Not long ago, the New Jersey Devils were toiling at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division, trying to do anything to stay afloat.
Now, the Devils find themselves in a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division if the season were to end today. There's a long way to go, but we're finally seeing some cohesion from this team, as they've gone 5-1-1 in their last seven games.
The turnaround is especially impressive considering some of the injuries that this team has suffered. Captain Bryce Salvador has been out for an extended period of time with a stress fracture in his foot, yet the defense hasn't missed a beat. Patrik Elias missed time and Ryane Clowe has been out with a concussion and there's no clear timetable as to when his return will be.
It's almost poetic justice that Zajac got credited with the goal last night. No. 19 has been spectacular of late, doing so many of the unnoticed things that don't necessarily show up on a score sheet. He's winning face-offs, killing penalties, moving the puck and pushing play forward in the offensive zone. His play to keep the puck in the zone on Jaromir Jagr's game tying goal last nightwas a subtle, yet crucial play. Zajac certainly took his share of criticism for his play in the wake of signing his big contract extension, but he's living up to that large number with his all-around play.
Another perennial whipping boy, Marek Zidlicky, has been a catalyst all season. During the offseason, I actually predicted that the Devils power play would be better without the "retired" No.17 and that Zidlicky would be a big part of it. What we're seeing from the Czech defenseman is an excellent ability to create offense out of the back end. As the power play quarterback, Zidlicky has excelled not only passing the puck, but shooting as well. His 12 points (3g, 9a) are second only to Jagr.
As for the defense, the depth that they built has paid off in a big way. Say what you'd like about Peter Harrold and Mark Fayne, but they've both been pressed into service with the injuries to Salvador and more recently, Anton Volchenkov and they've both held their own.
One of the biggest questions that is facing this team in the coming days will be what to do with Eric Gelinas. Though he's had some "rookie moments" that are to be expected with a young defenseman, overall, he's been a shot in the arm for this team. He shoots the puck well, to the point where he's dangerous any time he winds up to fire the puck. His seven points (2g, 5a) in 12 games equates to roughly 48 points in an 82 game season. Yeah, that.
Damien Brunner, who might have been the hottest Devil to start the season, has been struggling. He seems very much like the type of player that needs speed and space to make plays, something that isn't exactly the norm in the Devils offense. He had a similar slump last season, as he started and finished hot, but struggled in the middle of the 48-game season.