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So far, you have to give the Devils their due

Don't look now, but the old reliable Devils are back on top of the NHL's Eastern Conference. New Jersey beat the Penguins by a pair of 3-1 finals over the weekend, at home Saturday and in Pittsburgh on Sunday, to extend its winning streak to five games.

The defending East champions don't have the flash of Boston, Pittsburgh or the rival Rangers, but they make up for it with balance. Goalie Martin Brodeur, in his 19th season, is his usual solid self with a 2.29 goals-against average (his career number is 2.23). Winger David Clarkson's nine goals tie him for second in the league entering Monday's games. That the team has three defensemen among the league's top 40 in blocked shots is evidence of a stifling scheme.

The oldest team in the NHL by average age, New Jersey may get worn down by the densely packed short schedule, but its older players also will benefit from the lack of cross-country interconference games. Come playoff time, it could be the Devils you know coming out of the East once more.

- Elliot Smilowitz