What a difference a few days off can make.
Before the All-Star break, the New Jersey Devils struggled to string together wins. They couldn't manage to put a complete game together, and found themselves on the losing side of three straight games.
The break came at the right time. Since then, New Jersey has won four straight games, defeating three teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference. It's a stretch that moved them into seventh in the conference, just one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Devils' head coach Peter DeBoer said he doesn't think this recent stretch is any type of statement.
"I don't know about statements," he told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "We're taking care of business. We knew where we were heading into the all-star break and the guys got a good rest, but we have a lot of veterans with Stanley Cup rings in that room (and) they knew that we were going to have to take our game individually and collectively to another level over the last 30 games. I think that's what you're seeing."
New Jersey has done this without some of the key contributors from the first half. Rookie center Adam Henrique, who remains one of the rookies in the race for the Calder Trophy, missed all four of the wins with a groin injury. The team lost Adam Larsson for the weekend after he suffered a back bruise on a hit by P.K. Subban. Ryan Carter, the team's fourth line center and a solid player in the faceoff circle, is out nursing a sore hand.
The Devils relied on their ability to score goals to sustain their four-game win streak. That started last Tuesday, January 31, when New Jersey came from behind to defeat the rival New York Rangers, 4-3, in a shootout. David Clarkson scored the game-tying goal with just 48 seconds left, tying the game at three. Ilya Kovalchuk would win the game in the shootout, beating Martin Biron in the first round.
New Jersey started the win streak Thursday with a come-from-behind win over the Montreal Canadiens, 5-3, at the Prudential Center. Down 3-2 after two periods, the Devils scored three unanswered goals in the third period to skate away with the win. Zach Parise's goal at 17:16 of the final frame, his second of the game, proved to be the difference.
They extended their win streak to three with a 6-4 win over the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. New Jersey scored six goals in the first two periods, chasing Sergio Bobrovsky. Kurtis Foster recorded his first multi-goal game as a Devil, and New Jersey struck for three powerplay goals.
The Devils ended the weekend with a dominating 5-2 win over the Penguins on home ice. Anton Volchenkov scored his first as a Devil, and Dainius Zubrus' shorthanded goal stood as the game-winner.
New Jersey continues their tough stretch with three games this week against team's in the playoffs. Tomorrow, they head to MSG for a rematch against the Rangers. Then, the St. Louis Blues (and former Devils Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner) head to Prudential Center Thursday. The Devils finish the week with a game against the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers.
Heading into the homestretch, DeBoer thinks these Devils are just starting to show their potential.
"I think we're getting better," he told Gulitti. "I think our best hockey is still ahead of us. There's things we still have to improve at. We still have to get 60-minute efforts, play (better) with the lead. There's a lot of areas we have to clean up, but we're getting better."
Goals: Ilya Kovalchuk - 22
Assists: Patrik Elias - 33
Points: Patrik Elias - 51
Plus/Minus: Bryce Salvador - +12
PIM: David Clarkson - 88
Wins: Martin Brodeur - 17
G.A.A: Johan Hedberg - 2.52
Save %: Johan Hedberg - .909
Shutouts: Johan Hedberg - 2