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Tracking the Zach Attack

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Zach Parise has barreled out of the gate after his breakout season of a year ago, and appears poised for an even more impressive encore in 2009-10.

While not much has slowed the 14-5-1 Devils through the first 20 games of the season, it seems nothing can stop Parise from a repeat of last year, when he collected a team-high 45 goals and 94 points.

At the quarter mark of the campaign, Parise is on pace to become the first 50-goal and 100-point scorer in franchise history with 53 goals, 53 assists and 106 points. He'll carry a six-game goals streak into Dallas, where the Devils battle the Stars on Saturday.

Parise leads all Devils with 13 goals and 26 points, and continued his red-hot play with two goals in Thursday's 3-2 shootout loss in Nashville. After dropping their first road game of the season Monday at Philadelphia, the Devils suffered back-to-back losses for just the second time this year.

New Jersey shook off an 0-2-0 start with 14 wins in its next 16 games. Parise has been the constant catalyst, and has skated recently on a line with Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias, the franchise's all-time leading scorer.

Parise warmed slowly, notching one goal in his first five games. That was followed by five goals during a four-game goals streak from Oct. 16-24. He recorded three assists during a five-game goal drought from Oct. 28-Nov. 6, and has been unstoppable since.

Parise's current streak matches Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos for the NHL's longest this season, while also tying the longest in Devils' history (Parise, Bobby Holik, Valeri Zelepukin, Kirk Muller and Pat Verbeek). Fourteen of the New Jersey's last 19 goals have come with Parise on the ice, and Jersey's Team has climbed to within one point of Washington for the Eastern Conference lead.

Head coach Jacques Lemaire has applauded Parise's work ethic. He is the rare player who can dominate the scoresheet without missing a beat defensively.

"It’s hard to believe, but yes," Lemaire said. "There’s only, I wouldn’t say a handful, maybe a little bit more than a handful of players that you have adjust for them because they can’t do this. They’re strictly offensive players, and if you take anything off of them by making them play defensively, then they’re not as good offensively. There’s not a lot of players like that, but there are a few."

New Jersey is tied with Buffalo for the fewest goals allowed (43) in the League, and leads the Atlantic despite having scored the fewest goals of any team in the division (55). Parise, who has 11 points in his last six games, has accounted for the lion's share of New Jersey's tallies.

Entering Friday's action, Parise was tied for third in points with Anaheim's Corey Perry and San Jose's Joe Thornton. He's a plus-10 in the last five games and leads NHL forwards with a plus-15. His next game-winning goal will tie him with Brian Gionta and Stephane Richer for the fourth-most in Devils' history (30).

Parise's 13 goals account for a higher percentage (25%) of his team's production than either Alex Ovechkin (19.5%) or Marian Gaborik (24.2%), who lead the League with 15 goals apiece. When Ovechkin recently missed six games with an upper body injury, Washington's only two losses came against New Jersey.

Ovechkin has led the League in shots every season since he entered the NHL in 2005. As of right now, he would have to overtake Parise's League-leading 91 for the top spot. Only Ovechkin's 85 points (46g-39a, 58 games) are higher than Parise's 76 (37g-39a, 66 games) since Jan. 1, confirming Parise's standing among the game's elite.

Strong goaltending and reliable play from a depleted defense corps have steered the Devils through several injuries to key regulars in the early going. Twenty games in, New Jersey has already lost 68 man-games to injury.

Martin Brodeur (12-5-1, 2.19 GAA, .921 save percentage) and Yann Danis (2-0, 1.00, .964) have given the Devils a chance to win every night. Defenseman Andy Greene was scratched from a handful of games to start the year, but has shown he can handle almost 30 minutes of ice time in the absence of top blueliners Paul Martin (arm) and Johnny Oduya (lower body).

Through the Devils' ups and downs with injuries, Parise has been a tireless offensive force. He was named an alternate captain this season for the first time in his five-year career, and has earned every stitch holding the 'A' on his sweater.

But Parise does more than make the Devils dangerous. A proven 40-goal talent who's responsible in his own zone and comes to play every night also sets a good example for the next generation of Jersey's Team.

"Zach is a great model for the young guys," Lemaire said. "Zach doesn’t have his success because he’s cutting corners short, or because he’s not working every night. That’s why he’s got success, because he’s working every night, he’s working every shift. He does what he has to do every shift to be successful. That’s why he’s good."

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