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Atlantic: Parise will be glad to turn calendar

Monday, 12.28.2009 / 9:59 AM / Division Notebooks

By Phil Coffey - NHL.com Sr. Editorial Director

Chances are Zach Parise will be happy to see the calendar shift to 2010 because December has been a frustrating month for the New Jersey Devils' top offensive player.

In 12 games heading into Monday night's game against Atlanta, Parise has 10 point, all assists. That's certainly not a disastrous total by any stretch of the imagination, but for a scorer like Parise, the lack of goals has been troubling.

Is Parise pressing?

"Maybe a little bit," coach Jacques Lemaire told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. "But he shouldn't be pressing. He should just think about working the way he's working and trying to enjoy the game and he'll be fine."

Parise absorbed a 14-game goal drought during his rookie season, but the big difference now is he has become one of the NHL's emerging offensive players.

Heading into Monday's game against the Thrashers, Parise was 15th in League scoring with 15 goals and 25 assists in 36 games.

Lemaire has moved Parise around a bit to try to get him going. An encouraging sign is he continues to get shots, getting 9 against the Penguins on Dec. 21 and 6 in New Jersey's 4-1 loss to the Caps on Saturday.

"It can sometimes insert some new life into people and into players, and sometimes maybe some excitement," Parise said. "Travis (Zajac) and I always play well together, just right now, things aren't going great. Rather than trying to force it and trying to wait it out, it's probably the right time to make a switch."

"Before last night's game, Zach, I was really pleased with him," Lemaire said. "In fact, his past three, four games were really, really good. He had eight, nine shots on net."

Like most of the Devils, Parise and Zajac didn't play well against the Caps, but Lemaire said they had plenty of company.

"It's not the work that I didn't like," Lemaire said. "I thought they tried, but their mental (focus) was not as sharp. I looked at the game again this morning and you could tell the decisions that they made. The decisions, usually he doesn't do this."

Okposo ends drought -- The Islanders' Kyle Okposo also has been slumping, going 18 games without a goal until connecting against the Rangers Saturday. During the 18-game streak, Okposo did contribute 10 assists.

But when he snapped a shot that deflected off Rangers defenseman Marc Staal and past Henrik Lundqvist in overtime to beat the Rangers, a lot of pressure came off his shoulders. He also had two assists in the win.

"It definitely weighs on you a little bit," said Okposo, who had not scored since Nov. 14 against Florida. "You obviously think about it. You try not to. Now all the pressure's off."

Islanders coach Scott Gordon credited Okposo with playing a strong game during the goal-scoring drought.

"That's one thing you don't have to worry about Kyle, is getting away from what gives him success," Gordon said. "His work ethic is second to none on our team. Saying that, he's been making some plays that have given other players opportunities to score goals."

Okposo agreed.

"I don't think I've been playing poorly at all," he said. "I think I've been playing very strong recently. Even throughout this drought that I had I still thought I was playing well and getting chances and that's the most important thing."

Well Said -- "We got some of the turkey out. Some of it is out. The rest will be in the morning. We couldn't do it all this afternoon." -- Devils coach Jacques Lemaire after Sunday's practice addressing Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Caps.

Better battling -- When the Islanders defeated the Rangers 2-1 on Dec. 16 at Madison Square Garden, coach John Tortorella seethed over the lack of effort and made a series of lineup changes.

Saturday night, the Islanders took a 3-2 win in overtime, but Tortorella was much, much happier with what he saw from his players.

"I thought we stayed with it and we just wanted to chip away," Tortorella said of his team's effort that saw the Rangers come back from a 2-goal deficit to force OT. "I give the guys some credit here as far as grinding away in the third period and getting a point here.

"I think we've added a little bit more grit to it and battle and I think that's turned it around a little bit here. We don't get the two points tonight but how we fought back, we've got to take a positive in how we got one point."

Tortorella and the Rangers have to be concerned with their home record, however.  The Rangers are just 8-9-2 on Garden ice, a record that ranks them near the bottom of the NHL.

Riding Lundqvist -- John Tortorella has made no secret of the fact that if the Rangers are going anyplace this season, goalie Henrik Lundqvist will carry them. And Tortorella isn't kidding. Saturday's game against the Islanders was his 12th-straight start and the 19th time in 20 games he has been in goal.

But Lundqvist, named to Sweden's Olympic roster Sunday as the very likely starter, says he isn't winded by the workload.

"A lot of times, it's how you approach it and keep your focus. When things were going tough [for the team] I still felt like my game was improving." -- Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist

"Technically, I've been feeling good for a long time," Lundqvist told Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record. "A lot of times, it's how you approach it and keep your focus. When things were going tough [for the team] I still felt like my game was improving."

Capital offense -- Prior to Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals, the Devils had won the first three meetings this season and had done a terrific job shackling the Caps' potent offense, allowing just 6 goals in the three games.

Jacques Lemaire can away impressed by what he saw from the Capitals in Saturday's 4-1 loss.

"I thought Washington played really well, especially their top line (Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin)," Lemaire told reporters. "All of them, I was impressed with. And I feel that we did not play well. We tried, but I don't think we were good with the puck and mentally good with the puck. I know when the other team plays well, there's some of it they take away. But I saw that there was too much.

"We played a team that was really hungry tonight," goalie Martin Brodeur agreed. "You've got to play games and these guys had 40 shots on net. They're explosive offensively and if you give a team that many scoring chances with that talent, they'll put the puck in the net."

"You play against a team that has speed and they have quick hands, they can make great plays, they can move the puck sideways, they make drop passes, all types of plays (and) you have to be sharp," Lemaire said. "And if you're not sharp, you're chasing, you're a second late and that's all they need — a second."

Familiarity breeds success -- The Carolina Hurricanes knew all about Michael Leighton's tendencies in a shootout having called him a teammate for much of the season. But Leighton knew all about them too, and that helped the Philadelphia Flyers beat the 'Canes in the shootout Saturday.

Leighton didn't allow a goal and Mike Richards and Danny Briere scored to give the Flyers a much-needed win.

"They know me, I know them, so I know their moves and they know what I do," a matter-of-fact Leighton said.

Leighton, acquired on waivers on Dec. 15 after Ray Emery was lost to surgery, first stopped Tuomo Ruutu's backhand shot and then Jussi Jokinen rang a shot off the left post.

"(Jokinen) does that move every time. I knew it was coming," Leighton said. "It's just hard to stop."
Leighton finished with 37 saves against the 'Canes.

It means a lot to us, we're very excited. We're looking to continue to build on [our] top core talent of young players. It's just a great opportunity for us to really build high.

— Panthers vice president of hockey operations Travis Viola after Florida won the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft Lottery