I finally got to visit the Devils' new digs in Newark, New Jersey. It's shiny, with lots of impressive amenities that the old Meadowlands haunt could never afford. But for all the newness, there is little difference on the ice. The Devils still choke the life out an opponent with the best of them.
The Devils have reeled off seven-straight wins after going through what new coach Brent Sutter called an adjustment process. "I know what to expect from the players now and they understand what I expect from them," he says.
I'm sure that's part of it, but the fact that the Devils played their first nine games of the season on the road while waiting for the Prudential Center to come on line also was a factor in their uneven start. Furthermore, you can't overlook the fact that they also began the campaign without mainstays Colin White and Jamie Langenbrunner. White is back after an eye injury sidelined him for 19 games, on the top defensive pairing and playing his customary hard-nosed 19-plus minutes a night. Langenbrunner missed the first 17 games while nursing a groin injury and Sutter said it is no coincidence that the team is in a better place since the veteran winger returned.
"Some guys lead quietly by example. That's Jamie's style", extolled Sutter.
For his part, Langenbrunner acknowledged that praise from his coach resonates because,"It means a lot coming from him -- someone I admired growing up and playing against him my first couple of years in the league." His response indicates a real respect factor for Sutter, and that's the ingredient this team has struggled with recently.
GM Lou Lamoriello made a pitch-perfect hire in Sutter, whose resume with the Canadian Junior Team and with Red Deer of the WHL junior ranks was impeccable. But Sutter's suitability for the Devils goes way beyond his previous achievements as a player and bench boss. He coaches an unflinching, unselfish defense-first brand of hockey that the Devils have all but made their own since 1994.
Sutter has this edition of the Devils playing crisper and more efficiently than in recent memory. The top line of Zach Parise - Patrick Elias - Brian Gionta cycle the puck in the offensive zone with a zeal usually reserved for seldom used fourth-liners. John Madden remains one of the best checking centermen around -- equal parts distracting and diligent. And in rookie David Clarkson, the Devils look to have another Randy McKay-type: someone who can scrap a little, score a little and agitate a whole lot.
It all hangs together due to the puck-stopping prowess of goaltender Martin Brodeur. He hasn't lost since entering the 500-win stratosphere and is back in top form. His teammates are limiting second-chance opportunities; leaving Brodeur to stand out as only he can with a few select eye-popping saves that are made all the more memorable since they seem to come at just the right juncture.
Of course, we've seen it all before from the Devils. Right now, though, it seems they are a sharper, more assured version of themselves. It' almost as if their focused play is mirroring the better lighting and upgraded offerings at Prudential Center: No innovations, just improvements on ground long since covered.
The Devils play just two games this week, hosting the Bruins Wednesday and visiting Madison Square Garden to take on the Rangers on Sunday. With Brodeur in New Jersey, Henrik Lundqvist in New York and Rick DiPietro on Long Island, the Atlantic Division generally, and the New York area specifically, features some of the best goaltending match-ups anywhere. Right now, Brodeur is the hottest, remaining the position's standard bearer. Lundqvist has maintained the highest level of peak performance consistency. DiPietro has meant more to his team than any other goaltender this season.
In Montreal on Tuesday, the Red Wings come to town to take on the Canadiens. With all of the other Original Six franchises visiting this season, the Canadiens decided to honor legends from the other teams -- guys who made those early days of rivalry full of memories to revel in. Nice promotion and acknowledgement of the league's storied past.
You can see the game nationally on the Versus Network.