I'll tell you what, watching Ilya Kovalchuk dominate and set the tone from the first shift of the Devils' 4-1 victory here over the Canadiens yesterday afternoon, there was no question why the Devils went to such extraordinary lengths -- 17 years, 15 years, $102 million, $100 million, whatever the law finally would allow -- to sign him and to lock him up.

He laughed in the face of P.K. Subban, scored twice, lugged the puck up ice at will, found trailers, blasted howitzers from the point and every bit was the star the Devils knew they were getting and people pay money to see.

And if Kovalchuk were everything as advertised over the summer in 25:10 of ice, the Devils were everything everyone thought they would be entering training camp, before the entire operation imploded into epochal dysfunction.

"When I signed I had very high expectations," said Kovalchuk. "I still do."

The Devils, 9-1-2 in their last 12 games, are so far out of the picture there isn't a panoramic lens capable of getting them into the playoff photo. Unless, of course, they somehow continue this pace through their remaining 29 games, which would pretty much make them the 1977-78 Canadiens, and at which point they still might not make it.

Still, the resurrection is as impressive as their resolve. Still, the Devils look like themselves after a half-season of cartoon-like, unrecognizable behavior.

The immediate concern is the status of Martin Brodeur, forced out of yesterday's game following the first period after feeling what he said was a "little twinge" in his right knee with just under five minutes to go, when he made a save on a sharp right angle shot.

"I just kind of tweaked my knee when my leg got caught under me," said Brodeur, who was spry and sharp in stopping all 10 shots he faced.