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New Kovy line to debut at MSG?

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Kovalchuk's line with Parise and Zajac could be one of League's best this season.
Having practiced with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac since the start of training camp, Ilya Kovalchuk is excited to find out what they're capable of doing in a game.

Thursday's preseason meeting with the Rangers at the Garden (7 p.m. ET, MSG Plus) will offer a first look at the trio in action. There's been a healthy buzz about the combination, and with good reason: if it gels, it stands to be one of the most explosive lines in the League.

"I think we’re doing better and better everyday," Kovalchuk said Wednesday. "We start to understand each other a little more. I think we have a little chemistry and we need some games to get close to each other and feel each other out on the ice more. It’s so easy to play with great players. We just have to be ourselves, work hard as a unit and I think we’re going to be successful."

The line did not travel to Philadelphia for the Devils' preseason opener, a 4-3 shootout loss to the Flyers on Tuesday. For Kovalchuk, a matchup with the Rangers is a great way to get started.

"It’s nice," he said. "It’s always a big rivalry against the Rangers, so even though it’s an exhibition game, I think it will be exciting."

Parise, who has stayed put at left wing as Kovalchuk has shifted to the right, admitted to being anxious to see how they click. Parise and Kovalchuk have worked on reading and reacting to each other's positioning in practice.

"I think today was definitely better for us on the ice," Parise said. "Granted it’s a practice and games are games, but I thought today we started to read off of each other a lot better. We put each other in better positions. I think right now with that scrimmage and practices, all three of us have been a little too unselfish, looking for the pretty play. I think today we got a little smarter and just started shooting the puck. That’s where we started to have a little more end zone time in practice."

Head coach John MacLean thinks time will tell.

"The more they play together, the more chemistry they're going to get," MacLean said. "We'll see how it works out. Everything's an experiment right now. It's training camp and we're going to try different units, different situations just to see how it all evolves."

Parise reached the 40-goal mark two seasons ago with the ZZ Pops line of Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner. It's important to him that he and Zajac stick with the style that's made them effective.

"What’s going to be really important for Travis and I is to not get away from what’s made us good in this League," said Parise. "Jamie’s a great player and we realize we’re playing with another great player. But Travis and I have to be smart about the way we play. We don’t beat guys one-on-one. We get the puck in and work and make plays off of cycles. We can’t start trying to do things that are out of character for us. We have to make sure that we still do things that make us good, make us successful and make us get goals."

Kovalchuk has six straight 40-goal seasons and Zajac's coming off a career-best 25-goal, 67-point campaign. Because the group is so talented, they've had to avoid overpassing and forcing pretty plays.

"We were sharing the puck a little bit too much," Parise said. "We’re three unselfish guys and you want to set up another guy for an easy backdoor tap-in, but I think you have to be smart about it and make sure you’re still shooting the puck a lot."

Parise and Kovalchuk won't be restricted to their lanes. On the power play, Kovalchuk has been setting up along the left wall with Parise stationed between the circles. They'll be bolstered up the middle by Zajac's strong two-way presence.

"We’re switching all the time, so we’re playing kind of a double left wing," Kovalchuk said with a laugh. "WIth the new system we’ve got, the coaches want us to get speed before we get the puck. We’re always kind of switching, so I don’t think it’s going to be that tough to adjust to the right side."

Still, they need to be aware of each other on the ice.

"It’s going to have to be reaction," Parise said. "A lot of it has to do with who’s the first one. If they dump it out of the zone, who’s the first one back, whoever’s on the strong side. You can’t really control when you’re on the forecheck who’s going to be the first one up, who’s going to be the first one back. We just have to read and react, and if one of us winds up on the other side, it’s fine."

Faceoffs could see them switch sides, as well.

"I go to the left side and Zach goes to the right side," Kovalchuk explained. "We just need to talk more and help each other, just support each other. Most of the time we play together in the corner, so it doesn’t really matter."

Brodeur will suit up Thursday at MSG.
Brodeur playing Thursday, enjoying youth movement
Martin Brodeur will see his first action of the preseason on Thursday. Brodeur starts off with an easy workload in exhibition games before taking on more as the regular season approaches.

"I like to play parts of games early on just to get your feet wet, then after that, play more full games just to get used to the atmosphere of playing a 60-minute game," he said.

Entering his 17th NHL season, Brodeur already likes what he sees from the next generation of Devils. It's evident in young players like Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby and Alexander Urbom that the organization has positioned itself for a bright future.

"This organization’s important to me, so when I see some talent, some players and how they play and how they use them, it’s nice to see," he said. "It’s our future. I’m part of the future – probably not the long future, but I’m part of the future in the next few years.  For me to see some young players, I’ll be playing with a few of them, so it’s fun to watch. It reminds you a lot of when you were young. It’s a great opportunity in a young player’s life, that’s for sure."

Click for lineups from Wednesday's Group A and Group B morning sessions
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