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Offensive charge powering current surge

Tuesday, 01.18.2011 / 3:47 PM ET / News
By Eric Marin
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Offensive charge powering current surge
Goal support has bolstered Brodeur's efforts in net.
What to make of the Devils’ recent hot streak? Well, it’s hard not to be encouraged by seeing them win three of four for only the second time this season while racking up seven of a possible eight points.

An impressive run of 18 goals in four games began last Sunday with a 6-3 home win over the Lightning, and continued with Friday's 5-2 drubbing of the Bolts in Tampa Bay.

After a 3-2 overtime setback Saturday in Florida, the Devils took it to the Islanders early in Monday’s tilt, and secured a 5-2 victory at Nassau Coliseum.

They have improved to 4-7-1 under Jacques Lemaire, a defensive strategist who has helped his team find its rhythm on offense.

“Goals will come,” Lemaire said Monday. “If you look at the guys, they went to the net. We scored a few goals because we went to the net. This is what I’m looking for. Some nights they’ll go in, other nights they won’t. What can you do?”

Though still in last place overall, Lemaire's squad is climbing. They trail the 29th-place Islanders, but have trimmed the deficit to six points entering Thursday’s meeting with Pittsburgh at Prudential Center.

I think that goes with the offensive support that I’ve been having the last four games, also. You have to be happy with that. Give me five goals every game, we’ll win a lot. Trust me. - Martin Brodeur
“If you want to catch them, you have to beat them,” Martin Brodeur said after making 27 saves at Long Island. “They’re the closest team to us. They’re still pretty up there. It’s been difficult, but it was a big game for us. We’ve played well as of late, and playing the Islanders was a big challenge. We know that they were coming off a big win against Buffalo. They’ve been playing really well as of late. We definitely wanted to have a great start and that’s what we did.”

Vladimir Zharkov and Ilya Kovalchuk staked New Jersey to a 2-0 lead in the opening six minutes at the Coliseum. Mattias Tedenby made it 3-0 in the second period before New York narrowed the gap. Rod Pelley and Dainius Zubrus salted it away late in the second with goals 54 seconds apart.

Tedenby, who assisted on Zharkov’s first NHL goal, had a two-point game after he was a scratch in the previous six.

“We scored three goals early, they got back in the game, we responded real well after a timeout, so these are a lot of good things and we played pretty well in the third period to keep the game like that,” Brodeur said. “You have to be happy. It’s been a few games that we’re putting it together here. We’re just going to try to continue it.”

The Devils, who average an NHL-low 1.96 goals per game, scored 12 times in Brodeur’s nine straight starts from Dec. 10-29. They lost eight of nine, and were held to one goal seven times.

Things have been different in 2011.

Brodeur is 3-0-1 in four straight starts since Johan Hedberg got the nod for four of five from Dec. 31 to Jan. 8. Life between the pipes has been easier for Brodeur with the recent outpouring of goal support.

“As far as the team is concerned, it is our best stretch,” Brodeur said. “For me, I think you’re always judged on winning and I think that’s normal for a goalie. I know I can improve a little bit on my game; there’s things I have to do a little better. But I think when you win, it’s easy to work on these things. Your mental game doesn’t kick in all the time just because you feel that you could do something better even though you’re not playing at your best.

“I think that goes with the offensive support that I’ve been having the last four games, also. You have to be happy with that. Give me five goals every game, we’ll win a lot. Trust me.”

The newfound offense is coming from some of the usual suspects, as well as from some unlikely corners of the Devils’ lineup.

With points in five of his last eight games (3g-5a), leading scorer Patrik Elias has shown why he was selected for the 2011 All-Star Game. He posted a goal and two assists in the opening game of the home-and-home with Tampa Bay, then netted the game-winner in the finale.

Kovalchuk has shaken off some first-half inconsistency and turned it on of late with three goals, two assists in his last four games, including a pair of two-point performances. He leads the Devils with 13 goals.

Travis Zajac has a shorthanded tally and three assists in his last three games. The centerman has points in 13 of 20 games since a five-game points drought that ended on Dec. 4.

Brian Rolston, who was placed on waivers and re-entry waivers in December, had back-to-back two-point games against the Lightning, and has a goal and four assists in his last four. Zubrus, the right wing on Rolston’s line with Elias, has three goals and an assist in his last six.

Fourth liners David Clarkson, Pelley and Tim Sestito have also contributed to this latest turnaround.

Clarkson had gone 15 games without a point entering the home meeting with Philadelphia on Jan. 6. He beat Brian Boucher topshelf for a breakaway goal in that game, then potted a pair on Tampa Bay’s Dan Ellis three nights later. Four goals in his last six games have doubled his total to eight for the season.

Since registering one assist in his first 34 games, Pelley has a career-high three goals, two assists in his last 11, including a two-point effort (1g-1a) against the Isles in Monday’s win. Sestito had no points in his first 21 games, but has come on with two assists in his last four.

Defenseman Matt Corrente (shoulder) will miss the next two to four weeks.