When the New Jersey Devils went into a rebuild a few years ago, they targeted next season as the goal to be a contender.
They're a year ahead of schedule, and the acquisition of Timo Meier from San Jose on Sunday shows they are serious about this year. New Jersey is 15-3-2 in its last 20 games, is second in the Metropolitan Division and has won back-to-back games.
That winning streak will be put to the test when the Devils face the surging Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Wednesday night to kick off a three-game road trip.
New Jersey has had time to rest ahead of the rematch of the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals, won by Colorado in seven games. The Devils haven't played since Saturday's 7-0 win over Philadelphia, and in the short break, traded for one of the top players on the market.
Meier had 31 goals and 52 points for the Sharks, who are in the midst of their own rebuild. Meier gives New Jersey a top-six forward for the last six weeks of the regular season and beyond.
"Everyone around here is aware of what Timo can bring to the table," Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald said after the deal was finalized. "I just want the player to feel comfortable, that he understands the system, that he has time to learn it. And then once he feels comfortable -- and knows our system like the back of his hand -- he's just going to play hockey."
His first game will be against the red-hot reigning champs. The Avalanche have gone 7-0-1 since Feb. 11 and are 13-2-2 over the last 17 games despite not having defenseman Cale Makar for eight of the last 10 games while he has dealt with two separate concussions.
Coach Jared Bednar said after Colorado's optional practice on Tuesday that Makar is a "possibility" for the game against New Jersey. Kurtis MacDermid, who suffered a concussion in a fight with Calgary's Milan Lucic on Saturday night, is out.
The Avalanche are in a stretch of playing eight of 10 games at home and have taken advantage of the familiar territory. They are also getting off to quick starts, which has helped them play from ahead.
Nathan MacKinnon scored 19 seconds into a win at Winnipeg on Friday night and 3:05 into Saturday's win over the Flames before Mikko Rantanen topped those with his goal 14 seconds into Monday's shutout win over Vegas.
"First goal, it's really important to get it, especially right in the start of the game right away," Rantanen said after Monday's win. "You lead in the game, you feel looser a little bit and it's helping. I think there was a stretch we didn't score the first goal for a long time, so it's better this way."
Rantanen helped carry the team through injuries earlier this season and has a career-high 40 goals, including six in the last five games. MacKinnon has gotten hot after missing 11 games in December. He has at least one point in each of his last eight games and finished February with nine goals and eight assists.
--Field Level Media