As the calendar turns to 2012, the New Jersey Devils find themselves sixth in the Eastern Conference, squarely in the playoff picture and back in familiar territory for the organization.
But there's just one problem - the Ottawa Senators are also sitting in the top eight, their 43 points tied with the New Jersey. The Devils will look to break that tie and stay ahead of Ottawa tonight at Scotiabank Place. Gametime is 7:30 p.m. and will be shown locally on MSG Plus.
This time last year, the New Jersey Devils carried a 10-25-2 record and sat 22 points out of first place. The organization fired their coach, John MacLean, and looked to Jacques Lemaire to try and lead them back to the playoffs.
Entering tonight's game, the Devils are 21-15-1, a season-best six games above NHL .500. Under first year coach Peter DeBoer, they've worked themselves back into the top eight of the conference.
New Jersey won its second straight game Saturday, ending 2011 with a 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. llya Kovalchuk opened the scoring in the first period, converting on a penalty shot for his 12th goal of the season. David Clarkson stretched the lead to 2-0, tallying a powerplay goal at 19:36 of the opening frame. Chris Kunitz cut the Devils lead in half, netting his 13th goal of the season in the third period. Martin Brodeur would shut the door, stopping eight of the nine Penguins shots in the final period, and Zach Parise iced the victory with an empty-net goal.
The Senators have experienced their own turnaround this season. Last season, Ottawa finished last in the Northeast Division and 13th in the Eastern Conference. This season, under new head coach Paul McLean, the team is second in its division. They've won three straight home games and four of they're last six games.
Ottawa defeated the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, Saturday night. Matt Carkner and Chris Niel scored goals for the Senators as the teams played to a tie after regulation and overtime. Bobby Butler scored the game-winning goal, beating Jhonas Enroth in the fifth round of the shootout.
New Jersey won the first meeting between the two teams, 5-4, in a shootout on December 8. Ottawa jumped out to the early lead, holding a 3-0 advantage over the Devils at the midway point of the second period. The Devils came back, scoring four straight to pull ahead in the third period. Jesse Winchester spoiled the comeback, scoring with just five seconds left to tie the game at four. The teams traded goals in the second and third rounds of the shootout, heading to the fourth round tied. Rookie center Adam Henrique broke that tie, beating Alex Auld for the shootout tally.
Martin Brodeur will start in net for the Devils. He was pulled in the first game after stopping five of seven shots in the first period.
This is the second of four meetings this season and the first time New Jersey will visit Scotiabank Place. Former Senators defenseman Anton Volchenkov will accompany the team to Ottawa, but is questionable for the game.