Burnside: Devil of a Season BUFFALO, N.Y. -- For years the New Jersey Devils have been the model National Hockey League franchise on almost every level. They drafted shrewdly, developed players meticulously and managed to keep their core players in the fold, often for less money than they might have attracted on the open market. And they won -- a lot. Between 1995 and 2003, the Devils won three Stanley Cups and appeared in the Stanley Cup finals another time. Looking at the train wreck that has been the first half of the Devils' season, the temptation might be to believe that the model has been broken, the pieces swept away with all the trappings of the old NHL. But a closer inspection reveals that the framework remains intact. It's just a little bent out of shape. With Saturday's impressive 3-2 victory over the red-hot Buffalo Sabres, the Devils have won three in a row and are inching closer to a playoff berth that a month ago seemed to be a pipe dream. They are 19-18-5 and occupy the 10th spot in the suddenly congested Eastern Conference, two points behind eighth-place Tampa Bay. "It was an awful 2005 for us. We had a bad start. We let a lot of people down," said Scott Gomez, who scored the winner Saturday, his 16th goal of the season and seventh in the past five games. "That's a good thing about a new year. You can wipe everything away." "Obviously, it's been an odd year. A lot of things have happened," said Patrik Elias, who played in just his third game of the season but chipped in an assist to go with the five points he collected in his first two games. Elias missed the first three months recovering from hepatitis A, which he contracted during the lockout, and it was his absence that prompted general manager Lou Lamoriello to go retro and sign Alexander Mogilny to a whopper of a two-year deal worth $7 million. It turned out to be a significant mistake that was erased last week when Lamoriello waived the Russian star, who was third on team in scoring with 25 points. Mogilny remains on the roster but will be assigned to the Devils' AHL affiliate in Albany unless his agent can find a team that will take on his salary. It's hard to imagine Mogilny, who has tallied 1,032 NHL points and who helped the Devils win the Stanley Cup in 2000, playing in the AHL, but such are the vagaries of the new NHL. Unfortunately for Lamoriello, the Mogilny blunder is not the only blemish on this season. Dan McGillis was expected to help fill the void left by the departure of defensemen Scott Stevens (retired) and Scott Niedermayer (signed by Anaheim in the offseason), but McGillis was recently waived as well. He is now playing in Albany, making $2.2 million in the first of a two-year deal. Then there's the curious case of Vladimir Malakhov. In another blast from the past, Lamoriello lured Malakhov back to New Jersey with a two-year, $7.2 million deal. Malakhov left the team last month -- thankfully, some would say, given his play -- freeing up much-needed cap room. The departure of the expensive defender was overshadowed by the simultaneous departure of coach Larry Robinson, who walked away from the job, saying his inability to get the Devils to play to their potential was ruining his health. It was likewise Robinson's second stint as coach. He agreed to take the job last summer when it was clear Pat Burns' battle with cancer was going to keep him from returning to the team, but the Devils struggled to maintain consistency under Robinson. In Robinson's absence, Lamoriello has stepped behind the Devils' bench while trying to keep a handle on the team's personnel situation, not to mention trying to beat the bushes for an NHL coach. "It's all part of the daily responsibility. When you go out to dinner I might not be able to," Lamoriello said. "It comes down to, how can you put it, other than time? 'Just maximize your time.' That's why it's something you'd like to get solved as soon as possible -- but not just to do it, but it's got to be done for the right reasons and the right way, and that's what we'll try and do as we've said all along." With the Devils' three-game winning streak -- only the second time this season they've accomplished such a feat -- they seem to have turned a corner under Lamoriello. "He's our boss. I'm sure he's the guy who makes the difference," said goalie Martin Brodeur, who has regained his all-world form after a difficult start to the season. "He's been there awhile. I think the guys are starting to be themselves." Winning streak or not, Lamoriello remains determined to find a new coach. After that task is completed, one presumes he will set about adding pieces that might help take the Devils to the postseason for the ninth straight year and 15th time in the past 16 seasons. If the Devils' recent play is a harbinger of things to come, they might not be that far off. Saturday, the Devils spotted the Sabres a first-period power-play goal, then tied it with less than a minute to go in the period before adding two more even-strength goals in the second. Against a Sabres team that is mindful of the Devils teams of the past decade, New Jersey outskated, out-chanced and ultimately outplayed Buffalo. The Sabres entered the game with 56 points, tied for third-most in the conference. By the third period the Devils simply shut down the Sabres' attack, a difficult chore in the new, open-style NHL. "We know we have a better team than what we've been showing. We need to turn it around a little bit and build up our confidence," Elias said before the game. "I think we've handled it well," defenseman Paul Martin, another homegrown Devils product, said of the tumultuous season. "It's a long season and you're going to take your bumps and bruises. You just have to be patient and find the formula that works. I think we're just starting to find that now." Lamoriello credits the maturity of players who understand what it takes to win in the NHL with being able to see beyond the distractions that have dogged the team through the first half of the season. "I think it's been understated the way these players have responded to a lot of change. And the respect I've gained for them through this process, because it has been very unique and maybe you could say difficult with everything that has transpired," Lamoriello said.