There’s no place like the road for the New Jersey Devils these days.
The team will try to tie the NHL record for consecutive road wins to start the season when they play Philadelphia on Monday night. A victory would be New Jersey’s tenth straight road win, equalling the mark set in 2006 by the Buffalo Sabres.
“For whatever reason we’re comfortable on the road,” said winger Zach Parise. “It’s not as if you go into other rinks so much anymore where you get intimidated. We play pretty smart. It’s all the same size ice surface. We are just playing smart and easy hockey and it is working for us.”
The streak almost never got going. After losing their first two games at home, the Devils went to Tampa Bay and needed a last-second goal by Travis Zajac in regulation to tie the game, which they eventually won in a shootout.
Three of the nine wins on the road have been in shootouts and three others have been decided by a goal.
“It’s not a normal streak where you’re in it all the time,” veteran Jamie Langenbrunner said. “We go back home, and there’s a lot of things in between. I don’t think we’ve paid any attention to it, which is probably a good thing.”
While the Devils downplay the streak, they admit road trips have been important for a team with a lot of new faces this year.
Veterans John Madden, Brian Gionta, Mike Rupp and backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen were all lost to free agency, while Bobby Holik retired. Brendan Shanahan and the team then parted ways just before the season started.
“We lost our first two games here and went on the road as a team and we had some fun,” said forward David Clarkson. “We had an exciting time. You get to know some of the guys better, you play some cards. You’re away from your family and everything, not that that’s a good thing, but it’s the boys and that’s what happened to us. Since then, we have been winning and doing well.”
Langenbrunner, who is in his 13th season, said road trips early in the year can be good.
“We did training camp in New Jersey and you don’t spend a ton of time with guys who will be on the team,” he said. “On the road the first time, you go out to dinner together, spend time together and it helps bring the team together.”
Since losing their first two games, New Jersey has posted a 13-2 record, winning its last eight overall, the longest winning streak in the league this season.
What’s remarkable about the run is that the Devils have won despite injuries. Paul Martin, their top defenceman, broke his left arm Oct. 24 and will be sidelined four to six weeks. Johnny Oduya, arguably the No. 2 defenceman, has missed the last seven games with a lower-body injury.
Veteran Jay Pandolfo is out four to six weeks with a shoulder injury and Rob Niedermayer has missed the last five games with an upper-body injury. They are among the team’s top penalty killers.
Coach Jacques Lemaire has inserted Andy Greene and Mark Fraser on defence, asked more of rookie Niclas Bergfors and got forward Patrik Elias back in the lineup after he missed the opening 13 games following off-season groin surgery. Lemaire also has gotten his veterans to pick up the slack.
“Jacques does a good job of keeping the game simple for people,” Parise said. “He is a good teacher and makes it easy for guys on the ice, and I think that’s why we have been able to have other guys come in and play well. That’s a big part of why we are winning.”
There’s also Martin Brodeur, who has won 12 of 16 starts with a 2.16 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. During the road streak, New Jersey has given up 15 goals, but only six in the last five games.
There is also a sense that the Devils have gotten back to playing the neutral zone trap.
Parise scoffs at the idea, saying there isn’t a team in the league that doesn’t play the trap in some form.
“I wish some people could sit in our meetings,” he said. “It’s not like we’re talking defence, defence, defence – we’re talking offence and how to score goals. We have the reputation because we aren’t scoring a lot of goals, that all we do is play D. We get accused of being a trapping team because we are good defensively.”
The game against the Flyers will start a three-game road trip that also includes stops in Nashville, Tenn., and Dallas.
“I think the road caters to our style of game,” Langenbrunner said. “We can keep it simple and make it hard on the other team, and when the they start pressing, that’s when we’re at our best.”