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Clemmensen gives Devils more than expected

by John Kreiser
The fact that the New Jersey Devils resume play Tuesday on top of the Atlantic Division despite losing Martin Brodeur on Nov. 1 is a tribute coach Brent Sutter and all of his players — but especially to the performance of goaltender Scott Clemmensen.

The long-time minor-leaguer/NHL backup is the biggest reason the Devils reached the All-Star break on top of their division. His 19-9-1 record, 2.29 goals-against average and .922 save percentage have been positively Brodeur-esque. He closed out the pre-All-Star portion of the schedule by going 3-0-0 and allowing just 4 goals on 95 shots.

But unlike Brodeur, from whom such heroics are expected, Clemmensen came out of nowhere — he wasn't even the designated starter after Brodeur went down with a biceps injury that required surgery. Kevin Weekes got the first chance at the job, but when he struggled, Clemmensen grabbed it and hasn't let go.

Not bad for a 31-year-old who had played all of 28 NHL games before this season.

With Brodeur on target to return around March 1, Clemmensen's time as a starter may be coming to an end. But if the Devils win the division and/or go on a solid playoff run, they'll have Clemmensen to thank.

Five up
— Five players who've produced above and beyond the call:

David Krejci — No one could have predicted the offensive outburst by Krejci, a key to Boston's ascent to the top of the Eastern Conference. His 52 points at the break are almost double what he produced in 56 games last season, and his plus-25 rating shows he's no slacker at playing without the puck.

Pavel Datsyuk — It's hard to conceive that someone with Datsyuk's already-impressive credentials is actually getting better, but that's just what's happening. He's on pace to top last season's 97 points, and he's the hub of one of the NHL's top lines.

Mike Cammalleri — Much to the surprise of most Calgary fans, the Flames' top goal scorer is not Jarome Iginla. That honor belongs to Cammalleri, who had 22 at the break, including five in his last three games, and has helped the Flames take control of the Northwest Division race.
Dan Boyle — Think Tampa Bay would like a do-over on the trade that sent Boyle to San Jose? All Boyle has done is lead all NHL defensemen in points (38) while averaging more than 24 minutes a night and directing the offense for the powerful Sharks.

Steve Mason — Mason has saved the season for Columbus, which lost starting goaltender Pascal Leclaire in the early going. The former third-round pick is tops in the NHL with 6 shutouts and a 2.05 goals-against average, and he's the biggest reason the Jackets have a chance for their first playoff berth.
Five down
— Five players who've got to produce more:

Patrick Kane -- Kane has never been the same since he was injured on Dec. 30. Until that night, he was one of the NHL's top offensive players — and Chicago was lighting up scoreboards. Since his return, he's going without a point in seven games — and, not coincidentally, the Hawks are in an offensive slump.

Roberto Luongo -- Luongo was on his was to another superb season when he went down with a groin injury in a Nov. 22 game at Pittsburgh. Since his return, he's gone just 0-1-2, with a 3.51 GAA and 876 save percentage, though he looked sharp in a 2-1 overtime loss at San Jose on Tuesday. Vancouver needs him back in All-Star form to make the playoffs.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere -- All-Star berth or not, the former Conn Smythe winner had better pick up his game or the Anaheim Ducks will be watching the playoffs on TV. Giguere is 1-5-2 in his last eight starts, and his goals-against average is up to 3.08 after he lasted just 14 minutes against the Islanders on Wednesday.

Tomas Plekanec -- Plekanec was a pleasant surprise for the Montreal Canadiens last season, scoring 29 goals and adding 40 assists. This season has been a nightmare — he has just 9 goals and 11 assists for 20 points in 45 games, with no points in the five games before the break.

Dion Phaneuf — After scoring 54 goals in his first three NHL seasons, Phaneuf's stick has turned cold — he has just 4 goals, only one since Nov. 11. Also, after being a solidly plus player in his first three seasons, the 23-year-old defenseman is minus-9 on one of the NHL's best teams.

Injuries, news and notes — Look for a lot of moves early this week as teams recall players who were sent down to the AHL during the All-Star break to give them a chance to stay sharp.

Out Sidney Crosby skipped the All-Star Game (but not All-Star Weekend) due to a left knee injury. The Pittsburgh Penguins hope he can played Wednesday when they resume their schedule against the New York Rangers. … Chicago forward Kris Versteeg had to miss the YoungStars game due to a finger injury sustained on Jan. 21. … Anaheim defenseman Kent Huskins had surgery on his broken right foot and will miss 4-6 weeks. … Los Angeles goaltender Erik Ersberg missed the Kings' last two games before the break with a lower body injury; the Kings hope he'll be ready to go this week. … Philadelphia center Daniel Briere will be lost for the next 3-4 weeks after surgery on his groin and abdomen on Thursday. Briere has played little this season while battling a series of groin/abdomen injuries. … Vancouver center Pavol Demitra missed the Canucks' last game before the break with a groin injury. … Islanders forward Trent Hunter missed his team's last two games before the break with a lacerated hand.

