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Parise could be first Devil to score 50

Tuesday, 01.13.2009 / 9:00 AM / 2009 NHL All-Star Game

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

Brian Gionta fell two goals short. Pat Verbeek missed by four. John MacLean came within five.

It begs the question: Why haven't the New Jersey Devils produced a 50-goal scorer in their 25-year history?
 
Sure, it's easy to point to the fact the Devils have traditionally stressed defense over offense, but let's not forget, this team has twice led the Eastern Conference in goals scored. Even this season, the Devils are scoring 2.93 goals-per game, which ranks among the top 10 in the League.

Gionta was the closest to reaching the 50-goal plateau in 2005-06 when he scored 48 times to finish with 89 points in 82 games. He had 10 goals by the 16th game and 15 through 22 that season en route to earning Devils' MVP honors.

"When you're throwing things on net, pucks go in," Gionta told NHL.com. "You start feeling better about yourself and feeling confident with what you're doing out there. It's a funny feeling actually."

It's no wonder Devils left wing Zach Parise is feeling pretty good these days. Parise, who had 10 goals by his 13th game this season, currently leads the club with 24 goals, 25 assists, 6 power-play goals, 49 points and 176 shots in 42 games. His 13.6 shooting percentage ranks among the top three among players with 30 or more games for the Devils.

Keep in mind, his 77 goals during his first three NHL seasons are the most by a Devils player -- Kirk Muller is second with 68. Parise is also the sixth-fastest Devil to reach the 200-point mark, which he established in 278 games.

So could the Minneapolis, Minn., native, who will be making his first All-Star Game appearance this season for the Eastern Conference, become the first Devils player to light the lamp 50 times in a season?

"Every year, I just want to do better than I did the year before and things just happen to be going really well right now," Parise said. "You don't want to look too far ahead or get too excited about anything, so I just want to keep doing what I've been doing. If it happens that I score 50 goals, it'll be awesome."

Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner sits beside Parise in the Jersey dressing room. He knows the determination that rages within the fourth-year NHL star.

"I think he definitely has the capability of putting in 50," Langenbrunner said. "The first thing you notice about Zach is his work ethic. He plays at a high level and goes at it non-stop. It's fun to watch and I think the rest of our team looks at and sees him playing that hard and there's no reason for us not to be following. He sets a great example."

It certainly helps that coach Brent Sutter has opened things up offensively, allowing Parise to instinctively showcase his offensive wizardry.

"Zach is strong, he's got great hands, he's got great knowledge of the game, he can shoot the puck, knows how to pass the puck, knows how to get into areas to score and knows how to make guys better around him," Sutter said. "He's what you'd say is a complete player, in just about every aspect of the game and, yet, he's only going to get better."

The somewhat rambunctious Parise is grateful Langenbrunner is by his side in the dressing room.

"I do get a little worked up sometimes, so Jamie's good to give me a little hit in the head because everyone looks up to and respects him," Parise said.

Gionta said Parise has the goods to one day ring up 50 in New Jersey.

"I think it looks good for him," Gionta said. "He's played great and has been our best player out there. He makes a lot happen offensively and, hopefully, he can just keep it up for us."

Parise has gone without a goal for four straight games on two occasions this season. During those stretches, however, he still totaled five assists each time.

"When you first enter the League, you're never really sure if you belong or not," Langenbrunner said. "You think you do but you have to prove it to yourself.  Zach demands the puck in certain situations and he wants to be out there at those critical points of every game. He's certainly proven himself."

Parise, the 17th choice in the 2003 Entry Draft, has steadily increased his point production each season. He notched 14 goals and 32 points as a rookie before posting 31 goals and 62 points in 2006-07. He then established career highs with 32 goals and 65 points last season.

When pressed on the issue of whether or not 50 goals were within his reach, Parise shrugged and offered an honest response.

"I think if you ask anyone in the (Devils locker room) if they would like to score 50 in a season, they'll all say 'Why not?' " Parise said. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to score 50, but we'll see what happens."

Fact is, Parise enjoys playing for the Devils because of their team-first approach.

"That's what is great about this organization," Parise said. "No one puts any pressure on anybody to go out and score goals. That makes it so easy to play. The scoring is always spread out and, really, that's the secret to winning hockey games. A lot of guys are playing very well and every line is chipping in."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.