It's far too early for New Jersey Devils fans to be asking "Zach who?" But the evidence is mounting that the 2012 Eastern Conference champions aren't going to be an also-ran in this shortened 2013 season.
“It’s a testament to our character,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. “I think a lot of people thought that maybe our run last year was accidental and I think you’re seeing the depth of this team and how they play.”
With David Clarkson scoring two more goals to give him nine on the season, with Ilya Kovalchuk heating up (two goals and three assists in the last three games) and with the Devils getting solid goaltending from either Martin Brodeur or Johan Hedberg, the Devils are a team playing with purpose.
That purpose was evident in Pittsburgh Sunday night as New Jersey swept the home-and-home series with the Penguins by identical 3-1 decisions and the Devils are now on a five game winning streak.
“That team when you look at that roster they have a way of instilling a little bit of fear in your belly as far how you have to play the game or you’re going to get burned,” DeBoer said. “I think the fact that we lost as badly as we did the first time in here that fed our motivation to come out and play a real good team game against them the last two nights and I think we’ve done that.”
Thanks to what is becoming a successful formula of excellent goaltending, aggressive forechecking, strong special teams and timely scoring. Clarkson, who scored 30 goals last season, was the center of attention after this game. His nine goals in 12 games is second in the NHL. No, he isn't the departed Zach Parise, but he is scoring regularly.
“I think people thought maybe last year was an accident for him or a fluke and he’s showing it isn’t,” DeBoer said.
Clarkson said he wants to prove his critics wrong.
“It’s like me scoring 30. Do I think people doubted me? Yeah I do,” Clarkson told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “People doubted us. I think there were people that every round weren’t taking us. They thought other teams were going to win, but it’s a fun thing when you go into a building and everybody knows you’re going to show up and compete. Maybe they’re not thinking you’re going to win, but you prove them wrong and it’s a fun position to be in."
At 8-1-3 and with the best record in the East, there are plenty of teams that would indeed want to be in the Devils' position.
"I think the big thing right now is this team is winning," Clarkson said. "It doesn't matter who's scoring. The puck's going in, but it doesn't matter who it is. We're doing good things."
Just ask the Penguins.
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