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Taormina making most of training camp

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Taormina and Kovalchuk celebrate Saturday.

A first goal is something to smile about, even if it’s only preseason.

Defenseman Matt Taormina knows the feeling, having scored his first in Saturday’s exhibition meeting with the Rangers.

In the second period, after Zach Parise hustled to maintain Devils possession deep in Rangers territory, Ilya Kovalchuk found Taormina for a one-timer from the left circle.

The blast beat Henrik Lundqvist and gave the 23-year-old Taormina something to remember from this year’s training camp.

“That was exciting,” he said Monday. “Parise was working pretty hard down low, I was wide open and Kovalchuk found me. I just got everything into it.”

Taormina shared some good company on the scoresheet, then shared the good news with his family.

“Scoring itself was exciting, but I talked to my dad, and he asked me who got the assist,” he said. “He was pretty pumped about that. You can’t get anymore exciting than that, getting your 'first' goal. I know it’s only exhibition, but just getting that first one kind of helps knowing that you can actually put it past Lundqvist. It was pretty exciting.”

It has been a strong camp so far for Taormina, who notched an impressive 10 goals, 40 assists in Lowell last season, his first full campaign in the AHL. Never drafted, the native of Washington Township, Mich., was signed as a free agent by Lowell in August 2009, then signed by the Devils in February.

He’s feeling good about possibly being on the big club when the Devils open the 2010-11 season on Oct. 8.

“Yeah, I’m encouraged,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff that has to go down with the organization, and whoever they need on that back end, that’s what they need. I’m just here to try and do my job and try to help out and be that guy. I’m just trying to do my best and see what happens.”

Taormina has benefitted from the guidance of head coach John MacLean, who was a rookie bench boss in Lowell last year.

“It helps out a lot, because you know more of the system that’s going on, what he likes,” said Taormina. “You’re really not coming into camp blind, so yeah it does help out a lot. Gives me a little bit more confidence because I know he had a lot of faith in me last year.”

To Taormina, MacLean’s approach is still the same.

“He’s the same guy,” he said. “It’s fun to come to the rink and play for him and play for the organization. He makes it fun out there, loose, relaxed. That’s why everybody’s not so tense around here.”

MacLean remains high on the young defender, using him at the point on the power play.

“He starting to move the puck,” MacLean said. “He’s starting to have some confidence in himself to make the right decision as opposed to making a decision that everybody thinks he should make or who he’s passing to or who he’s not passing to. He’s feeling comfortable.”

Taormina will likely be back in the lineup on Tuesday, when the preseason home schedule continues against Philadelphia.

“I think we’re going to give ‘T’ another look,” MacLean said. “I thought he played well last game. Once he got the goal, he kind of loosened up a little bit. We’ll definitely get him into a game or two from here on in.”

Taormina admitted to being a little nervous at Madison Square Garden last Thursday, when he made his debut.

“First game I wasn’t on my game,” he said. “It was something I had to get a little bit more used to. Obviously, that was the first one I ever played, but in the second one I came around. Practices have been going well. So far, I’m happy with how camp’s been going.”

He's patiently eyeing the next step.

“I know that I can play,” he said. “On the other hand, it is another step up and that’s what I’m looking forward to. If I’m up for a little bit, yeah I’ll be surprised. But right now, I’m just trying to get through this, do what I do and try to make it here.”

Power play practice
MacLean would like to see his special teams find a rhythm before the start of the regular season. The Devils went 0-for-4 with the man advantage in Saturday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Rangers, and gave up four power-play goals. They're 0-for-11 in exhibition so far.

“We’re going to work on it a lot,” he said. “Power plays, we’re working on it. We’re getting a lot of opportunities, too.”

With a line like Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk at his disposal, it’s a matter of time before MacLean’s squad starts lighting the lamp. Parise (1g-5a) is tied with Ryan Getzlaf for the preseason points lead, while Kovalchuk is tied for third with four points (2g-2a).

“These guys are going to score,” he said. “We’re going to stay with them, they’re going to score. As far as PK , we used so many different combinations, we haven’t had two guys out there at the same time, and if we had maybe they didn’t get scored on, then we put two different guys out. That will evolve. I’m not worried about that. We’ll be fine there.”

Cuts coming?
The Devils made their first roster cuts on Friday, and the next round could be coming soon.

“We’re getting closer and we’re going to tighten it up here a little bit hopefully in the next day or two,” MacLean said. “We’ll see. A lot of guys deserve to get chances and get looks, so you want to make sure you can get as many guys in there to take a look at.”
Rolston expected to face Flyers
Brian Rolston did not skate Monday after getting hit by a shot in Saturday’s game. He is likely to play Tuesday.

“I’m expecting Rollie to be fine tomorrow, he just took a shot,” MacLean said. “He’ll be fine. I expect him to play tomorrow also.”

Adam Mair battles Brian Boyle in Thursday's action.
Vasyunov OK after taking a shot in face
During one of Monday’s drills, rookie Alexander Vasyunov got clipped in the upper lip by a redirected shot. He received some attention from a trainer on the bench, but stayed out on the ice.

“I think it bounced up,” MacLean said. “Vas is a tough kid. He’s going to play hard, he’s not going to say a whole lot. He’s just going to go out and play.”

Mair and Nilson still getting a look
MacLean spoke Monday about Adam Mair and Marcus Nilson, the two veteran tryouts at this year’s camp

“Mair is a hard-working kid. He’s going to come in and work hard and play his game. I think he’s done well so far. Nilson, we’ve used him in a couple of different situations, some offensive, some defensive, so we’re just giving him an opportunity. We should get another look at him tomorrow night.”

The Devils had the day off Sunday, and returned to the ice Monday morning.

Lines from the first session:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Michael Swift - Adam Mair - Nick Palmieri
Tim Sestito - David McIntyre - Patrick Davis
PL Letourneau-Leblond - Rod Pelley - Marcus Nilson

On defense: Rob Davison, Bryce Salvador, Olivier Magnan-Grenier, Alexander Urbom, Tyler Eckford, Matt Taormina, Henrik Tallinder.

Goaltenders: Martin Brodeur and Jeff Frazee.

Lines from the second session:

Patrik Elias - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Dainius Zubrus - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Alexander Vasyunov - Chad Wiseman - Mattias Tedenby
Vladimir Zharkov - Brad Mills - Stephen Gionta

On defense: Colin White, Andy Greene, Anton Volchenkov, Matt Corrente, Eric Gelinas, Mark Fraser.

Goaltenders Johan Hedberg and Mike McKenna.
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