After Zach Parise left in July, everyone said it.
The New Jersey Devils couldn’t be the same team that went to the Stanley Cup Final as a six-seed in 2012.
How could they? Their captain, and the guy who’s play is built off a physical forecheck, being defensively responsible and creating scoring chances — the exact formula that helped New Jersey oust the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers — left a perennial Stanley Cup power for a team that has reached the Western Conference Final one time in its franchise history.
But, that’s what everyone in the Devils’ organization wanted to hear. New Jersey, particularly general manager Lou Lamoriello, has prided itself on the idea that no one is bigger than the organization. So far in 2013, they have perfected that idea.
With Parise on the slumping Minnesota Wild, the Devils have simply picked up where they left off last spring. Although New Jersey certainly does miss Parise, an annual 30-goal scorer, they’ve casually found replacements to fill that void. Forwards David Clarkson and Adam Henrique have picked up a big amount of what Parise left behind, but guys like Stefan Matteau, Bobby Butler, Travis Zajac, and Patrik Elias have put up consistent numbers to help the Devils, too.
And, just like the playoffs last year, Ilya Kovalchuk has played like the star that he was last spring — this time without a herniated disc.
The Devils, currently on a season-high five-game win streak, are in first place in the Atlantic Divison and Eastern Conference. Each of the team’s last five wins have impressively come by at least two goals, indicating just how good they have been playing.
To New Jersey’s credit, few things have changed since Parise left. The Devils didn’t change their system and didn’t change the style of hockey that got them to the Stanley Cup final. They still display a vicious forecheck from all four lines and get scoring chances created from anywhere on the ice.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be Devils-like if a man named Martin Brodeur wasn’t dominant between the pipes. That’s happening, too.
There’s a reason that New Jersey has qualified for the playoffs in 14 out of the last 15 seasons and are highly regarded as one of the best and most respected franchise’s in the NHL. Since Lamoriello has been in charge of the Devils in 1987, things have been that way. And until he walks out the door, it will stay like that.
As teams come-and-go at the top of the league, expect to see the team that has been ridiculed as a ‘Mickey Mouse organization’ with no fanbase to always be there. And expect the wins, accolades and banners to be there, too.