by Patrick Hoffman on 02/04/11 at 11:30 PM ET
This is what teams in the NHL are currently finding out when taking on the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils’ may be one of the league’s worst teams record-wise but lately, they have found their game. The team is currently on an imressive 8-1-1 streak and is making life tough for their opponents.
Many hockey pundits and Devils’ fans alike are wondering why they are playing this way now when they should have been doing it all along. In my opinion, here are the reasons why the Devils have gotten their game together:
It was obvious that the Devils’ struggled under first year coach John MacLean. Sure, Lou Lamoriello hurt him with cap space issues due to the Illya Kovalchuk deal and there were also several key injuries (Zach Parise). No matter which way you look at it though, MacLean could not get the team to succeed under him.
In steps Jacques Lemaire to replace MacLean and things changed for the better for the Devils. The team is back to playing a smart defensive system and Lemaire is getting the most out of his players. Sure, he probably will not be able to get the team into the playoffs but he will certainly have his club playing competitive hockey up until the beginning of April.
The Devils are finally getting the scoring that they lacked earlier on in the season.
For starters, Illya Kovalchuk is starting to get his game back. In 50 games, Kovalchuk has 31 points (15 goals and 16 assists) but he’s putting the puck on net more, becoming a key member of the team’s power play and doing more things with the puck, which is the player he always was when he was an Atlanta Thrasher.
The team is also getting scoring from guys like Patrick Elias, who leads the team with 39 points (13 goals and 26 assists), Travis Zajac (7-19-26) and now Brian Rolston (7-11-18). It may not be much but these players are contributing points and if they want to be competitive until the end of the season, they need to continue to play well.
This kind of play is what the Devils’ organization has been about since 1994.
Lemaire has them back to playing defense-first hockey which means less shots allowed, turnovers in the neutral zone and more chances to win hockey games. This is one of the main reasons why the Devils have been successful year in and year out.
Again, the Devils may not make the playoffs but from here until April, they will sure be a pain to play against.
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Patrick has a tremendous passion for hockey. Besides covering the Rangers and the NHL for Kukla's Korner, you can also find Patrick's work over at Sportsnet.ca, The Red Light District Hockey Blog, NHL Home Ice, and Liam Maguire's Ultimate Hockey web site.
Prior to writing for the above mentioned outlets, you could find Patrick's musings at hockey web sites/outlets such as TheHockeyNews.com, TheFourthPeriod.com, Spector's Hockey, Hokeja Vestnesis, Blueshirt Bulletin, SNYRangersBlog.com and many more.
For questions, comments and hip checks, feel free to e-mail Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.