|Clemmensen pokes the puck away from Boyd Gordon in the shootout on Nov. 15. The Devils have gone 25-8-1 since. |
Some early-season troubles brought on by injuries and inconsistent play have long since melted away for the first-place Devils.
New Jersey has won eight in a row to take a five-point lead over the Rangers in the Atlantic Division, and will look to recapture second place in the Eastern Conference when it hosts Washington Tuesday night at Prudential Center.
Just one point separates the Devils (32-15-3, 67 pts.) and Capitals (32-15-4, 68 pts.), who are 5-1-1 in their last seven.
Any campaign will offer its share of ups and downs, but Jersey's Team has enjoyed far more peaks than valleys since its last meeting with Washington back on Nov. 15.
At that point, Martin Brodeur
had missed six games following the left elbow injury he sustained on Nov. 1. The Devils were a team still trying to find its rhythm without their four-time Vezina Trophy winner between the pipes.
Looking to snap a four-game losing streak, New Jersey blew four leads to Washington that night. Seconds away from victory, the Devils watched Alex Ovechkin score from the doorstep with one tick left in regulation to tie it at 5 and force overtime.
Redemption would come in the shootout. Zach Parise
beat Jose Theodore with a fantastic forehand deke, and Scott Clemmensen, making his third start of the season, poked the puck away from Boyd Gordon to clinch a 6-5 win and mark a turning point for the 2008-09 Devils.
It was the first win of the season for Clemmensen, whose 22 victories were sixth-best in the league entering Monday's action.
"We really needed to get things going, and we were still figuring out how the situation was going to play itself out without Marty," Clemmensen said after Monday's practice. "We were still in that feeling-out process. At the time, that was the first step and to do it against a high-quality team like Washington was a mental boost as well."
The Devils were 7-7-2 after losing 3-1 to the Capitals on Nov. 14. Since taking the second game of the home-and-home the next night, New Jersey has gone 25-8-1.
"The way it played out from there on was a big first step for us," Clemmensen added. "Because we lost the lead with under a second left in regulation and we needed a win. The way we responded after losing a lead like that was big. It was more of a mental jumpstart than anything."
Head coach Brent Sutter's club has not dropped more than two in a row since then.
"That kind of got us going," Sutter said. "It was through that spell initially, when Marty first got hurt. We lost those four games and all of a sudden we won and we were on our way."
Sutter, though, reserves more of his focus for the Devils' recent efforts.
"I don't think back about that game," he said. "I think back about the last game that we played. It's true that you play one game 82 times a year. I don't look too far back at what's happened last week or 10 days ago or two weeks ago. I always look at how we played our last game to make us better the next night."
No player has embodied the Devils' never-say-die attitude of late more than captain Jamie Langenbrunner, who has three straight two-goal games, including back-to-back overtime winners. With his team trailing Pittsburgh 3-2 last Friday, Langenbrunner tied the contest with 30.1 seconds left, then won it with one minute remaining in the extra session to send the Devils to a 4-3 triumph.
Langenbrunner was named Monday as the NHL's "First Star" for both the month of January and for the week ending Feb. 1.