Devils keep churning out the wins

November, 12, 2009
OK, everyone, raise your hand if you had the New Jersey Devils leading the Eastern Conference the morning of Nov. 13 with a sensational 13-4-0 record?

Yeah, thought so.

The team lost Brian Gionta and John Madden, another offseason with key players departing, and finally, many believed, the Devils would take a tumble.

Ah, no.

Year after year, no matter what the names on the jerseys are, Lou Lamoriello's squad holds its natural position near the top of the Atlantic Division.

"We play as a team, it's always been like that, we've never had individuals," Devils center Travis Zajac explained to after Thursday night's 4-1 win in Pittsburgh. "And right now, we've got all four lines going and all six D. Everyone's contributing, and that's great."

Top defenseman Paul Martin goes out, and New Jersey doesn't even blink. I mean, look at how lost Montreal is playing without Andrei Markov, and Pittsburgh without Sergei Gonchar. The Devils? Ha. The Red Machine just keeps churning out victories, as in 10 in their past 11 games.

Do we have a Stanley Cup contender here?

"We just want to stay pretty level-headed here," Zajac told me. "Tonight, honestly, we know we were pretty fortunate to be down only 1-0 after the first period. After that, we smartened up and played sound hockey."

Typical Devils game in many ways. They didn't look all that dangerous for the opening 30 minutes Thursday, but then they pounced. Four unanswered goals and it's see ya later, defending Cup champions. Sure, the Penguins are injury-riddled, but let's be fair. The Devils were the ones playing back-to-back games. New Jersey is 9-0-0 on the road this season. What gives?

"So far, things are happening for us on the road," Zajac said. "We keep it simple on the road. For us, it's about playing solid hockey and not getting away from our game plan."

Zajac, in many ways, is perfectly suited to be a Devil. He's skilled, hardworking and -- most important in this organization -- a team-first player who puts up points without too many people around the league fussing over him.

Just the way Lou likes it.

Playing on a line with star winger Zach Parise and Swedish rookie Niclas Bergfors, Zajac picked up three assists Thursday night, giving him 16 points (6-10) and a plus-7 rating in 17 games this season.

That line has dominated the Penguins this season: The trio has combined for 14 points in just two games, including eight points in Thursday's game.

The line was dangerous, especially in the second half of the game.

"Zach is a goal scorer; he's an elite player in this league, so it's pretty easy to play with him," Zajac said. "He's always around the net. And Bergy? He's a young guy that's coming. He's great with the puck; he controls the puck and makes plays, and that's what we need from him."

I just don't think Zajac gets his due around the league. This is a player who had 62 points last season and a plus-33 rating, yet didn't get a sniff from Team Canada for Olympic camp in August.

"I definitely would love to be part of that program," Zajac said. "There's a lot of good players, though. Right now, I'm just worried about the Devils, but later on down the road if it happened, that would be great. I've always loved to play for my country. That's a goal of mine."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




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