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A season after winning the conference crown, forgotten Devils still tops in the East

  • Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward, right, stops a shot by New Jersey Devils David Clarkson during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, in Newark, N.J. The Hurricanes won 4-2. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)The Associated Press

  • New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur makes a save during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)The Associated Press

  • New Jersey Devils' Patrik Elias, of the Czech Republic, is hooked by Carolina Hurricanes' Joe Corvo during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, in Newark, N.J. The Hurricanes won 4-2. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)The Associated Press

When it came time to project the top teams in the Eastern Conference in this lockout-shortened season, the defending champion New Jersey Devils were one of the easiest to overlook.

Zach Parise had left to sign a $98 million contract with Minnesota as a free agent. Ilya Kovalchuk wasn't scoring like in the old days. Martin Brodeur was on his way to being 41 years old. David Clarkson wasn't going to score anywhere close to 30 goals like he did last year. And there was a no-name defense.

Indeed, the negatives went on and on and on.

Well, guess what?

Roughly a quarter of the way into the 48-game season, the No. 1 team in the East — and the No. 3 club overall in the NHL — is the Devils (8-2-3).