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NJD Notes 12.18: Lemaire undecided on lines

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
The morning after shuffling his lines at practice, Jacques Lemaire didn’t shed any light on whether he would use the new combinations tonight against Ottawa.

Neither Zach Parise nor Travis Zajac took part in the optional morning skate. On Thursday, Parise skated with Rob Niedermayer and Vladimir Zharkov, and Zajac centered Brian Rolston and Niclas Bergfors.

Parise, who led the Devils with 45 goals last season, has not scored in his last eight games. Zajac has one goal in his last seven outings. Lemaire said the fourth-year pivot will regain his confidence.

“He’s hard on himself,” Lemaire offered. “He wants to play well every time. Sometimes you can’t put that much pressure on yourself otherwise you can’t skate. You’re not as good. You have to go just a shift at a time, make it easy for you, the easiest pass. Don’t try to make the complicated play. Don’t try to pass it through two, three guys. Just make the easy pass so you can build up your confidence.”

When their goal production dries up, Lemaire stresses a simpler game for his top players.

“(They) just have to go a shift at a time, work hard, try to get some chances,” Lemaire said. “Because it’s like Zach, he hasn’t scored for a few games. He thinks about that, and he can’t think about scoring. He’s got to think about getting chances. When you start to think about scoring, it’s tough. I’ve seen a lot of guys handcuffed because they think too much about scoring. They change their game; they’re cheating, that’s what happens. I’m not saying that for Zach, because you know how I love his work ethic. He keeps working the same way and all this. But I’ve seen a lot of guys because they’re looking for goals they start to cheat, they don’t do their job and it just gets worse.”

The Devils have taken six of their last seven, and can finish 4-1 on the homestand with a victory tonight.

“What’s going right? A little bit of everything,” Lemaire said. “Sometimes the power play’s going good, sometimes one line is going good. Defensemen have been pretty steady for us. I would say they’ve been playing really, really well. They’re a big part of where we are right now.”

Over their last three wins, New Jersey has held opponents to a total of four goals. Lemaire doesn't think his defensive corps gets enough credit for the job it has done in the absence of top rearguard Paul Martin.

“Because they don’t score,” he said. “We don’t get a lot of offense from them, and that’s why you guys are not talking too much about them. But defensively, they’re doing a great, great job.”

The Devils continue to receive strong offensive contributions from Patrik Elias, who missed the first 13 games of the season following offseason groin surgery. Elias scored his 300th career goal on Saturday, and rides a five-game points streak (4g-2a-6pts) into tonight’s contest.

Lemaire thinks Elias can be even better.

“I really believe he’s among the top players in the League,” he said. “And a top player in the League, they do a lot of stuff for their team. Maybe I’m a little tough on him, but he has so much talent. So much. He does things that other guys can’t do.

Lemaire continued: “I want him to be a leader every game. I want him to control the game, every game. I know he won’t do it – nobody does it. But I’d like eight games out of 10 that he does it.”

Elias had been centering Rolston and Zharkov while Dainius Zubrus (leg, 12 games missed) recovers from injury. Lemaire eventually sees Elias returning to the wing.

“Patrik plays the game; he understands the game extremely well,” he said. “He knows the weaknesses on the other side. He knows where to go, he feels the puck’s going to go there, that’s where he goes. That’s why sometimes he’s out of position, but he’s got a reason for it. He just knows what’s coming. I think it would be, he would be even more effective – not that he’s not effective at center – but I feel he would be more effective on the wing.”

• Jamie Langenbrunner, Niclas Bergfors, Vladimir Zharkov, Ilkka Pikkarainen, Rod Pelley, Johnny Oduya, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Matt Corrente, Andrew Peters and Yann Danis were the skaters at today's morning skate.
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