What a difference one year makes.
Last year, the New Jersey Devils limped into 2011, carrying a 10-25-2 record. They were 22 points out of a playoff spot and fired John MacLean with four days left in 2010. A miraculous second half run under Jacques Lemaire would bring the Devils close to the playoffs, but the team missed out on their bid for a 15th straight playoff appearance. It was a completely unfamiliar feeling for the team and it's fans.
But as the calendar flips to 2012, the New Jersey Devils are in a completely different situation. They enter this week with a 21-15-1 record, sitting a season-high six games above the NHL .500 mark. They're tied for sixth in the Eastern Conference and sit third in the Atlantic Division. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said it's a completely different feeling in the locker room.
"It's night and day just in the position that we're in as far as getting the points that we have, the atmosphere about how everybody is together and I think winning will do that," he told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "But we're enjoying ourselves. Regardless, we're going to have some bad games and try to (play) better games. But, I think the atmosphere (is) everybody wants to play with each other."
New Jersey isn't riding a lucky streak either. They've won five of their past seven games, including a 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on New Year's Eve. They've held their own against some of the league's best teams and continue to turn in solid performances. While the playoffs aren't determined at midseason, New Jersey has exceeded expectations.
The Devils enter 2012 with a busy week, playing in four games. Here now is your New Jersey Devils week ahead.
Monday, January 2: New Jersey Devils at Ottawa Senators - 7:30 p.m. (MSG Plus)
The Devils head to Ottawa for the second of four meetings. New Jersey won the first game, 5-4, in a shootout December 8 at the Prudential Center. Ottawa jumped ahead of New Jersey early, scoring three goals to carry a 3-0 lead into the midway point of the second period. But the Devils would roar back, with four straight goals between the second and third periods. Ottawa tied the game late, and both teams failed to score in overtime. Adam Henrique scored the shootout winner, breaking a 2-2 tie in the fourth round. Johan Hedberg stopped 18 shots in relief of Brodeur for the win.
Wednesday, January 4: Boston Bruins at New Jersey Devils - 7:30 p.m. (VERSUS)
New Jersey finds itself in prime time Wednesday night when the Boston Bruins visit the Prudential Center. Boston won the first meeting, 4-3, November 15. The teams entered the third period tied, 1-1, before exchanging goals. The Bruins jumped out to a lead twice, but the Devils battled back each time. Benoit Pouliot broke a 3-3 tie, beating Hedberg with 3:01 remaining in regulation. Nick Palmieri led all Devils skaters with two goals. Tim Thomas finished with 27 saves.
Friday, January 6: Florida Panthers at New Jersey Devils - 7 p.m. (MSG Plus)
These two sudden rivals square off for the third time this season. The teams have split the season series, with each winning a game at the BankAtlantic Center. New Jersey won the last meeting, 3-2, in a shootout December 13. Kris Versteeg gave Florida a 2-0 lead, scoring two straight goals. New Jersey battled back, tying the game on a Zach Parise goal. Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias converted in the shootout to give New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer his first win over his former team. The Panthers currently lead the Southeast Division and are just four points ahead of the Devils.
Saturday, January 7: New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins - 7 p.m. (MSG Plus)
The Devils and Penguins meet for the second time in as many weeks. The rivals split the first two meetings this season, with the Devils beating Pittsburgh, 3-1, on December 31 at the Prudential Center. Ilya Kovalchuk opened the scoring, converting on a penalty shot in the first period. David Clarkson and Parise also scored for New Jersey. Martin Brodeur finished with 29 saves for the win.
Goals: Patrik Elias and Zach Parise - 13
Assists: Patrik Elias - 21
Points: Patrik Elias - 34
Plus/Minus: Adam Henrique - +7
PIM: David Clarkson - 68
Wins: Martin Brodeur - 11
GAA: Johan Hedberg - 2.45
Save Percentage: Johan Hedberg - .913
Shutouts: Johan Hedberg - 2