Some key offseason losses gave New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer plenty of concern heading into the lockout-shortened slate.
Many of those worries have subsided with the Devils sitting atop the Eastern Conference.
New Jersey looks to rebound from its first regulation home loss on Friday night when it goes for a sixth consecutive victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
With the Devils losing Zach Parise to Minnesota, not re-signing Petr Sykora and center Adam Henrique coming off thumb surgery, DeBoer wasn’t sure how his team would respond after making a run to the Stanley Cup finals.
So far they’ve been outstanding, as the Devils (8-2-3) have assembled four solid lines and are getting solid play in net from Martin Brodeur - named the NHL’s third star of the week on Monday - and Johan Hedberg who has a 0.65 goals-against average in three starts.
“Looking back, I shouldn’t be surprised,” said DeBoer, whose team had its five-game winning streak snapped with Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to Carolina. “This is a group that relies on our team play. Last year, we had interchangeable parts. (Travis) Zajac missed almost the entire year (with an Achilles injury) and we had over 100 points. (Ilya Kovalchuk missed a playoff game in the second round (against Philadelphia) and we arguably had our best game that night.
“It’s a group that has that team-play foundation that we can resort to when good players are out of the lineup.”
The Devils won’t have left wing Dainius Zubrus for the next four to six weeks following left wrist surgery on Thursday, but forward Alexei Ponikarovsky could see some ice time after being reacquired on Wednesday in a deal that sent two draft picks to Winnipeg.
Ponikarovsky signed with the Jets last summer after scoring nine points in the Devils’ playoff run. His lone goal in the postseason came in overtime, lifting New Jersey to a 4-3 victory over Philadelphia in Game 3 of the conference semifinals.
The Flyers (6-7-1), who dropped the final four games of that series, are back in New Jersey after losing 3-0 in the Devils’ home opener on Jan. 22.
Philadelphia has dropped the last four as the road team in this Atlantic Division matchup - including two in the playoffs - but the club is on a 4-1-1 surge after defeating the Jets 3-2 on Tuesday. The team opened its season-high six-game trip the night before with a 5-2 loss to Toronto.
“No matter if we lose or win, it’s a matter of how fast we can put that game behind us and get ready for the next one,” Claude Giroux told the Flyers’ official website.
Ilya Bryzgalov who gave up goals to Zajac, David Clarkson and Kovalchuk last month in New Jersey, should be back in net after making 24 saves versus Winnipeg. He was pulled in the loss to the Maple Leafs.
Offensively, the Flyers could use continued production from the Brayden Schenn Voracek-Tye McGinn line. Schenn has two goals and four assists in the last six games, Voracek has a team-best seven points during that stretch and McGinn has found the back of the net in each of the last two contests.
It’s uncertain if the Flyers will face Brodeur or Hedberg on Friday. Brodeur made 24 saves on Jan. 22 to extend his NHL record with a 120th shutout.
He has blanked Philadelphia 10 times, tied for his most against any team.