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For starters, Devils seek early jump

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Parise and Devils looking to get out of gate quickly in 2011-12.

(New Jersey Devils)
Last season, a 9-25-2 start put the Devils so far out of the playoff hunt that they couldn't recover. It's no wonder then that on the first day of training camp, many stressed the importance of a strong start to 2011-12.

"It’s huge," said Patrik Elias. "Right from the get-go, the first games, they’re very important. You've got to get confidence into the locker room. The guys need to get confidence as a group, as individuals. We know from what happened last year that we had that at the beginning, then we lost a few games and all of a sudden it snowballed."

By the time the wins finally did pile up last year, it was too late.

"We didn’t get any luck on our side and just started to panic, squeezing our sticks," Elias said. "All of a sudden, we turned back and we had 40 games behind us that we couldn’t turnaround. It is important to trust each other, get on the same page, system-wise, with the new coach."

A 31-goal campaign from Ilya Kovalchuk was a bright spot, but left the Devils short of where they wanted to be.

"We still didn’t achieve our goal," Kovalchuk said. "That was a good run and that was way more fun than the first half, that’s for sure. We don’t want to put ourselves in that hole again. We have to start really good."

Will it be hard for this group to put that behind them? Elias doesn't think so. Jacques Lemaire righted the ship in January, and the hope is that new coach Peter DeBoer's uptempo system will keep wind in the Devils' sails. 

"Gotta let it go," said Elias. "Every year is different. We have a lot of new faces around. It’s a fresh start for everyone. The system will be changed in little ways, so we have to adjust to that, every one of us. If you don’t win the first couple of games, you can’t panic. It’s a long season and obviously you do want to start off well."

Elias summarized DeBoer's message: "In the past, maybe we were too passive positioning-wise playing a little too much. He wants to change that, he wants to be aggressive, obviously [force turnovers] as much as possible in the right places on the ice."

If the Devils can put it all together early, their goal of the postseason will stay within reach.

"We need to get back there, get ourselves back in the top eight in the East," Zach Parise said. "You have to start somewhere. We’ve definitely got the ability to do it, we’ve got a good team, we’ve got good players. We’ll try our best."

Parise is one of the Devils poised for a successful campaign. He's looking to bounce back after knee surgery cost him most of 2010-11. He returned to play one game on April 2 before the decision was made to shut him down for the year.

Parise doesn't expect the time away to slow him down.

"I personally felt a little rusty today, but I’m sure everybody did out there just from the long layoff," he said. "The way I’m approaching it, it’s not much different than any other summer or from any other of these players. They’ve been done since April also. I don’t think it’s going to be much different from what I missed compared to what these guys missed. They haven’t played hockey in a long time, either. I don’t think I’m going to be behind them or anything."

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