On the night when the Devils retired Scott Niedermayer’s number 27, Jacques Martin and his coaching staff most likely watched the Devils skate against the Dallas Stars Friday to get a handle on what New Jersey would bring to the Bell Centre on Saturday against the Canadiens.
What they saw was a strong performance by the Devils, and especially their captain Zach Parise, who had four points (1g, 3a) in New Jersey’s 6-3 victory.
Parise, who can be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, had a four point night — a goal and three assists — playing on a line with Ilya Kovalchuk and rookie centre Adam Henrique, and he did it after getting his front teeth knocked out in the first period (they were not his natural teeth).
This is a line the Canadiens will have to watch closely. Parise has five goals and 11 assists for 16 points in his past 10 games. The multi-million dollar man Kovalchuk, who had a goal and assist on the night, is almost as hot with 12 points in his last 10 games. Henrique, on the the NHL’s most unheralded rookies, also scored a goal, has 13 points in the last 11 games and is the team leader with a plus-6.
The Devils second line can’t be ignored either. Petr Sykora, Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus notched a pair of goals.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, the Devils centre who Henrique replaced, Travis Zajac, returned to the lineup after missing the first 30 of the season recovering form a torn Achilles tendon. He skated on the third line with Mattias Tedenby and David Clarkson. Zajac was understandably rusty, but got better as the game progressed. Clarkson notched a goal as well.
That balanced scoring is one reason coach Peter DeBoer has his team quietly climbing in the standings. They’ve won three straight and five of their last six. They now sit in the eighth spot of the Eastern Conference, three points ahead of the Canadiens. Unlike when Jacques Lemaire took over last season from John MacLean and re-installed the trap, DeBoer has New Jersey playing a much more agressive style forecheck.
On defence, GM Lou Lamoriello answered a need for a big shooter when he acquired big Kurtis Foster from the Ducks this week. He hadn’t been playing much in Anaheim since his July trade from the Oilers but could be a fit in New Jersey. He’ll likely challenge the Canadiens penalty killers with his bombs from distance. The move was made so 18 year old Adam Larsson, the fourth overall pick at last June’s draft, could focus more on his five-on-five play. Larsson has been likened to a young Nick Lidstrom and he picked up a pair of assists on Friday night, including setting up Parise’s tip in goal with a nice hard pass.
Defenceman Henrik Tallinder didn’t play on Friday, scratched with what the team said were back spasms. It’s uncertain if he’ll play on Saturday. He has been one of the blueline leaders in ice time this season.
Johan Hedberg played on Friday, but you can assume it will be Marty Brodeur in the net to face his hometown team on Saturday. The man to whom Mike Boone graciously provides a middle initial has been inconsistent this season at best with a 3.09 GAA and a .886 save percentage.
The Habs penalty kill has been excellent this season, but only the Devils are better. They’ve killed off 93.1 percent of their penalties, surrendering a league-low eight power play goals. Their own power play, which will face the Habs’ second ranked PK unit, has struggled about as badly as Montreal’s, scoring on only 12.5 percent of their chances (the Habs are at 12.1).
Here are some other key stats about the Devils. They are 7-1 in shootouts, and 2-0 in overtime. That’s an extra nine points in the standings. They also have seven shorthanded goals, the most in the NHL. However, they’ve surrendered nine shorties, the worst in the league.
Assuming Tallinder is able to play and Brodeur is in goal, here’s how the Devils could line up on Saturday.
Zach Parise. Adam Henrique. Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora, Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus
Mattias Tedenby, Travis Zajac, David Clarkson
Eric Boulton, Ryan Carter, Cam Janssen
Henrik Tallinder-Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador-Kurtis Foster
Anton Volchenkov-Adam Larsson