The temperature may be falling throughout the tri-state area, but the New Jersey Devils are just heating up. The suddenly hot Devils have won four straight games, and head into this week's action in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
Despite that four-game streak, the Devils face an important test Tuesday, when the rival New York Rangers come to the Prudential Center. That matchup highlights a two-game week for the Devils, with a game against the Washington Capitals to kick off the holiday weekend.
The Rangers enter the week tied for fourth in the conference with the Pittsburgh Penguins. New York lost two of three last week during its Western Conference road trip. The Rangers have 40 points on the season, just three more than New Jersey heading into their first matchup of the season.
After a slow start to the month, the Devils are rolling. They kicked off last week with their Sunshine State road trip, starting against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum. The Devils broke out for three goals in the second period, then held on for a 5-4 victory. Tied 2-2 after the first period, New Jersey's first line broke out, with Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Adam Henrique netting goals. Steven Stamkos led a late charge, scoring two third period goals. Johan Hedberg backstopped New Jersey to a win, stopping 22 shots.
New Jersey played the second game of that road trip the very next night, facing off with the Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center. Kris Versteeg continued to be a thorn in the Devils side, scoring two goals to stake Florida to an early lead. But New Jersey came back, with Patrik Elias and Parise evening the score. The two teams battled to a shootout, where both Kovalchuk and Elias buried their chances past Theodore. Martin Brodeur stopped Tomas Fleischmann and Versteeg for his first shootout win of the season.
The Devils returned home for a Friday night game against the Dallas Stars, one that featured the retirement of Scott Niedermayer's number 27. The two teams battled to a 1-1 draw at the end of the first period, with Michael Ryder and David Clarkson scoring goals. Brendan Morrow gave the Stars a 2-1 lead, scoring just 1:38 into the second period. That lead wouldn't last long, as the Devils scored four straight goals. They'd cap off the offensive explosion with another goal in the third, marking the first time all season they scored six goals.
New Jersey ended the week like they started, defeating the Montreal Canadiens, 5-3, at the Bell Centre Saturday night. The Devils overcame their third period woes, scoring two goals to break a 3-3 tie. Elias fired home the game-winner, setting the franchise record for goals. Martin Brodeur stopped 19 shots for the win.
The four game win streak vaulted the Devils into the middle of the conference, and turned around a weak start to the month of December. They've won six of their last seven games heading into Tuesday's divisional game. Here now is this week's edition of the Devils schedule:
Tuesday, Dec. 20: New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils - 7 p.m. (MSG Plus)
The two rivals meet for the first of six meetings this season. The Rangers, featured on HBO's "24/7" series, have jumped out to a great start, with an 18-8-4 record. Brad Richards, the jewel of the Rangers offseason, hasn't been a disappointment, with 26 points in 30 games. His 14 assists are tied for the team lead. Henrique Lundqvist has once again been solid, entering the week with a 12-7-4 record. He's posted a 2.07 goals against average and .932 save percentage. After dominating their Hudson River rivals for so long, the Rangers have come back and now are on equal footing with the Devils. New York leads the all-time series, 87-91-27-7.
Friday, Dec. 23: Washington Capitals at New Jersey Devils - 7 p.m. (MSG Plus)
The Devils head into the Christmas break with a game against the struggling Washington Capitals. The two teams split the first two games of the season, with each winning at the other team's arena. They squared off in a home and home early in November, with the Capitals taking the first game, 3-1, November 11 at the Prudential Center. New Jersey won the very next night, beating Washington, 3-2, at the Verizon Center.
A lot has changed since then. Washington fired Bruce Boudreau November 28 and hired Dale Hunter. But the change hasn't worked out for the Capitals. They've gone just 4-4-0 since his hiring, and their high powered offense has scored three or more goals just three times. Alex Ovechkin continues to struggle, collecting just 10 goals and 22 points in 31 games.
Goals: Patrik Elias - 13
Assists: Adam Henrique - 17
Points: Patrik Elias - 29
Plus/Minus: Adam Henrique - 7
PIM: David Clarkson - 59
Wins: Johan Hedberg - 10
GAA: Johan Hedberg - 2.41
Save Percentage: Johan Hedberg - .913
Shutouts: Johan Hedberg - 2