TORONTO - The New Jersey Devils may have lost Martin Brodeur for an extended stretch, but they seem to have the old Patrik Elias back.
With his assist in the Devils' 3-2 shootout loss in Toronto on Tuesday night, Elias has 21 points in his last 13 games and is on pace for an 88-point season. That represents the second-highest total of his career and far exceeds his production over the past two seasons - Elias had 69 points in 2006-07 and dipped to 55 last year.
"Patty's just playing a real solid game," said New Jersey coach Brent Sutter. "He's doing a lot of little things well. He's providing leadership, he's working hard and he's making plays and he's been very responsible defensively.
"He's doing everything that I want to see him do and like everyone else though, he's got to continue to ... you know we still want to elevate our game all the time and everyone has to do that and he's no different. But he's done a very good job.
Elias had a very non-descript start to the year and, like all the Devils, didn't immediately respond well in the wake of Brodeur's elbow injury on Nov. 1, an ailment expected to keep him out of the lineup until February at the earliest. The Devils lost five of their first six games without Brodeur and Elias had just three points in that stretch.
It all changed after that.
Despite two straight defeats, New Jersey has won nine of its last 12 contests and has been one of the league's hottest clubs since mid-November. Elias, who has 13 goals and 17 assists this season, found his groove playing left wing on a line with centre Dainius Zubrus and right winger Brian Gionta.
"Putting me with Brian and Dainius, you know we've got something going at the right time and it takes time, always, for a line to build something and we've been together for a while now and it gives you a little bit of confidence when you start seeing things might be happening," Elias said. "We talk a lot, work hard in practice and just have a good positive attitude.
Elias contacted hepatitis A during the lockout of 2004-05 and missed more than half the 2005-06 season recovering from the illness. He was actually a dynamic point-producer once he returned that year, putting up 45 points in 38 games. But his declining output the past two campaigns prompted some to think his status as an elite player was fading.
Elias, who had 81 points in the final pre-lockout year and a career-high 96 in 2000-01, suggested people aren't always aware of the intangibles involved in being a point-per-game player in the NHL.
"I don't know, I hate that question," said Elias when asked if he feels he's back to his pre-lockout form. "Obviously people, when they ask that question, they don't know the situation we're in, what can affect you and like I said, a lot of things have to play in your favour and have to work individually, as a line, as a team to get those points.
"You're not going to score everyday, but the better you play, you just keep that attitude and the good feeling and it just carries over."