Chuck Gormley | NHL.com correspondent
Feb 5, 2007, 12:00 PM EST
Quick. Name the captain of the New Jersey Devils.
Tick … tick … tick …
After 12 years of seeing the “C” on the chest of Scott Stevens, it’s hard to imagine anyone but the chiseled defenseman wearing a consonant on a Devils’ jersey. In fact, the Devils’ current captain is almost as anonymous as the one who preceded Stevens as captain … defenseman Bruce Driver.
It’s not John Madden or Scott Gomez or Colin White, all of whom would make excellent captains.
It’s Patrik Elias, one of the quietest, most unassuming -- not to mention talented -- players in the Devils locker room.
One look at the Eastern Conference standings tells you Elias must be doing something right. The Devils entered this week 13-5 since Christmas, opening up a 10-point lead in the Atlantic Division and creeping within four points of the conference-leading Buffalo Sabres.
And while the Devils are one of the most balanced teams in the NHL – what else is new? -- they are led by a 30-year-old center from Trebic, Czech Republic.
“Scotty (Stevens) had that presence,” Gomez told Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger. “When he walked around, respect was demanded. Don’t forget, Scotty wasn't around here for a few years. So Patty didn’t have to directly follow him. There are a lot of similarities. Patty leads on the ice like Scotty did.”
The two players lead in entirely different ways on the ice. Stevens would defend teammates with a menacing hit or, on occasion, a heavyweight fight. He had a strong, authoritative voice in the dressing room.
Elias uses his incredible speed and scoring touch around the net to lead the Devils. Through 52 games this season, his 18 goals and 31 assists give him a team-high 49 points.
Elias has shown a dramatic improvement over last season, when he missed the first 44 games of the season with hepatitis A. The Devils decided to go without a captain last season as they tried to recover from the absences of both Stevens and Scott Niedermayer. Somehow, they have filled the leadership void.
“No one is asking Patty to be Scotty or Nieder,” White said. “He has to just be himself and that's what he has done. He’s been one of our leaders the last five or six years. We respect him. He and Marty (Brodeur) are our two guys.”
Having a “C” stitched on your jersey is more than just a symbolic gesture in hockey and Elias admits he felt some of the weight that goes along with succeeding leaders like Stevens and Niedermayer.
“At the beginning there was pressure,” Elias said. “I think that's absolutely normal when someone is put in that position. You don’t know what to do until you do it and experience it.
“Maybe I tried a little too hard and it affected me until I realized all you have to do is work hard and do your job.”
Elias has a lot of company there. It’s hard to find a player on the Devils’ roster who has not contributed in some way to what many believe is a championship worthy team.
Backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen, who is the NHL’s equivalent of the Maytag repairman, may feel otherwise. Brodeur has started all but two games for the Devils this season, leaving Clemmensen with a 0-1-1 record in three appearances totaling just under 150 minutes. Clemmensen hasn’t played in a game for the Devils since Dec. 14 when he was on the wrong end of a 5-3 loss in Boston, his only loss of the season.
“You think about December and January as being the dog days of the year," Clemmensen said. “After that, you start making your playoff push and it’s going to be harder for me to get in there now.”
With the Devils in the midst of a five-game homestand, it might not be until Feb. 24 or 25 that Clemmensen sees his next start.
“I only made three starts in the calendar year of 2006," Clemmensen said. “It wouldn't surprise me if it went either way. They may want to rest Marty near the end of the season to get ready for the playoffs.”
-- As soon as Sidney Crosby cooled off, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury heated up. Crosby had an eight-game scoring streak snapped on Saturday against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals and that usually spells trouble for the Pens, who were an amazing 0-30-1 in games Crosby did not score since he entered the league last season. But Fleury picked up his second shutout in three games to blank the Caps, improving to 10-1-2 in his last 13 games.