After ending 2010 with a rare win, the New Jersey Devils start 2011 with a chance to do something even rarer - put together a win streak.
The Devils will look for their second win in a row tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center in Raleigh, NC.
New Jersey, plagued by inconsistent play during the 2010 part of their schedule, could only string together wins once. That two-game winning streak came back on November 22-24, when the Devils defeated the Washington Capitals (5-0) and the Calgary Flames (2-1, SO).
But that was under coach John MacLean, who couldn't get his team playing consistent hockey. Under interim coach Jacques Lemaire, the Devils found consistent play. Their defensive zone play improved, and the offense is generating more chances.
The improvement in both those areas led the Devils to a 3-1 win over the Atlanta Thrashers last night at the Prudential Center. Mark Fayne put the Devils ahead, 1-0, only 1:18 into the game. Jamie Langenbrunner extended the lead to 2-0 at 1:01 of the second period. With the score at 2-1, Ilya Kovalchuk stripped Brent Sopel at the Devils' blueline and scored on a breakaway, stretching the lead to 3-1 and icing the game.
The win was the first for Lemaire in his third stint as Devils' coach. He felt relieved to finally get in the win column.
"It's like my first win ever," Lemaire told reporters after the game. "Relief."
The Devils were looking forward to starting a new year.
"You always want to look forward," Kovalchuk said to Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. "You don't want to look back. You know 2010 wasn't the best (year) for me personally and I think for all of our team, so it can't be worse than that and 2011 will be much better."
The Devils will face a tough task tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Canes have won two straight, their most recent coming on Wednesday evening. In that game, Carolina blanked the Ottawa Senators, 4-0. Cam Ward stopped 37 shots and and a pair of goals from Zach Boychuk.
The Devils won three of four from the Hurricanes last season. Martin Brodeur, who will start tonight, recorded two shutouts against Carolina last season.