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Kovalchuk, new teammates get used to each other

by Dan Rosen
NEWARK, N.J. -- Jamie Langenbrunner pleaded guilty, but also covered his bases by saying anyone else would have probably done the same thing.

Instead of just playing the game and letting the ice open up for chances, both the Devils' captain and Dainius Zubrus admitted they were watching Ilya Kovalchuk a little too much and also trying to feed him the puck when maybe they shouldn't have been.

"That was probably all a little too much passing it around early on instead of just shooting," Langenbrunner said. "We scored the goal by just shooting it at the net and sometimes you have to do a little more of that to open everything else up."

Langenbrunner and Zubrus played with Kovalchuk for most of his Devils' debut Friday night. They combined for a goal 13:20 into the first period, but other than that their scoring chances were thin.

"Obviously he's a great goal-scorer and a guy that does a good job of getting himself into position, but sometimes you just have to play the game and it'll happen," Langenbrunner said. "Both of us got to standing around a little bit, watching and looking instead just playing the game and letting it open up."

While admitting his guilt, Langenbrunner didn't sound too surprised that he and Zubrus fell into the trap in their first game with Kovalchuk.

"I think that's to be expected when you got somebody new coming in," he said. "It'll be a feeling out process for us all."

It will most definitely be interesting to see who Kovalchuk plays with Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said Kovalchuk may best be suited to play with the Devils' second- and third-leading scorers.

Kovalchuk is obviously No. 1 now thanks to the 31 goals he brought in his luggage from Atlanta, but Zach Parise has 25 goals and Travis Zajac scored his 17th on Friday. Parise is a left wing like Kovalchuk, so one of them would have to play out of position.

"Maybe Zach and Travis because they hold onto the puck well and they see the ice well," Lemaire said of who might suit Kovalchuk best as linemates. "They can get away from people and make a pass. You need a lot of skill to do this."

Langenbrunner wouldn't be shocked to be off of Kovalchuk's line for Saturday's game. Lemaire has been forced to juggle his lines all season in search of the right combinations due to the Devils' rash of injuries.

Two key forwards, Patrik Elias and David Clarkson, remain out of the lineup.

"The way we switch lines, a bunch of guys may get used to playing with him," Langenbrunner said.

Goaltender Martin Brodeur said it may take a little time to find the right linemates for Kovalchuk.

"I have a good view of it, and whenever he is on the ice everybody is looking around to see where he is," Brodeur said. "That's something we never had, but it's going to take time to find the right matchups. That's going to happen with games and practices that we're going to go through, so it's going to have a better effect later on."

One thing that won't change Saturday night is where Kovalchuk plays on the power play. He was at the left point Friday night -- and because he was there on the Devils' late power play in the third period, Zajac was able to score the tying goal with 44 seconds left.

Leafs forward Rickard Wallin cheated up on Kovalchuk as he was getting the puck from Dean McAmmond, so instead of firing a one-timer from the point, he gave the puck back to McAmmond. Because Wallin was high in the zone, there was a huge chunk of ice open in the middle and McAmmond used it to rifle a pass across the zone to Zajac for a one-timer that he wired into the net.

"The other team has to respect his shot and has to respect his lane because he can shoot as good as anybody," Zubrus said. "He's accurate and it's hard. It was me and Zach in front, but they had to be in his lane and that's how the rest of the play opened up. A couple of great passes and a great shot -- and it's in the net."

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