Six games ago, the New Jersey Devils looked like a lock for last place overall. They’d lost seven of the first eight games after the coaching change that brought back Jacques Lemaire. They looked lost and unable to compete with any team in the NHL. Then, things really changed.
Lemaire worked the team hard on conditioning. It wasn’t talent that was the gap between the Devils and the rest of the league. The team just couldn’t keep up for sixty minutes. Lemaire understood that the team would struggle before things fell into place.
“You can tell our practices are a lot more intense,” Ilya Kovalchuk said. “We see game situations in practice, we play 5-on-5, 3-on-3, 3-on-2, backcheck, forecheck, so that helps. All the guys get into game shape and we just can play on the same level for 60 minutes or 65 if we need to. I think that’s the biggest difference.”Martin Brodeur has returned to better form. In his past five games he’s 4-0-1 with a 2.00 goals against and .930 save percentage. Brian Rolston has two goals and six assists in the last six. Patrik Elias has four goals and four assists. The offense is doing enough for the defence to be able to maintain leads in games.
“It’s always nicer to come around and be yourself when you can,” Brodeur said. “Sometimes when you lose, it’s tough being your own guy, your own person. So hopefully winning brings that back, guys’ personalities and everything. It’s much more enjoyable, there’s no doubt about that.”
The current win streak is now at three straight, and the team has earned eleven out of a possible twelve points during the past six games. While still in last place overall, New Jersey has shed 11 goals off their differential, and are two points behind the Edmonton Oilers and four behind the New York Islanders.
The positive sign is that a lot of the current boost in play has come against some of the top Eastern teams including the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning. With only two games remaining before the All Star break, the Devils hope to take this new-found confidence forward with them.