DeviLS ROAD TRIP
The Devils have won 4 out of their last 5 games, 7 out of their last 8, and have picked up 8 out of 10 possible points on the road. It's easy to just end it here and say good job guys and then go watch some football. But there are important aspects of the road trip that I just have to point out.
First, my fellow Devils fans and readers who aren't Devils fans, is that this was a clutch roadtrip. It wasn't just clutch in that the Devils went into it with a 4 game winning streak and the questions came up of whether the Devils can continue the hotness on the road. Early on, the answer was yes as they demolished Tampa Bay, but as you can tell from the scores the Devils' offense couldn't put up big numbers on their side of the scoreboard. Games got tight. Leads were taken but lost, or more recently, deficits were made. And the clutchness of the Devils got them through to win those games. Did the Devils crumble when Florida made stunning comeback in the last 2:30 of the game? No, they held on and johnny Oduya put the game to bed in overtime. Did the Devils fall down when they conceeded a late third period goal to Philadelphia, their second power play goal of the night? No, Patrik Elias pounded a slapshot so hard it went through the mostly-closed legs of Martin Biron for a late equalizer; then he tied the NHL record for most overtime goals for a player with a nifty backhand to seal another 2 points for New Jersey. After 60 minutes of up-and-down hockey where they hung with the Canadiens, were they going to let the home team dictate how things go? Of course not, on a power play carried into overtime, Elias smartly tossed the puck cross-ice to Zach Parise for the easy goal and the win. Elias and Parise have been the major players in terms of getting these big goals; but credit should go to the others for helping to make these goals happen. A good example is Colin White keeping the puck in and passing it up to Parise in the overtime against Philly.
Three goals got the Devils three wins in games that could have went the other way. That's clutch. And those last two wins were big after a 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh where, in retrospect, they were just outplayed by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. There's more to learn from the roadtrip than just the fact that the Devils can win games in extra time.
The second matter that should be learned from this road trip is that Scott Clemmensen is the #1 goalie. Gulitti noted today at Fire & Ice that Clemmensen has been more than sufficient in net during the road trip, and really in the 10 games he's played so far, and he's right. I said this just after last night's game, but look at how he's done in the last 5 games (stats from NHL.com)
|Games||Saves Made||Saves Attempted||Save Percentage|
|12/6 @ Montreal||25||26||96.2%|
|12/4 @ Philadelphia||29||31||93.5%|
|11/29 @ Pittsburgh||31||34||91.2%|
|11/26 @ Florida||36||38||94.7%|
|11/23 @Tampa Bay||26||29||89.7%|
Those save percentages per game is further evidence that not only is Scott Clemmensen playing well enough to keep the Devils in games, but that he's playing well period. He was a difference maker last night and if that doesn't establish him as the de facto #1 goalie, I don't know what will short of a shutout streak. I don't care where he was last season with Toronto or that he spent much of his career either in the A or on the bench watching Marty. Right now, he's a good goaltender.
The third fact to learn is that the team is really coming together. The obvious news is that the Devils have started to get healthy. John Madden returned during the road trip after a bruised foot kept him out of a few games and did well. But the big story was the return of Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik. Gulitti noted that Rolston was better against Montreal - and he really was, he "fit" more into the play and most of the rust came off against Philly - and Holik did OK in limited action for his return.
However, what isn't obvious news is how the team is handling it. A concern with players who are returning from long injuries is how the team will take it. Players who were used in roles they were familiar with may not like that guys are coming back with rink rust to take that role. The team won 5 of their last 6 before Philly, where Madden and Rolston returned to the lineup. Would the Devils' chemistry take a turn for the worse? Based on the last two games of the road trip, hardly. Patrik Elias twittered that the team was really jelling after the win over division rivals Philly. If he's running to the computer to post that online, it's too important to ignore. The team hasn't look out of sync with these newly-healthy players, thanks to Brent Sutter keeping the top two lines intact for this road trip, keeping Madden with his long-time wingman Jay Pandolfo, and making adjustments for the other 4 forward slots and on special teams. OK, it has meant some players had to be moved about - scratching Mike Rupp, sending Petr Vrana, Anssi Salmela, and Barry Tallackson down to Lowell - but the results have shown those to be good moves.
The fourth fact to accept is the cold hard reality that the Devils can't rest on their laurels. Literally, they can't. This will be the last 3 day break the Devils will get this month. And the games start to get more difficult. This week, they have three home games: Wednesday to host Pittsburgh, Friday against Our Hated Rivals, and Saturday with Buffalo, who shut the Devils out the last time they came to the Rock. None of those will be easy. Beyond them, there are games with Toronto, Buffalo, Ottawa, Boston, St. Louis, Dallas, and the Atlantic Division short the Islanders. And with 4 sets of back-to-back games, it's going to be a challenging month. The Devils have proven that they can play well and win both close and not-so-close games without Martin Brodeur. They have a lot of momentum now, so it is up to the Devils to use it to get wins and make, well, more momentum.
For now, though, they deserve plenty of praise for getting the job done four times out of five on a long road trip. I suppose the fifth fact is that the Devils can be a very good hockey team. They've been playing like one in their last 8 games.