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Lemaire gives thumbs up to Devils award winners

by Mike G. Morreale
NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils coach Jacques Lemaire couldn't agree more with the season award winners honored by the organization during a ceremony held Wednesday at Prudential Center.

The Devils, despite losing 247 man-games to injury this season, not only qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 13th consecutive season but remain in contention for their ninth Atlantic Division title.

Entering Friday's showdown with Central Division-leading Chicago, the Devils remained just one point behind the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins for the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

It's been a collective effort throughout, particularly in the absence of defenseman Paul Martin for 59 games and forwards Rob Niedermayer (11 games missed), David Clarkson (23 games missed) and Patrik Elias (24 games missed) over the course of the season.

"This is a great honor because you look at how it's voted. It's the players picking the winner and, coming from your teammates', it's a great honor because all your teammates are saying that you're the best one." -- Jacques Lemaire

To no one's surprise, Zach Parise, the first player in franchise history to notch four straight 30-goal seasons, was named the team's Most Valuable Player for the second straight year. For the season, Parise compiled 23 multiple-point games and has totaled 157 goals and 327 points in 401 career games spanning five seasons in New Jersey.

Lemaire isn't overly concerned over the fact Parise has just two goals in his last seven games.

"Zach, to me, has always been a player who is very determined," Lemaire said. "(The media) puts a lot of pressure on Zach because of his performance the last few games, but, as I always say, one guy cannot do it alone. He needs the other five guys on the ice and his two linemates to help him achieve what he wants to do in getting goals and being a better player. I think it's the whole line and not just one player that has had that dip."

In attempt to find that right mix, Lemaire has been switching between Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac as Parise's center, alongside captain Jamie Langenbrunner. Zajac has just 2 goals and 1 assist over the last seven games and Elias has 2 goals and 6 points over the last seven.

Andy Greene, who was honored as the Unsung Hero, was a big reason the Devils defense maintained much of its consistency in the absence of Martin. Greene has produced career highs in games played (73), goals (6), assists (28), points (34), plus/minus rating (plus-9) and blocked shots (149) this season for Lemaire.

"Last year, Greenie was in and out of the lineup and sometimes he didn't play a lot," Lemaire said. "You look at the first 60 games this season, he was our top defenseman but then he had a little drop for maybe 10 games but that was probably normal because he was playing around 28 minutes a game and he's not a big guy (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) but is very determined. Now he's back to his game and playing well."

The last major nod given by the Devils on Wednesday was the Players' Player Award, which was garnered by third-year defenseman Mike Mottau.

Mottau has been a steadying influence along the blue line this season, supplying 101 blocked shots and 69 hits while notching 16 points in 74 games.

"This is a great honor because you look at how it's voted," Lemaire said of the Players' Player Award. "It's the players picking the winner and, coming from your teammates', it's a great honor because all your teammates are saying that you're the best one. Mike has been steady and really good this year so he deserves it."

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