By John Schweibacher
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The New Jersey Devils have gone 15-1-2 since the mid-way point of their 2010-11 season. In the 17 games prior to this run, the Devils won just twice, going 2-15-0. New Jersey has picked up 32 out of a possible 36 points over their last 18 games.
The only better stretch of this length or more in franchise history came at the end of 2000-01 when the Devils went 19-2-0 over the final 21 games of the regular season, earning 38 of a possible 42 points.
New Jersey’s run has pulled them to within 10 points of 8th place Carolina as play begins this week. It’s the closest the Devils have been to a playoff spot since back on December 1st when at 8-14-2 with 18 points they stood 10 back of 8th place Boston who were 13-8-2 with 28 points. The last time New Jersey was actually in a playoff spot this season was way back on October 14th when at 1-2-1 through their first four games, the Devils were in a five-way tie for 6th place in the Eastern Conference.
Ilya Kovalchuk comes into the week having matched his career-best 10-game scoring streak (7 goals, including four game-winners, 5 assists). He now has seven game-winning goals this season, tied for the second-most in the NHL behind San Jose rookie Logan Couture’s eight. John MacLean holds the club record with 11, set back in 1989-90. Here is a list of the Devils who have had eight or more game-winning goals in a single-season:
· John MacLean 1989-90 11
· Brian Gionta 2005-06 10
· Patrik Elias 2003-04 9
· Stephane Richer 1993-94 9
· Patrik Elias 1999-00 9
· Bill Guerin 1996-97 9
· Zach Parise 2008-09 8
· Pat Verbeek 1987-88 8
· Claude Lemieux 1991-92 8
· Bobby Holik 1997-98 8
· Zach Parise 2007-08 8
· Bobby Holik 1998-99 8
· Patrik Elias 2001-02 8
· Patrik Elias 2007-08 8
· Brian Gionta 2003-04 8
The Devils continue their road swing Tuesday night against the Dallas Stars and this weekend vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers.
This will be New Jersey’s second game against the Stars this season, the first since Dallas’ 4-3 win at Prudential Center back on opening night. The Devils will also face Jamie Langenbrunner for the first time since the club’s former captain was dealt to the Stars back on January 7th.
Langenbrunner comes into the week with just two goals and six assists in 17 games with Dallas an almost identical pace to the four goals and 10 assists he had in his 31 games for New Jersey prior to the trade. Dallas won its first five games after re-acquiring Langenbrunner but has struggled since:
· Stars before Langenbrunner 24-13-5
· Stars with Langenbrunner 7-9-1
· Devils with Langenbrunner 10-28-2
· Devils after Langenbrunner 15-2-2
Langenbrunner, who faced the Devils nine times in the regular season in his first stint with the Stars, will become the first Devils captain to play against New Jersey both before and after his stint with the club since Mel Bridgman, who faced the Devils as a member of the Calgary Flames before coming to New Jersey in 1983 and before moving on to the Detroit Red Wings and later the Vancouver Canucks in 1986. Here is how all of the Devils captains who played for other teams fared in their regular-season games played against New Jersey:
NJD Captain Team(s) Games G-A-PTS
· Don Lever Buffalo 1 1-0-1
· Mel Bridgman Cgy, Det, Van 7 0-1-1
· Kirk Muller Mtl, NYI, Tor, Fla, Dal 28 10-6-16
· Bruce Driver NYR 15 2-3-5
· Scott Stevens Was, Stl 55 9-33-42
· Scott Niedermayer Ana 4 0-3-0
· Jamie Langenbrunner Dal 9 3-3-6
Langenbrunner’s last game against the Devils came nearly nine years ago, back on March 10th, 2002, in a 3-0 New Jersey win in Dallas. Langenbrunner and Muller both appeared against the Devils in the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals. Driver and Stevens are the only other one-time New Jersey captains who also faced the Devils in post-season play.
New Jersey takes on the Lightning Friday night in Tampa. The Devils resurgence began with back-to-back victories over Tampa Bay back in early January; 6-3 in Newark on January 9th and a 5-2 win in Tampa five nights later. New Jersey has won 12 of its last 13 meetings with the Lightning.
The Devils finish their four-game road trip Sunday afternoon in Florida. Coming into this week, New Jersey had lost just three times in their last 18 games, but two of those losses have come against the Panthers. Florida defeated New Jersey in overtime both times; 3-2 in Florida on January 15th on Dmitry Kulikov’s goal and 4-3 in New Jersey on February 4th with Rostislav Olesz scoring the game-winner.
The Panthers are the 6th team to defeat the Devils two or more times in overtime during the same regular season. One more sudden-death win over New Jersey would match the most ever by a Devils’ opponent in club history:
Opponent Season OT wins vs. New Jersey
· St. Louis Blues 1983-84 (3)
·12/27 Stl 5 @ NJ 4 Brian Sutter
· 1/20 Stl 4 @ NJ 3 Brian Mullen
· 3/10 NJ 5 @ Stl 6 Rob Ramage
· NY Islanders 1988-89 (2)
·3/11 NJ 2 @ NYI 3 Pat LaFontaine
· 3/29 NYI 5 @ NJ 4 Alan Kerr
· Washington Capitals 1991-92 (2)
·3/7 NJ 2 @ Was 3 Dale Hunter
· 4/12 Was 4 @ NJ 3 Peter Bondra
· Florida Panthers 1997-98 (2)
·11/22 Fla 2 @ NJ 1 Ed Jovanovski
· 1/1 NJ 1 @ Fla 2 Rob Niedermayer
· Atlanta Thrashers 2005-06 (2)
·12/15 Atl 3 @ NJ 2 Marc Savard
· 3/22 NJ 5 @ Atl 6 Peter Bondra
· Florida Panthers 2010-11 (2)
·1/15 NJ 2 @ Fla 3 Dmitry Kulikov
· 2/4 Fla 4 @ NJ 3 Rostislov Olesz
The Devils’ struggles in the first half of the regular season didn’t provide a whole lot of entertainment for the fans at Prudential Center but their second-half comeback now has them with more or almost as many home wins as any of the local NHL or even the local NBA clubs this winter:
Home Records 2010-11 NHL/NBA Locals (through games of February 21st):
· New York Knicks 15-12
· New Jersey Devils 14-13- 3
· N.Y. Rangers 14-13-3
· New Jersey Nets 13-15
· N.Y. Islanders 12-14-4
Plus: Johan Hedberg: Named the NHL’s second star of the week for the period ending 2/20. Hedberg went 3-0-0 in three starts, allowing only three goals in the three wins (1.00 GAA) and stopping 65 of 68 shots he faced for a .956 save percentage.
Plus: Dainius Zubrus: Scored two goals in the Devils’ 4-1 win over the Hurricanes in Raleigh, his first two-goal game since January 4th, 2009 against Ottawa. Zubrus now has six goals in 10 games in February which, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is his highest goal total in one calendar month since October 2006, when he scored seven goals in 11 games for the Capitals.
Plus: Patrik Elias: Reached 800 points for his career with three assists in 4-1 win at Carolina. Elias now has 328 goals and 472 assist in 938 career NHL games – all with the Devils.