A couple of days ago, I received a note from "Rishi" in Pittsburgh who had a simple request. He wanted a little love for his New Jersey Devils. Really, how can I turn down a request from "Rishi?" And, I have to say, Rishi's Devils actually deserve a whole lot of love.
If you look at the today's standings -- after the club's 3-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night -- you'll see that the Devils sit atop the Atlantic Division. The Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins are tied with 41 points, but Rishi's favorite team holds the tiebreaker advantage having played three fewer games. If they were to win those three games -- which will be played as the start of a five-game run on home ice -- New Jersey would have more points than any other team through 31 games.
When you consider they've been rolling along despite being without their top defenseman, Paul Martin, who has been out since Oct. 24 with a broken arm, the Devils start to the season is even more impressive. They've also been without (for various parts of their early schedule) forwards Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, Rob Niedermayer and Jay Pandolfo as well as D Johnny Oduya.
In the first year of his second stint in Jersey, head coach Jacques Lemaire has been nothing short of brilliant. In the past, some of my colleagues around North America have been critical of Lemaire's defensive-minded approach. I've never been on that bus. I think Lemaire is simply one of the smartest hockey minds on the planet.
Hart Trophy candidate Zach Parise has been quietly going about his business of competing hard in every area of the game. He leads the team with 15 goals, 31 points and a plus-17 rating. Parise often works on a terrific line with unheralded young pivot Travis Zajac and two-time, Cup-winning veteran Jamie Langenbrunner.
Yeah, the Devils deserve a lot of love for a terrific start to the season. I hope that works for you, Rishi.
Oh yeah, there's one more thing about the Devils ... Martin Brodeur. We have to offer yet another tip of the mask to the club's legendary stopper, who posted the 103rd shutout of his amazing career in Buffalo to tie the league mark established by puck-stopping icon Terry Sawchuk.
I wonder what Brodeur's final career numbers will be? I wonder because I don't see the 37-year-old quitting any time soon. He's playing as well as he ever has and he still has a love and enthusiasm for the game. At this point, I can easily see him playing into his 40s. Congratulations, Marty. We look forward to your next milestone.
And now, with no further ado, here are some questions from the studio audience.