Returning — Montreal got captain Saku Koivu back on Jan. 21 after he missed six weeks with a sprained ankle. The Canadiens hope to get forward Chris Higgins back soon after the break. He's been out since Dec. 9 with a shoulder injury. … Islanders center Doug Weight, out since Jan. 5 with a leg injury, hopes to be back this week. … San Jose defenseman Rob Blake might be back this week, but wearing projection for the injured jaw that sidelined him for the Sharks' last two games before the break. … Florida defenseman Nick Boynton should be back when the Panthers resume play this week after missing two games with the flu. … Colorado is optimistic that defenseman Adam Foote (triceps) and forward Ian Laperriere (back) will be ready to go when the Avs host San Jose on Tuesday. … Boston defenseman Aaron Ward returned on Jan. 20 after a thigh injury, the latest in a series of injuries that have sidelined him for much of the season. The Bruins hope to get forward Milan Lucic back from a shoulder injury for Tuesday's game. … Calgary forward Todd Bertuzzi, out since Jan. 6 with a hip injury, returned on Jan. 21 and got the deciding shootout goal in a 5-4 win over Columbus. … Edmonton center Robert Nilsson returned on Jan. 20 after missing five games with a concussion. … Vancouver got defenseman Sami Salo back on Jan. 20; he had missed 15 games with a broken rib. … Columbus' Jason Chimera, out since Dec. 17 with a groin injury, could be back on Tuesday. …

Still outMartin Brodeur resumed skating last Wednesday. The New Jersey Devils say their star goaltender, out since Nov. 1 with a bicep injury that required surgery, is on track to return around March 1. … The Islanders have officially shut down goaltender Rick DiPietro for the season. He's played only five games all season, mostly due to knee injuries and complications after surgery. The Isles hope rest will help him be ready for training camp. Isles center Mike Sillinger is also done for the season after hip surgery on Monday. … San Jose forward Torrey Mitchell's rehab from a broken leg that has sidelined him all season hit a bump when he re-injured the leg in another spot. … Florida forward Rostislav Olesz needs surgery for a sports hernia that has kept him out since early December. … Edmonton's Fernando Pisani, out since November with a broken ankle, hopes to begin skating after the break, but there's no timetable for his return.

The week ahead
— The schedule resumes Tuesday night after five days off for the All-Star break, though some teams don’t see action until Thursday. Three Northeast Division teams, Boston, Montreal and Ottawa, are the only clubs with four games this week; six other teams play only twice.

Games to watch:
Washington at Boston (Jan. 27) — The best of the East meet for the third time this season and second time in 10 days. Washington won the two previous meetings, 3-1 in December and 2-1 on Jan. 17.

San Jose at Colorado (Jan. 27) — If all goes as planned, 43-year-old Claude Lemieux will skate against one of the teams he helped to win a Stanley Cup. Lemieux made his return to the NHL with San Jose last week after being out of the League for 5 1/2 years.

New York Islanders at Atlanta (Jan. 29) — The Thrashers go for a four-game sweep of the season series. The three losses to Atlanta are a key reason the Isles are last in the overall standings, eight points behind the 29th-place Thrashers.

Philadelphia at Tampa Bay (Jan. 30) — Philadelphia visits Tampa Bay for the second time in 15 days, capping a bizarre stretch in which the Flyers play four of five games in the state of Florida — their only visits of the season.

Pittsburgh at Toronto (Jan. 31) — Before the game, the Leafs will honor former center Doug Gilmour, who wore No. 93 but was No. 1 in the hearts of a lot of Toronto fans.

Tough week ahead:
Buffalo Sabres — Buffalo ended play before the break on the road and goes right back out, with three games in Western Canada. The Sabres aren't back at HSBC Arena until Feb. 7.

Chicago Blackhawks — It's off to California for the Hawks, who begin an eight-game road trip with three games in four nights beginning Wednesday in Anaheim. The highlight is a Saturday night visit to San Jose.

Nashville Predators — The Preds start the post-break portion of their schedule with a three-game trip to Western Canada, beginning Wednesday night in Vancouver before stops in Calgary on Friday and Edmonton two nights later.

Easy week ahead:

Calgary Flames
-- The Flames finished up at home and start off after the break the same way. They play only two games — against Nashville and Buffalo — both at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

St. Louis Blues -- The Blues get to relax until Thursday night, when the Ottawa Senators come to town. Their only other game is also at home, against Philadelphia on Saturday.

Vancouver Canucks -- Vancouver eases back into the schedule with two home games, beginning Wednesday against Nashville. Minnesota comes to town three nights later for the second of a four-game homestand that covers almost two weeks.

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