New-look Devils want to win big
|Brodeur and the Devils are looking forward to 2009-10.|
They had one last day of practice Friday morning to smooth out any final wrinkles before the games officially count. Jersey’s Team hosts Philadelphia tonight to start the regular season (7 p.m., MSG Plus 2, WFAN 660 AM).
Last year’s franchise-record 51-win campaign featured a glittering collection of NHL records and team milestones. That’s all in the past. Right now, the Devils’ goal is to bring the Stanley Cup back to New Jersey.
“It’s like every year, I’m looking forward it,” said goaltender Martin Brodeur. “To the challenge of playing a grueling 82-game season and building up that relationship with your teammates in that team atmosphere and try to create something great. That’s what I think everybody’s looking forward to: getting to know each other, getting to know what we’re able to do and play the season out to get to the playoffs.”
New head coach Jacques Lemaire helms a group with some notable new faces after the Devils replaced an outgoing crop of veterans with prospects from within the organization. As much as these aren’t last year’s Devils, they have the pieces in place to defend their 2008-09 Atlantic Division title.
"Many people aren't expecting a lot of us or are kind of writing us off, but I think we'll be fine," Zach Parise said. "We're always going to be competitive and up there near the top of our division. I don't think that's going to be any different this year. Every season I've been here we've never been picked to win anything. Nothing's changed and that's fine."
A record will fall tonight. Brodeur will pass Terry Sawchuk and Patrick Roy for the most consecutive opening night starts (15), and become just the second goaltender to reach 1,000 career appearances (Roy, 1,029).
“Only one guy did it, and that’s Patrick,” said Brodeur. “As far as goalies, it’s a pretty good sign of durability and longevity in this League. You can’t play that many games if you’re not a number one goalie all these years, for a lot of the years anyway. You have to play a lot and stay healthy. There’s no other goalies to have played as many games as me since I started, and I’m just hitting a thousand. Just the fact, it’s hard to do. In the history of hockey, only one guy has done it.”
Already the winningest goaltender in history with 557 victories, Brodeur needs three shutouts to surpass Sawchuk (103) for the all-time record.
The top line of Parise, Travis Zajac and team captain Jamie Langenbrunner is eager to pick up where it left off following a breakout 2008-09. Led by Parise’s 45 goals and 94 points, they developed into one of the League’s most dangerous trios and will once again look to spark the Devils’ offensive attack.
“We all had good years last year, and we don’t want change anything,” Parise said. “We want to make sure we’re creating opportunities every game like we were last year, make sure we’re shooting the puck, make sure we’re playing smart away from the puck. Scoring chances are going to come for us.
Parise came four shy of setting a new single-season franchise mark for goals and fell three short of a new team record for points. A rising NHL star, Parise has established new scoring highs in three straight seasons, but still steers clear of discussing personal benchmarks.
“I want to win – that’s the most important thing,” he said. “My role on the team is to create offense and put up points and that’s when I’m doing my job. But I know that if we go out there, we work hard and work smart we’ll get our scoring chances. Whether I get more or I get less than last year, you always want to improve on the year before, but eventually that’s going to come to an end. I want to make sure that, as a line, we’re contributing and helping this team win.”
Brian Rolston's name is first on the list of those eyeing a bounce-back year. Rolston wants to erase the frustration of last year’s ankle injury that cost him 18 games and limited him to his lowest point production in almost a decade.
Reunited with Lemaire, who coached him in Minnesota to his three best seasons, Rolston has fixed his focus on reclaiming his 30-goal form to provide the Devils with scoring depth.
“Let’s face it, I started off by missing my first (18) games with a new team,” Rolston said. “It obviously wasn’t the season I was expecting to come here and have, but I’m looking forward to a chance this year.”
Rolston began his career as a Devil before returning as a free agent in 2008 and says he has found the comfort level that was missing from a year ago.
“It’s a big difference,” he said. “It was a big change for my family, and to come to a new, but at the same time, familiar, organization. Especially missing those games, I think that hurt me a lot because I didn’t get into the mix and never felt comfortable all year. I’m looking forward to this year and to playing the way I can play.”
A rejuvenated Rolston would serve up valuable secondary scoring while Patrik Elias recovers from last month's groin surgery. That additional pop in the lineup can turn into healthy competition between teammates.
Parise explained: “Last year, when we were playing well at the beginning of the year, we had all lines scoring, and it kind of created that friendly competition where if those guys scored, we said, ‘Hey we have to go out and score a goal.’ I think that’s healthy and makes the team push each other and challenge each other. If you’re pushing each other, that’s when you’re going to play well. That’s always good to have, and I think we have a lot of guys capable of scoring.”
Lemaire 2.0 has installed an aggressive brand of hockey that renders the neutral zone trap a distant memory. The head coach would be the first to admit that what helped the Devils win their first Stanley Cup in 1995 simply doesn’t translate into the modern game.
Lemaire, like the NHL, has turned the page.
“Times have changed a little bit,” defenseman Paul Martin said. “It’s tough to play the way that they played back then with the new rules and the systems and the way that they did it. Coach Lemaire has done a good job adjusting to that and creating a way for us to play that he likes and that at the same time the players can like too as far as not having to sit back. It gives us another chance to make some plays and do some things that no one thinks we’ll do, so I think it’s good on both counts.”
Now, it’s on to the 2009-10 season.
“Every start of the season is the same,” Brodeur said. “It’s always that guys are a little older, more experienced, they’ve got some success. Now it’s another year and everybody has something to prove in their own ways. We’re always going to try and help each other out to accomplish what we try to do and that’s win the Stanley Cup. But we’ll go step by step, and the first step, training camp, is out of the way. Now we know the team that we have and we have to see what it’s going to give us.”