He scored goals in back-to-back games Wednesday and Thursday, and was named to the U.S. Olympic team on Friday. On Saturday, in front of family and friends at the St. Paul’s Xcel Center, the Minnesota native notched his first career hat trick in the Devils’ 5-3 win over the Wild.
He moved into second place on the Devils’ scoring list with 35 points, and will ride a four-game points streak (5g-1a) into Tuesday’s home matchup with Dallas. On Monday, he was named the NHL's First Star for the week ending Jan. 3.
“It was a good week,” said the Devils captain after Monday’s practice in Newark. “It was a fun week going back home and doing well and helping the team.”
Langenbrunner’s no stranger to second-half surges. He scored 24 of his 29 goals last season after Jan. 1, including a stretch of seven goals in four games that featured three-straight game-winners from Jan. 27-30.
“I enjoy the second half of seasons more,” he said. “I think you could say most players do. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as the goal you’re trying to reach. The games get turned up a little bit; the excitement. I’d say I don’t do anything a whole lot differently. Just happened that the second half last year was a good half of hockey for me.”
Head coach Jacques Lemaire said Langenbrunner’s versatility is a huge plus for the Atlantic Division leaders. At 29-10-1, the Devils lead Buffalo by three points for the Eastern Conference top spot, and are tied with Chicago for most overall wins.
“He’s one of the guys that can go on a line to lift the line,” Lemaire explained. “It could be defensively, offensively, playing against the best players. So, as you probably notice, I move him from line to line and that’s the reason why.”
In addition to his ability to play on any line, Langenbrunner can be counted on to contribute every night.
“He’s mature as a player,” said Lemaire. “He knows what to do. Maybe he’s not a player that excels in one thing. He does a lot of good, little things.”
With Jersey’s Team officially reaching the season’s midway point in Tuesday's game, both Langenbrunner and Lemaire commented that the first half has breezed by.
“It’s gone by quick – really quick,” said Langenbrunner. “I don’t know if it’s because of the schedule or if, as you get older, things go by faster. Definitely this has been a quick 40 games, and I’m sure part of it has to do with we’ve been doing pretty well. When things are going good, you’re enjoying yourself and things go a little faster than if you struggle.”
Lemaire believes the tight scheduling during an Olympic year has an impact on the pace of the regular season.
“It goes fast,” said the coach. “That’s because we’re playing and get three games in four nights pretty much every week. You keep going, your mind’s going to the next game, and the next and the next. When you have three, four days off, it’s different.”
It doesn’t fly by when you’re struggling, however.
“It feels a lot longer,” Langenbrunner said. “The plane rides are longer, the practices are longer. When things are going well, you’ve got a smile on your face; you’re excited to be around. Everything’s enjoyable. It’s easier."
Neither David Clarkson
nor Bryce Salvador
took part in Monday’s practice, although Lemaire said he had hoped to have Salvador back. The defenseman has missed three games since suffering a lower body injury against Atlanta on Dec. 28. Lemaire said Salvador will miss Tuesday’s contest with Dallas, but is expected to suit up for the morning skate.
“That was the deal,” Lemaire said. “He had to practice (Monday) to play (Tuesday).”
Clarkson (lower body) returned on Dec. 28 for two games after missing 13 with a broken right leg, and did not travel with the team for the two-game road trip to Chicago and Minnesota.