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Team meeting could hold key to turnaround

Tuesday, 03.9.2010 / 4:53 PM ET / News
By Eric Marin
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Team meeting could hold key to turnaround
Kovy says team approach needed for final 18 games.
The Devils see this as a big week to improve their fortunes.

They held a meeting after Tuesday’s practice, first with coach Jacques Lemaire, then with the players only. The goal? To iron out the wrinkle that has seen them win just six of their last 20 games.

The discussion focused on jelling as a team again and working together to right the ship over the final five weeks of the regular season. New Jersey (38-23-3) trails Pittsburgh by five points in the Atlantic Division with two games in hand.

“That was part of the tone,” captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. “Part of it was just the mindset we have to get back to competing. We’re a little bit off on our compete level and that comes from playing for each other and with each other.”

Beginning with Wednesday's game against the Rangers at Prudential Center, the Devils will play seven games in 11 days, including four divisional matchups. Two of those are against the Penguins, who visit Newark on Friday.

“It’s a big week for us, getting back to playing the way we need to play,” Langenbrunner said. “I don’t think you could ask for a better week as far as emotional games for us.”

Heading into the break, the feeling was that many of the players would benefit from two weeks of rest. But the 1-2-0 Western trip showed there was still some work to be done on the ice.

Sunday’s 2-0 loss to last-place Edmonton might have been the wake-up call. (“It was all bad,” Lemaire said. “Skating, skill level, intensity, aggressiveness – name it.”) In their first game after the Olympic break, the Devils jumped out to a 4-0 lead on the Western powerhouse San Jose Sharks. Since then, they have been outscored 10-3.

“With the Olympic break where it was, a lot of things were put on the backburner or got pushed back because you could point out, ‘That’s the reason why the focus isn’t there. Everyone’s struggling through this, but hey we have a good lead,’” Langenbrunner explained. “But now it’s, ‘All right, there’s no other thing.’ I think all of us knew that it was nothing else other than ourselves and our mind. But Sunday’s game kind of put it right out there in the open for everyone to see.”

Lemaire tinkered with his combinations over two days of practice and said he’ll likely stick with top lines of Zach Parise-Travis Zajac-Dainius Zubrus and Ilya Kovalchuk-Patrik Elias-Langenbrunner to start the Rangers game.

“We have to change something, so the coach decided to change the lines,” Kovalchuk said. “It really doesn’t matter, I think, who you play with because we have so much talent and everybody’s a good player.”

Kovalchuk has eight points in nine games since the deal that brought him to New Jersey on Feb. 4. The two-time 50-goal scorer said even as a newcomer, he doesn’t feel any added pressure to perform.

“Individually, you can help the team win one or two games, but you can’t win a championship,” he said. “With 18 games left, we have to just turn that around and play more for each other and help each other and that will help to reach our main goal.”