The Canadiens travel to New Jersey for Saturday’s game and the Devils will have a valuable addition to their lineup — Zach Parise.
The 26-year-old left winger and former All-Star has been out of the lineup since Oct. 30. He had difficulty with his right knee skating before the season began and underwent surgery repair a torn meniscus in early November. His absence was a big part of the Devils’ disasterous first-half which cost them a playoff spot. New Jersey has not only missed his on-ice performance (three seasons of 30-plus goals and one of 45), but also the example he set in work ethic and leadership.
Parise has been skating with the team since last Thursday. He’s not anticipating Devils coach Jacques Lemaire to use him as he did prior to the injury. “I’m not expecting 20 (minutes) but I know I’m capable of playing a regular shift and power play. So, we’ll see. I don’t know how (Lemaire) wants to run it. I’m sure I’ll find out tomorrow.” Parise said.
First, the Devils have a game on Friday against the Flyers — Parise won’t play — and here’s how they lined up in practiced on Thursday — with Parise (courtesy of Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record). This may what they look like Saturday:
Zach Parise-Travis Zajac-Nick Palmieri
Brian Rolston-Patrik Elias-Mattias Tedenby
Ilya Kovalchuk-Jacob Josefson-Dainius Zubrus
Adam Mair-David Steckel-David Clarkson
(extras) Vladimir Zharkov-Rod Pelley-Mark Fraser
Henrik Tallinder-Mark Fayne
Anssi Salmela-Andy Greene
Hedberg plays against Philly so the Habs will face Brodeur. Veteran defenceman Colin White probably won’t play. He’s missed the last three games with a leg injury.
It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Devils. They were 10-29-2 in the first half, and that cost Coach John MacLean his job on Dec. 23rd. Lemaire took over and after some adjustments — including reinstalling a trapping defensive system — they produced a 25-7-3 second half record thus far.
Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk said Thursday (quoted by Rich Chere of The Newark Star Ledger), “This season is going to make us stronger. I think we became closer to each other as a team. When you go through a lot, you start to share more with each other. It builds character. I think we’ll be good next year. We have a lot of young guys who will be in the second year of their career.”
With the Devils no longer in playoff contention, much of the talk around the team has been whether Lemaire, the former Canadiens coach and a Hall of Fame player, will return next season. Kovalchuk endorsed his return, saying, “Yes. I think he’s really good. He’s very experienced. He knows how to use guys to be successful. As soon as we started to stick to his game plan we started to win.
“Whoever becomes our coach, it will be important. Look at this year. I’m not saying who is good or who is bad, but I think (Lemaire) makes a big difference. The start of the season is important. It seems like everybody thinks, ‘We’ll be OK later,’ but it’s very important right from the beginning.”
Kovalchuk had a much better second half under Lemaire than he did under MacLean. Kovalchuk was rumoured to not get along with MacLean, who made him a healthy scratch at one point early in the season for missing a team meeting. In the first three months of the season, Kovalchuk scored nine goals and added 11 assists and was a minus-26. Since January, he has 19 goals, 15 assists and is plus-4.
Brodeur also would like to see Lemaire back next season, but doubts he will. “Regardless of whether it’s Jacques or not, it should be someone similar,” Brodeur told Chere. “(His style is) a proven success in New Jersey. That’s the bottom line. He’s a good coach. Going like this for eight months, I don’t know how (Lemaire) would be able to get that energy. It’s tough….
“Hopefully it will be him,” Brodeur added. “But if it’s not, you have to respect what Jacques has done for us and that he was able to step in and changes things like attitude and preparation for the game. I’m sure Lou (Lamoriello) knows to keep moving in the same direction. That’s the important thing in the selection or else keep the status quo with this coaching staff.”
Chere wrote: “No matter who is coaching the Devils when they open training camp next September, it must be someone who will get the most out of three key players– Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and goalie Martin Brodeur.”
Parise is a restricted free agent after this season. He made $3,125,000 this season and one of the reasons he worked hard to get back for the last few games was to show what he could do coming off his injury. The game against the Canadiens is his first audition.