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Devils back to work after road sweep

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Clarkson had the winning goal Saturday at Florida and the tying goal Monday at Washington.
One week ago, the Devils were still looking for their first win of the season after dropping two straight on home ice. They finished a sweep of a three-game road trip with Monday's 3-2 shootout win at Washington and were back on the ice for practice Wednesday at AmeriHealth Pavilion.

They take their 3-2-0 record – and the renewed confidence that comes with it – into a two-game homestand that begins Friday against Atlanta.

"It's been a work in progress, and I think everything's coming more natural to us now," said Brian Rolston, whose second goal of the season began Monday's rally from a 2-0 deficit. "Before, when we were learning the new system and the way (head coach) Jacques (Lemaire) wants things done, he was doing a lot of teaching. When you're being taught, you start thinking, 'Ok, I need to do this, I need to do that.' Now things are becoming more natural for us, I think."

Rolston's second-period tally was the first step toward a recovery at Verizon Center.

"It calmed us down a little bit," he said. "It was my goal, but it could've been anyone's goal. I think it calmed us down and said, 'Hey we're in this. Let's take it to them, let's not watch No. 8 on the other team.'"

Lemaire reiterated that his team hadn't played poorly to start off 0-2. The biggest improvement, he said, has been the adjustment of his blueliners.

"Overall, I know their confidence is getting better in playing the game we want," Lemaire said. "I can tell they're feeling good. Look at our defensemen, the last three games. The biggest change is not the forwards, it's the defensemen and how now they feel good about what they're supposed to do on defense. They have their options and they read them well."

Twice, the Devils used third-period rallies to extend games into shootouts that they eventually won. Saturday in Florida, they overcame Stephen Weiss' tying goal to triumph late in regulation. Martin Brodeur made 91 saves on 98 shots faced during the three games, and denied four of five shootout attempts, overall.

"It's pride, it's a lot of things," Rolston said. "When you have as many character guys as we have in our dressing room, I think we all push each other to make things happen. We have a lot of great leaders in here. Guys just keep pushing, and that was something that we really did – we continued to push to the end of every game. Look at the Florida game, they tie it up 2-2, and we could have easily let that one slip, but we come right back and get a big goal (from David Clarkson) on the power play. You get that in your head that you can come back and come back and come back in any game."

A team trusts itself in those situations if it has gotten up off the mat in the past, Lemaire said.

"It doesn't matter what style you're playing, but you're playing a certain style that you believe in, and you're getting chances, you believe you can come back," he said. "You can take any system that all 30 teams play, any of them; could be the same thing. If guys can believe in the system, and can say, 'Hey, we're getting shots, we're getting scoring chances,' then they believe they can come back." 

With two shootout wins this season, Brodeur has extended his career mark – and NHL record – to 30.
Settling for two of three on the trip might have been good enough for some clubs, especially after falling behind by two goals to Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals. But the Devils knew good things would follow hard work.

"We were talking in the locker room; we knew we were going to get a goal, it was just a matter of time," said Clarkson, who tied the Caps with 6:26 to go in regulation. "We said, 'Keep shooting the puck, boys. It's going to come. Let's keep working hard.'"

With points in four straight games, Clarkson has been one of the hottest Devils thus far. His two goals and three assists have him tied with Travis Zajac for the team lead in points (5). In only his third season, the gritty winger has embodied the never-say-die attitude of Devils hockey.

"Our leadership is huge and that's what we've had in the Devils' organization since I've been here: great leaders," Clarkson said. "They always step up and tell us to keep working hard as young guys. They instill that in you when you're young, and since I've been here I've learned you never give up.

"Some teams you see, when they get down, you have a feeling they're not coming back. But we want to prove to everybody – you don't like to be behind – but when we are, we're going to come back and give you everything we have. Even if we don't win that game, we're going to give everything we have to come back." 

Like Clarkson, Zajac is ahead of his scoring pace from a year ago, when he finished with a career-high 20 goals and 42 assists. Last season, both players had just one assist in their first five games. The fourth-year centerman has three goals and two assists through the first five games, and, also like Clarkson, rarely misses a game. Zajac has made a career-high 242 consecutive appearances, while Clarkson has played in 150 straight contests since Nov. 16, 2007.

Zajac said his line with Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner has room for improvement as the season continues.

"I don't know if I'm even playing as well as I'd like," Zajac said. "I think I can still be a lot better. As a line, it's been a little tough lately and I don't think we've scored a 5-on-5 goal yet. Last year, that's what we were all about. I think it'll come, we just have to make sure we're working hard in practice and doing the little things that have given us those chances. We can't get away from that and start going our separate ways because that's where it's going to be a struggle for us."

Lemaire called Clarkson "unpredictable" before complimenting his scoring touch.

"He could be not doing exactly what you want, but he's going to come in at the right time, and the puck will be there," Lemaire said. "He's trying to play exactly the way we want. He's trying that. He wants to learn, he's asking questions: he wants more. To me, it's going to come."

Clarkson fought Washington captain Chris Clark after the Devils fell behind, but Lemaire doesn't believe that fighting has the same effect it once did.

"I don't think fights are as important as they were in years past," the coach said. "A fight is a fight. They go in the box and that's it. In the past, it changed games; changed the tempo of games a lot more. Today, the guys keep playing, no matter what happens."

The intimidation factor, Lemaire said, is absent from today's game.

"Every team is tough," he said. "Everyone plays tough; plays hard. They don't care, you get into the fight, it's over, you keep playing. But before, it was intimidation. They want to fight this guy, they want to fight the other guy. You don't have that now." 

11am – The Devils were back on the ice Wednesday following Tuesday's day off.

Wednesday's forward lines:
Parise-Zajac-Langenbrunner in light blue
Rolston-Zubrus-Bergfors in red
Pandolfo-Niedermayer-Clarkson in gray
Peters-Pelley-Halischuk in blue

Forwards Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond and Ilkka Pikkarainen and defenseman Cory Murphy are wearing green.

Defensemen in white are Fraser, Greene, Salvador. In black, Oduya, Martin, Mottau, and White. Brodeur and Danis are in goal
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