The New Jersey Devils (28-31-4) finally found their home-ice advantage.
One of the many improvements during the team’s surprising second half surge is their play at home. Since January 1, the Devils are 8-2-1 on home ice, outscoring opponents 30-21. It’s a stark contrast from their early season struggles, when New Jersey recorded a 6-12-1 record on home ice. Opponents outscored them 58-37 during that stretch of futility.
The good times keep rolling at home, where New Jersey has won five straight games. Tonight, they look to extend that streak to six against the rival Pittsburgh Penguins.
New Jersey enters tonight’s game 10 points behind the New York Rangers for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They’ve continued to remain hot, going 10-1-0 over their past 11 games.
Devils head coach Jacques Lemaire credits the Devils success to better team play, something he stressed when he was named interim head coach on December 23.
“I think we’ve been pretty steady in our game,” Lemaire told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “It looks better because we win. If the team wins, it looks better. But we’re playing pretty much the same.”
The Devils continued their slow ascent up the Eastern Conference standings, moving to 12th place with a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday. Ilya Kovalchuk snapped a 1-1 tie in the third period, recording his fifth game-winning goal in the Devils’ last 11 games. The win vaulted the Devils over the Florida Panthers, and brought the number of teams to beat for a playoff spot to four.
The Devils have a chance to win two in a row over the Pens tonight. The Penguins, struggling with injuries and inconsistent play, are a mere 3-4-3 in their last 10 games. They’ve failed to score two or more goals in their last five losses, and the team remains without captain and points leader Sidney Crosby.
After dropping two straight to their rival, the Devils defeated the Penguins, 2-0, on January 20. Brian Rolston and Nick Palmieri provided all the offense in the first period, and Martin Brodeur stopped 23 shots for the shutout.