disregard. His four-point performance against Dallas is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his talents. Goals by Kovalchuk and Henrique came off of turnovers created by Parise and his unrivaled energy on the forecheck.
The pressure is coming from every level of the depth chart. Mattias Tedenby may have finally found a home on the third line with David Clarkon and Travis Zajac tonight. His energy will give the Devils an advantage if he can continue it throughout the season like he did against Dallas.
This system is a far cry from the Devils of old, but it works with the type of talent New Jersey has on offense. When they create pressure, they create turnovers, and the Devils are finding ways to score off those turnovers.
The rookie has played his heart out and contributed greatly
The return of Travis Zajac is great indeed, but let's not get in over our heads just yet.
Adam Henrique is in the running for the Calder Trophy. He has shown the ability to bury the puck when given the chance and has been part of a top line that has been wreaking havoc of late. He scored a shorthanded goal tonight and I think it's smart to leave well enough alone on this one.
Zajac has been productive on the top line with Parise in the past, but let's be honest, Henrique is the story right now. He has shown great chemistry with Parise and Kovalchuk and is on pace for a 60-point season in his first year as a pro. As the old saying goes—if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The Devils have seen problems with their depth in the past and now is the chance to test out some other options for the second and third lines. With veteran talent to lead the way, this could be the best time to ride Henrique's hot streak and get him used to winning.
The two teammates have reunited to make a productive duo once again
Patrik Elias watched as his former teammate's jersey was lofted into the rafters of the Prudential Center, but soon enough he will be joining Scott Niedermayer's No. 27 with his own No. 26.
Lou Lamoriello is well known in New Jersey for allowing players to explore other options after an initial stint with his Devils. It seems that Lou just knows he will have another opportunity to offer once again the option to play in New Jersey. Petr Sykora is just the next in a long list of Devils journeymen who found their way back to Jersey, and he has been productive once more.
Sykora and Elias have been showing great chemistry again, as if it had never left, and it is a key component of their success. Dainius Zubrus joined them against the Stars to see their line put together a gorgeous passing play in the Dallas zone. All three were involved and Sykora finished it off for his second of the night.
The excitement of a short-term win streak can be quelled by veteran players and their presence in the locker room and in practice. If the veterans in New Jersey do their jobs, they could be looking at a long-term run very soon.
The Devils greatest goaltender has been in the situation before
Right now, things are holding up in goal for New Jersey, but what happens down the road?
Martin Brodeur is not exactly where he is used to being in terms of his numbers. Some critics say that he is looking a little slow in net, but overall, Brodeur is still making saves and contributing to his team with wins.
Johan Hedberg has statistically outplayed Brodeur to this point in the season but not by a whole lot. Across the board, the Moose has performed admirably in the games he has played. Hedberg came up with 33 stops on 36 shots against Dallas, each of the tallies coming while the Devils were at even strength.
There are a couple of similar situations that come to mind, but most notably is when Brodeur was a rookie playing with Chris Terreri. Marty split time in the regular season and the playoffs, right up until Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
So, the question from here going forward really remains to be answered. Right now, it seems to be working with both goalies getting adequate time to rest between starts. However, we could be watching Marty's last season whether he likes it or not.
Production on all fronts, from the veterans to the rookies
I will say it here and now, last season was a fluke. The Devils are capable of competing far down the stretch, and they have proven to be one of the best organizations in the league over the past 15 years.
Lou Lamoriello has put together a squad that is capable of producing on offense and defense while keeping with the change in times. With injuries to the team's best player, the outlook is always going to be slim.
The game against Dallas saw the returns of both Travis Zajac and Anton Volchenkov, two key pieces to the puzzle who started the season on IR. Volchenkov's presence on defense was well noted, as he was physical and aggressive in front of the net.
Zajac will take a little more time to ease back into things, but he still looked like he was moving well and even had a breakaway shot on goal. No matter how coach Peter DeBoer chooses to use him, he will add offense to any line he is on. The Devils took it to the Stars early and often and in the end, they outclassed a team that had beaten them earlier in the season.
New Jersey needs to keep things rolling and bounce back into the playoff picture as the NHL nears the All-Star break in January. They play the Canadiens tomorrow night in Montreal with Brodeur in net and could take revenge for a loss last week to the Habs in their own building.