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Parise ruins a perfectly good image for Devils

by Phil Coffey
Zach Parise has just about ruined the New Jersey Devils' carefully honed image as a boring, defense-only team.

Not only ruined it, but shattered it.

Through 63 games this season, Parise has scored 38 goals, second only to Washington's dynamic Alex Ovechkin. Parise is fourth in points with 77, trailing Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, Ovechkin and the Penguins' Sidney Crosby. That's the NHL's high-rent district and a roster of the League's top three players. And Parise is making every effort to make it into this exclusive club.

Parise is poised to become the first Devils player to score 50 goals in a season. Judging from the "MVP, MVP" chants Parise has heard at Prudential Center after recent Devils games, the fans have spoken. In the days when Martin Brodeur's dramatic return to the ice has been a lead story, Parise also has been impossible to ignore. He scored 1 goal and had 2 assists against Colorado in Brodeur's return, scored 2 goals and 1 assist in a 7-2 rout of the Panthers and had an assist in Sunday's 4-0 win against the Flyers, all wins for Brodeur.

"Zach is strong, he's got great hands, he's got great knowledge of the game, he can shoot the puck, knows how to pass the puck, knows how to get into areas to score and knows how to make guys better around him," New Jersey coach Brent Sutter said. "He's what you'd say is a complete player, in just about every aspect of the game and, yet, he's only going to get better."

The stats bear this out. Parise already has bettered his single season goal, assist and point totals and a quarter of the season remains. To compare and contrast, last season Parise scored 32 goals and assisted on 33 for 65 points. He has left all three totals in the rear-view mirror already.

"Every year, I just want to do better than I did the year before and things just happen to be going really well right now," Parise said. "You don't want to look too far ahead or get too excited about anything, so I just want to keep doing what I've been doing. If it happens that I score 50 goals, it'll be awesome."

"I don't like talking about myself," Parise told reporters. "But it makes you feel like you're doing the right thing and it's great to hear your fans cheering for you like that."

OK, Parise doesn't like to talk about himself, so let's allow other the opportunity.

"I think he definitely has the capability of putting in 50," Langenbrunner said. "The first thing you notice about Zach is his work ethic. He plays at a high level and goes at it non-stop. It's fun to watch and I think the rest of our team looks at and sees him playing that hard and there's no reason for us not to be following. He sets a great example."

"I think it looks good for him," said Brian Gionta, who scored 48 goals for the Devils in 2005-06. "He's played great and has been our best player out there. He makes a lot happen offensively and, hopefully, he can just keep it up for us."

Parise, Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac have formed a dynamic top line in New Jersey, while Gionta and the resurgent Patrik Elias (12th in League scoring with 24 goals and 43 assists) have excelled on the second line, giving the Devils plenty of offense.

"Our line has been playing really well and we're getting a lot of good scoring chances every game," Parise said. "We're not flashy; we're just pretty smart and good defensively. It just seems like we have that chemistry working or something. The three of us have taken advantage of our time together." staff writer Mike Morreale contributed to this report.

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