Patrik Elias might have felt there were other players more deserving of a trip to the 2011 All-Star Game presented by Discover, but he's playing at an All-Star level of late and the New Jersey Devils are reaping the benefits.
Elias has 5 goals and 9 points in the past seven games, including a pair of game-winning tallies. After a horrific start to the season, the Devils are 6-0-1 in that span and have closed the gap between them and the other teams at the bottom of the NHL standings as the All-Star break beckons.
"We're feeling better obviously about the way we've been playing," Elias said. "We have the young guys stepping in and they're working. We are trying to implement some new things that we've haven't done before and it works for us. We are buying into it because we're using it in the games and it makes it easier on us.
The All-Star nod is the third of Elias' career, but the first in nine years. He participated in the event in 2000 and 2002 when he was a young member of a dominant Devils franchise.
Now he's going back at the age of 34, and Elias will be one of the oldest guys in the dressing room.
"Sometimes I feel old, but not all the time. I think you take it in a little differently because you never know if there's going to be another opportunity like that," Elias said. "There's going to be a lot of young guys and it is a fun event. I'm taking a lot of my friends, close friends from here and we're going to have a good time."
It has not been an easy season for Elias and the Devils. The team has fallen to the bottom of the League standings -- a far cry from the consistent success the franchise has been synonymous with for nearly two decades.
At the time of the roster announcement, Elias had 9 goals and 30 points and even he questioned whether he was deserving of a spot. That Elias is now a three-time All-Star should not be up for debate, though.
Because he played for the Devils at the turn of the century, making the All-Star team wasn't easy to do. Elias wasn't selected in his two best statistical seasons, when he had 40 goals and 96 points in 2000-01 and 38 goals and 81 points in 2003-04. Having perennial All-Stars like Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer as teammates might have kept him from the honor a time or two.
"I don't know. The rules are the rules," Elias said. "Sometimes they come into play. Everyone has to have a representative and sometimes maybe you deserve to go but you don't. This time I think it might be the other way. I think there are some other guys who deserve to go more, but I'm going to enjoy it."
Added Devils forward Dainius Zubrus: "He has played well for us. It has been a tough year. For him it's nice, but he's been there before. He's been at that level, and he's playing well. I'm glad I'm on his line right now and I'm glad we're playing together. I think he's starting to feel more like he did last year."
Elias and Zubrus have teamed with Brian Rolston to form a productive trio for New Jersey. Rolston has 3 of his 5 goals this season and 10 of his 15 points during this seven-game stretch. Zubrus and Elias are both versatile forwards, and that has played a part in their chemistry.
"I played with him a few years back and last year too, so we've been together a lot," Zubrus said. "You can ask him to play a lot of positions -- PK, on the power play, center or wing. I like playing with him because it seems like we understand each other. If one of us leaves our spot there is no huge misunderstanding. We can be switching a lot and I think we read each other pretty well. I'm happy for him for sure."
Both of Elias' previous trips to the All-Star Game came before his 26th birthday, including one during his third full season in the League. Back then the game was played in the North America vs. the World format, so Elias had a chance to play with some of his childhood idols from growing up in Eastern Europe.
"Just hanging out with the guys and the excitement of the experience in general -- it is a good accomplishment," Elias said. "Being among the guys when you are there the first couple of times -- there were so many other big names. It was a thrill for me. It is kind of surreal the first time because you never dream of that and then you look back and realize you are doing something right. Just having fun with the guys like that is really an amazing experience."
Elias never missed the playoffs in the first 12 seasons of his NHL career, but even with its recent strong play New Jersey is not close to postseason contention. The Devils have looked more like a team expected to be among the best in the Eastern Conference than one languishing at the bottom of the League of late, but they will need this to be a two-month surge instead of two weeks if it will be remembered as anything more than a slight peak in abysmal season.
There are reasons for a glimmer of hope. Ilya Kovalchuk is also playing well and the Devils have multiple lines producing. Martin Brodeur has also performed closer to expectations during this streak.
New Jersey hasn't exactly been beating up on meager competition, either. The Devils have four wins against the top three teams in the East -- Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay twice -- during this run.
"We're playing well," Elias said. "I know everyone thinks we're playing more defensive hockey but we control the puck a lot more so it is nice."