The New Jersey Devils, declared dead after a disastrous 9-22-2 start to the season, have been the NHL’s hottest team since mid-January. The Devils are 18-2-2 in their past 22 games and aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. New Jersey has thrived under new-old coach Jacques Lemaire, who replaced John MacLean right before Christmas. Once buried at the bottom of the conference, the Devils are now only 9 points out of the playoffs.
How the hell are they doing it? Well, their stars are finally playing up to their potential. Prized off-season acquisition Ilya Kovalchuk has five game-winning goals in the team’s past 11 games and has 24 points during New Jersey’s current hot streak. Goalie Martin Brodeur is 9-1-1 in his past 11 starts. The Devils have obviously bought what Lemaire is selling. Their turnaround – nothing short of miraculous – has New Jersey right back in the playoff picture.
The Penguins, meanwhile, are doing everything they can just to survive. The team is 6-6-3 in 2011 and has struggled mightily to score without Crosby and Malkin. Pittsburgh needs to get some offense from the top two lines – most notably newcomers James Neal and Alex Kovalev. The Pens have won two of three against the Devils so far this season, and all three games have been low scoring (3-1, 2-1, 2-0). I’d expect more of the same Friday night.