The New Jersey Devils’ first game after the All-Star break surprisingly finds them in first place.
To stay atop the Atlantic Division for at least one more game, the Devils (29-15-3) must get past the resurgent Ottawa Senators (16-21-7) on Tuesday at Scotiabank Place.
New Jersey—leading the division by one point over the New York Rangers and two over Philadelphia—starts the second half of the season with a five-game winning streak. And the Devils have been winning without starting goaltender Martin Brodeur—sidelined since Nov. 1 with a biceps injury and not expected back until late February or early March—as backup Scott Clemmensen has stepped up with a 19-9-1 record and 2.29 goals-against average after Kevin Weekes struggled.
“It’s a credit to the players, staying with it and being strong,” Devils coach Brent Sutter said after a 5-2 win over Montreal on Wednesday. “Being mentally strong allows you to handle adversity on the ice. We’ve dealt with adversity in the right way. Guys in that room have been through a lot, and they don’t seem to get rattled.”
Clemmensen, who has two wins over Ottawa this season, carries a personal four-game winning streak into this game, and the Devils have a four-game road win streak. Zach Parise—New Jersey’s lone All-Star representative—comes into Ottawa with six goals and nine points in his last seven games, and is tied for third in the NHL with 28 goals and tied for seventh with 55 points.
Ottawa made its own change at goalie, placing Martin Gerber on waivers during the break and keeping rookie Brian Elliott on the roster. Gerber cleared waivers, and the Senators may try to trade the veteran or send him their AHL affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y.
Elliott, in line to make his sixth straight start, is 3-1-1 with a 2.18 GAA since being called up from Binghamton on Jan. 9. He has never faced New Jersey in six NHL starts.
Behind Elliott and an improved offense, Ottawa finished 3-0-1 before the break and the Senators, who average 2.43 goals, scored 15 times in those four games.
Dany Heatley, the team’s lone All-Star representative who has a team-best 21 goals and 43 points, has led the way with five goals in the last four games— including two in each of the past two contests.
“I feel good,” Heatley told Ottawa’s official Web site. “Everyone is excited to get back going, and I’m excited as well.”
Brendan Bell has also scored three times in the last five games, including the winning goal with 1:22 left in a 3-2 victory Jan. 20 over visiting Washington.
Ottawa should also get a boost with the return of top defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who missed the last eight games with injuries to both shoulders.
The Devils have won four straight over the Senators, but have split the last six games in Ottawa.