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Kovalchuk, others need to step up in Parise's absence

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO -- For a team already struggling to put the puck in the net, the last thing the New Jersey Devils needed was to lose one of their top scorers for a long stretch.
Yet that is exactly what the Devils now are staring down with the recent news that forward Zach Parise will be out up to three months after exploratory arthroscopic knee surgery conducted Tuesday revealed a torn meniscus. After Wednesday's morning skate at the United Center in preparation for Wednesday night's game against Chicago, the talk from the Devils was all about dealing with the team's latest -- and biggest -- injury blow.
"I was surprised and disappointed (about the results of surgery), but he's a young guy and we've got to make sure he gets healthy," New Jersey coach John MacLean said. "He'll bounce back from it, because he works real hard."
As for the Devils bouncing back, well, the Parise injury adds to a list that includes rookie center Jacob Josefson (thumb), veteran forward Brian Rolston (sports hernia) and defenseman Mark Fraser (hand), Matthew Corrente (hand), Anton Volchenkov (nose/neck) and Bryce Salvador (concussion).

"That's what we're dealing with right now. We have to move on," said MacLean. "We have some guys here who are going to have to step up and contribute and take those minutes that Zach had."
The player who will be looked to most will be star free agent pick-up Ilya Kovalchuk, who has just 3 goals and 6 points with a minus-5 rating in 12 games. MacLean said Kovalchuk again will wear the "A" on his sweater tonight, in place of Parise.
"Last game (against Vancouver), I liked the way Kovy was involved," MacLean said. "He cares deeply about the team. Hopefully we can get the offense going for him and everybody else."
Kovalchuk also hopes that will happen soon and sounds ready for the challenge of lifting the struggling, last-place Devils despite Parise's absence.
"It's tough," Kovalchuk said. "He's a big part of our team, but what are you going to do right now? We all need to step up, move forward and play without him. It's not going to be easy, but we're just going to take it one game at a time. Every game's a key game. Nobody is going to turn it around for us."
MacLean said Kovalchuk will continue to skate at left wing on a line with center Travis Zajac and right wing Jamie Langenbrunner. That group was put together Monday and may require more time to develop chemistry.
"It's important that me and Jamie play the same way we played with Zach," Zajac said. "We're up and down players. With Kovy, he's got to adjust to our style and I think he's capable of doing that."
If not, things could get even worse for the offensively challenged Devils, who have a League-low seven points and are averaging a League-worst 1.54 goals a game.
"It's just not happening right now for some reason," said Zajac, who has just 1 goal and 4 points in 13 games. "We've gotten chances and shots. It's just sticking with it. That's when good things happen. We have to do little things better, like winning faceoffs and puck battles. Those things lead to bigger things."
As for how Parise is handling the news?
"It's going to be a long road for him," said Zajac, who has texted with Parise but not spoken with him yet. "But he'll be ready to go when he comes back."

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