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Resilient Devils rolling after first 20 games

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils

The Devils have taken four straight to close out the first quarter of 2008-09.

email – Twenty games into the 2008-09 season, the Devils have shown they can overcome injuries to remain a factor in the Eastern Conference mix.

New Jersey closed the first quarter on a high note, blasting the Lightning in Sunday's 7-3 rout at Tampa.

Dainius Zubrus recorded the fifth four-goal game in club history to help extend the Devils' season-high four-game winning streak, and Scott Clemmensen made 26 saves to improve to 3-2-0. ( Dainius Zubrus)

Weekes and Clemmensen have gotten the job done.
New Jersey has not lost since dropping four straight from Nov. 8 to Nov. 14 a stretch that saw them outscored 13-5. A turnaround on offense has changed all that: the Devils have posted 12 goals in their last two games, outscoring opponents 20-11 in regulation over their last four contests.

Since losing Martin Brodeur to a torn biceps tendon on Nov. 1, the Devils (11-7-2, 24 pts.) have gone 5-5-0 and sit in a three-way tie for sixth place in the conference with Carolina and Philadelphia.

New Jersey trails the first-place Rangers (14-7-2) by eight points in the Atlantic with four games in hand. Pittsburgh (12-5-3) currently holds the second spot in the division with 27 points.

At the center of the Devils' rebound has been the line of Zubrus, Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta. Elias has erupted for four goals and seven assists in the last five games, climbing to second on the Devils' scoring list (20 pts) with a team-best 12 assists. ( Patrik Elias)

Gionta enters Wednesday's game in Florida with a four-game goal streak, including three straight two-point outings of a goal and an assist. ( Brian Gionta)

Zach Parise, New Jersey's top point-getter last season, has continued to perform at the top of his game in 2008-09. Parise, who has recorded back-to-back seasons of 30-or-more goals, leads New Jersey with 13 goals and 24 points. ( Zach Parise)

Parise's line with Travis Zajac (3g-11a-14pts) and Jamie Langenbrunner (3g-8a-11pts) has provided its own share of scoring punch.

Despite their early troubles with staying healthy, the Devils are three wins ahead of last year's pace that saw them go 8-10-2 for 18 points through 20 games. The 2007-08 club finished second in the Atlantic with a mark of 46-29-7 and 99 points en route to an 11th-straight playoff berth.

Offseason acquisitions Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik were the first Devils to be affected by the injury bug.

Rolston has missed all but four games with an ankle sprain, while Holik has been on the shelf for 15 games with a broken pinkie. A broken hand has cost Andy Greene 11 games, and the list of wounded has included John Madden (two games, sore foot), and recently re-assigned forward Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (nasal fracture). ( John Madden)

Defenseman Paul Martin missed five straight games in November with upper body soreness, while Gionta, Langenbrunner and Bryce Salvador were also slowed by minor ailments. It has added up to a total of 71 man-games lost to injury.

The Devils were 1-4 without Martin, and have gone 4-1 since his return.
Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes have done the job for the Devils in net, each making five starts. Clemmensen owns a 2.60 goals-against average and .909 save percentage, while Weekes is 2-3-0 with a 2.87 GAA and .903 save percentage. Including Brodeur's 10 consecutive starts and to open the year, New Jersey goaltenders have a 2.59 GAA and .906 save percentage.

The Devils opened with back-to-back wins vs. the Islanders (2-1, Oct. 10) and at Pittsburgh (2-1 OT - Parise GWG, Oct. 11) before dropping a 4-1 decision at Madison Square Garden.

Brodeur notched his first shutout with 25 saves in a 1-0 victory at Atlanta on Oct. 16. In the same game, Rolston scored the first goal of his second stint in red and black, but sustained the ankle injury that has kept him on the shelf ever since.

New Jersey would make it three straight, adding a 4-3 shootout win at Washington on Oct. 18, and a 5-0 rout of Dallas in Newark on Oct. 22.

Rookie Petr Vrana scored his first-career goal in the contest versus the Capitals, with Parise contributing his first shootout-clincher of '08-09. John Madden scored twice against the Stars and Brodeur stopped 21 shots for his second shutout, also the 98th of his career. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner is five shy of Terry Sawchuk's league record (103).

Vrana is one of five Devils to make their NHL debuts this season, along with Letourneau-Leblond, Patrick Davis, Matt Halischuk and Anssi Salmela.

Back-to-back losses in a home-and-home set with Philadelphia became a three-game skid following a defeat by visiting Toronto.

The Devils allowed a season-high six goals in a 6-3 loss to the Flyers at Prudential Center on Oct. 24, then suffered a 3-2 overtime setback at Philly on Oct. 25. After a video review determined that Simon Gagne's shot had not entered the net, a smoke bomb was thrown onto the ice from the stands. After a delay, Jeff Carter sealed the game for Philadelphia.

In their second meeting with Atlanta, the Devils scored six times for a 6-1 win, but lost Brodeur in the second period. Weekes came on in relief, stopping 14 of 15 Thrashers shots, and Brodeur took career win No. 544 to move within seven of Patrick Roy's record (551).

Parise scored goals No. 8 and 9 in the contest to extend his goal streak to a career-high six games, matching St. Louis's Keith Tkachuk for the league's longest this season. Rookie Nicklas Bergfors picked up his first-career NHL goal.

The Devils are 6-1 when Elias has scored.
Parise's streak of seven goals over six straight games also tied him for the Devils' mark, last accomplished by Holik. The franchise record belongs to Paul Gardner, who collected a goal in eight straight (11g) for Colorado in 1979.

Brodeur's run of 51 consecutive regular season starts came to an end on Nov. 3, when Weekes got the nod in a 2-0 home loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Weekes came back two days later against Tampa and stopped Jussi Jokinen and Vinny Prospal to secure a 4-3 shootout triumph.

Langenbrunner iced it with his first shootout-deciding tally of the year.

New Jersey's season-high four-game losing stretch began with a 3-1 defeat to the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings in Detroit on Nov. 8. The Devils then fell short in home meetings with Edmonton and the Rangers before dropping a 3-1 loss at Washington on Nov. 14.

Parise scored in three of the losses, and twice potted the Devils' only goal. New Jersey mustered only five tallies in four games.

The resilient group recovered with five goals against the Caps on Nov. 15 and overcame Alexander Ovechkin's tying goal with one second left in regulation to take a 6-5 win in the shootout. Elias had two goals and an assist, and Parise notched his second shootout winner.

Victories over Florida (3-1, Nov. 20) and the Islanders (5-2, Nov. 21) put the Devils back on a winning track before their most dominating win of the season Sunday in Tampa.

New Jersey's five-game road trip continues Wednesday in Florida, then heads to Pittsburgh (Nov. 29), Philadelphia (Dec. 4) and Montreal (Dec. 6).

The Devils return for a three-game homestand from Dec. 10-13 that will feature meetings with the Penguins, Rangers and Sabres.

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