2013. Two thousand and fucking thirteen. That's the last time the Devils had a 5 game win streak. If that's not a sign that this team isn't the same as years past than I don't know what is. That's not to say that a couple home-and-home sweeps of bad teams and a shorthanded victory over a beat up Western Conference foe is some sort of 'Miracle On Ice', but it kinda feels that way after the fleeting spurts of success we've been forced to glorify the last few seasons. I have to admit, it's pretty refreshing to take a break from searching diligently for positives and just enjoy the overall performance of a team that's really starting to click.
I won't pretend I wasn't worried going into last night's game with Taylor Hall in the press box, but their ability to withstand the temporary loss of far and away their most talented player not wearing goalie pads actually makes me more hopeful for this team's future. Amazing how much more room there is for optimism when your bottom 6 isn't made up entirely of players that players that make great veteran leaders on an AHL team. Seriously, Beau Bennett - a guy whose increasingly impressive play has yet to be represented in the goal column - stepped in and the first line didn't miss a beat. Pavel Zacha got moved up in his place and instantly became far more noticeable on the ice. You'd think those promotions would leave much to be desired in the bottom of the lineup, but the "4th" line was probably their most consistently good unit throughout the entirety of the night. For the first time in a long time the Devils don't just have depth in the sense that they have a bunch of players sitting around waiting to play, they have depth in the sense that those players are capable of actually contributing something. The Devils didn't "find" a way to win last night. They just flat out won. They did so by playing step-for-step with one of the most dangerous teams in the league, and they did so when they could have made plenty excuses as to why they didn't.
If their record wasn't enough for you to consider this team improved then just take a look at the two most maligned players on the roster from a year ago. Travis Zajac still isn't going to win any Hart Trophies, but his two way play has quieted nearly every "salary cap guru" that loved nothing more than bringing up the contractual status of the most defensively adept forward on a team with plenty of money to spend. Like it or not, the guy who many considered better suited for a 3rd line role has been a steadying force at the top of the lineup for a 9-3-3 team. Might be time to just shut the fuck and admit that there's a reason that he's been trusted with playing alongside every transcendent talent the Devils have rostered since he's come into the league.
The only player that's been more of a pleasant surprise? The player whose improvement was absolute necessary if the Devils had any hopes at a playoff run. I think a lot of people knew that Damon Severson had the skill set to do what he's doing, but starting the season with an unnecessary turnover that cost his team their opening game had some - such as myself - worried that the confidence still wasn't there yet. Is that egg on my face or the residue left over from Damon Severson running his big sweaty balls straight across my forehead? I don't know what type of talent he's "showing" his bedroom to, but something has that man feeling like he can do no wrong and it's been a goddamn treat to witness.
Everyone that has ever taken a road trip knows that the most fun part is always the beginning so Devils fans should proceed with caution during this West coast swing. That said, by playing probably their best overall game without their best overall player this team showed that they have no intentions of slowing down. Let's hope that whatever has kept Cammalleri out of the lineup isn't as tragic as it's starting to seem and that Taylor Hall's maintenance day was that and ONLY that. Not just because bad news would really put a damper on how fun this whole winning thing has become, but because I'll need to enlist the help of a pregnant woman to teach me proper breathing exercises if I gave to keep reading tweets like this....
P.S. You thought scoring a game winning overtime goal was an awesome feeling? Imagine the celebratory shit afterwards...