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Lemaire shuffles lines

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
The Devils
Zach Parise and Travis Zajac were shifted to different lines at Thursday's practice.
had a different look at Thursday’s practice.

Zach Parise and Travis Zajac were split up as Jacques Lemaire shuffled his lines in an effort to get some of his top players back on track.

Parise was slotted with Rob Niedermayer and Vladimir Zharkov, and Zajac centered Brian Rolston and Jamie Langenbrunner. Parise and Zajac had been playing alongside Niclas Bergfors.

Patrik Elias, who had been centering Rolston, skated between Jay Pandolfo and Bergfors. The fourth line remained Rod Pelley, Dean McAmmond, and Ilkka Pikkarainen.

Lemaire wouldn’t say whether he expected to keep those lines intact for Friday, when the Devils close out their five-game homestand versus Ottawa. New Jersey won for the sixth time in seven games with Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Montreal and has gone 9-2 in its last 11 outings.

Lemaire said he would “rethink” his combinations.

“As a coach, you try to change things that are not working to make them work,” he explained “You have to find ideas to get everyone to work. Work means: have success, work together. As soon as there’s a line that doesn’t have success… you don’t want to play with the one that’s had success, but you’ve got to try to find something that won’t interfere with the success of the other lines. Like changing one piece, maybe it’ll be fine if you change only one piece. Sometimes you have to change two.”

Parise leads the Devils with 35 points, but has been stuck on 15 goals for the past eight games. He ranked fifth in the League last season with a career-best 94 points (45g-49a). Lemaire said Parise's scoring drought hasn't come from a lack of trying.

“He’s not playing his best game, but he’s working,” said the coach. “I think it’s not only one player, it’s the whole line that is not going as well. I can’t blame one guy. And they’ve been playing a lot of hockey, too. They’ve been really good. They’re one of the reasons why we’re where we are right now.”

Parise wasn’t caught off-guard by Thursday's move.

“I don’t think anyone was really surprised,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of different combinations. I just think that outside of Dean’s line last night, there wasn’t a lot of guys that were really in sync. I don’t think anyone was too surprised.”

Parise said he’d be comfortable skating with Niedermayer and Zharkov if Lemaire decided to keep the new lines together.

“He’s a pretty smart guy, so I’m sure he’s trying to get some guys going, including myself,” he said. “At this point you’re willing to try anything. Just from practice, granted it’s practice, but with Nieds and Zharky, we had some good puck movement out there. If we wind up playing together tomorrow I think we’ll be just fine.”

Parise felt as though he and Zajac might have been pressing a little bit against the Canadiens. The Devils wasted four power-play chances in the first period, including 1:02 of a two-man advantage.

“Yeah, you could probably say we were guilty of that,” Parise said. “Unfortunately, it’s almost second nature to try and do things when pucks aren’t going in and sometimes that can be the worst thing for you. I think we were sometimes forcing plays that (weren’t) there. We just need to relax and play.”

Parise thought practicing on a new line might help players regain their rhythm.

“It can sometimes insert some new life into people and into players, and sometimes maybe some excitement,” he said. “Travis 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.”

Zajac has nine goals and 18 assists for 27 points in 32 games, and said he wouldn’t be shocked to be with Rolston and Langenbrunner for Friday’s game. Though he has scored once in his last seven games, Zajac remains on pace to top his career highs of 20 goals and 42 assists he set last season.

“I’m assuming that’s how it’s going to be tomorrow,” Zajac said. “I’ve played with these guys before;  we’ve all played together in some way or in college. It’s not going to be anything different.”

Said Lemaire: “Good players can play with anybody. Matter of fact, in my book, good players make other people good.”

After reviewing tape from Wednesday’s game, Lemaire said his club was in good shape until the blown opportunities on the first-period power plays. The frustration of not capitalizing on the 5-on-3 carried over into other parts of the Devils’ game. Elias' go-ahead goal with 2:36 left in regulation secured the victory.

“I thought on the 5-on-3, we had two good chances,” Lemaire said. “Two good setups, three as a matter of fact. One that Zach didn’t get a shot on net, but Pat had that play lined up. Zach just went away from his position and that screwed up the play. If he would’ve stayed there in the open space, it would’ve been a great scoring chance. Rollie had two good chances and he missed it. Two of them.”

Failing to score wasn’t the problem as much as the mental effect of not scoring.

“Where I’m more upset is getting four power plays and you don’t get any chances after,” he said. “As a matter of fact, you got a goal against. That destroyed the whole game for us.”

Lemaire continued: “It’s hard to do, but you have forget it. If you don’t score 5-on-3, you have to forget it. I’ve seen a lot of games after a team doesn’t score 5-on-3 that the game goes the other way. The flow goes the other way. And that is because their mind is on that. They’re frustrated. They don’t play well after this. It’s the frustration. I was looking at the game this morning, I thought we did really well until the power play. We moved the puck well, we were skating, we had the long pass working, guys were controlling it. We were fine. We were good.”

• Lemaire was asked about Rolston’s slapshot and whether he might rely on it too much. Rolston used a soft pass toward the front of the net to set up Elias’ game-winner.

“I don’t think he relies too much (on it), it’s his biggest asset,” Lemaire said. “He’s got to use it. You know what, you have to practice it and get really good at it, because it’s your best asset. I told him this morning, ‘ This cannot happen. You get two chances, it’s got to be in the net. I don’t care. Change the stick, change the name on the stick, change your name on the back, change your skate, I don’t care. Get it in the net.’ I said, ‘Two opportunities like this, you can’t ask for more. That’s all that you need.’”
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