MacLean tries new lines at practice
Road trip continues Thursday at Toronto, concludes Saturday at St. Louis
Looking for a spark, head coach John MacLean tinkered with his lines at Tuesday’s practice, switching Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus to create two new trios: Ilya Kovalchuk-Zubrus-Alexander Vasyunov and Brian Rolston-Zajac-David Clarkson. The other lines remained intact: Patrik Elias-Jason Arnott-Mattias Tedenby and Rod Pelley-Adam Mair-Stephen Gionta.
“We didn’t score last game and it was something we’ve been thinking about,” MacLean said. “I just thought, we’ve got a couple of days here of practice and I think it’s a good time to make a move.”
Friday’s thrilling 4-3 overtime win over Edmonton had the Devils seeking their first back-to-back triumphs of the season. But it wasn’t meant to be for them in Beantown, despite outshooting the Bruins, 28-24.
“When you’re losing, that’s what happens,” said Kovalchuk of the line changes. “The coach tries to find some chemistry between guys and he changed some lines around. You just have to stick with it and play as hard as you can.”
Rolston, who scored Friday in his return from a 14-game absence (sports hernia), was enthusiastic about the new combinations.
“I think it’s great,” Rolston said. “I think you can see that Johnny’s been trying to find chemistry. It’s not a lack of effort on his part. He’s been trying to find chemistry. I think it’s a good move. I think Zubie’s going to be good with Kovy. I think they have a certain rapport together and I think I can play a game with Trav where it’s simple but getting good opportunities.”
Zajac has centered Kovalchuk on both wings this season. Now he gets two new wingmen.
“They’re two good players that are going to get in on the forecheck, they’re going to make plays,” said Zajac, who has a goal and three assists in his last five games. “It’s just a little bit of a new look for me with those guys. I think they’re more similar to the way I play: up and down. We’re just looking for a little something else and to get other lines going.”
Kovalchuk generates offense on the rush, whereas Zajac looks for opportunities from puck possession and cycles in the offensive zone.
“Kovy’s a great player,” Zajac said. “He makes plays, he can beat guys one on one. With him you’ll get some chances off the rush, some opportunities on 2-on-1s. I think with this line it’s more of a get the puck in deep, cycle it , get some pucks toward the net.”
The hope is that the moves will get the whole team firing on all cylinders.
“Zubie going with Kovy and Vas might be a nice little kickstart for them,” MacLean said. “Trav with Rollie and Clarky, get some energy there also.”
Said Kovalchuk of Zubrus: “I played with him last year so he’s a really hard working guy. He creates a lot of room for his lines. He’s dangerous in front of the net, battles hard. It’ll be good.”
The Devils also used Tuesday’s practice to work on getting pucks to the front of the net.
“We have to find a way,” MacLean said. “We have to keep at it, we have to keep practicing, we have to think about it, we have to keep talking about it. We have to get that puck to the net, we have to put it on the net, we have to be around the net and be in those areas.”
Said MacLean: “We had some opportunities last night. They didn’t go in, but we have to keep stressing we have to stay with it.”
Salvador feeling better
The Devils’ blueline has missed the veteran presence of Bryce Salvador this season. He’s been sidelined with a concussion since the preseason, but reported Tuesday he’s been feeling better. There’s still no timetable for his return.
“I’m just staying on the same game plan from the start of all this,” Salvador said. “I’m just under the doctor’s direction.”
It’s been a difficult process for Salvador, who still stops by the rink to be with his teammates.
“Yeah, it’s definitely frustrating, he said. “You never want to be injured in training camp because it’s such an important time in the season. I’m definitely frustrated that it’s been this long.”
Even worse has been having to watch the Devils’ 5-11-2 start while being unable to help.
“Good, bad or indifferent, I never want to be not part of what’s happening,” he said. “Obviously, you don’t like to see what the team’s going through right now. I think it’s much tougher not playing when the team’s struggling because you feel like you’re letting down the team or you can’t help. It’s always easier when the team’s having success and everything’s going good. It’s just easier to be around. You don’t like coming around when the team’s going through a tough time."
Younger Gio making good impression
Just four games into his NHL career, Stephen Gionta’s showing it was worth the wait. The 27-year-old former Boston College Eagle made his debut against the Rangers on Nov. 5, and has performed well enough that he got a shot at skating with Jason Arnott and Patrik Elias in Boston. He finished the game with 18 shifts for 13:06 of ice time.
“I thought G had a good game,” MacLean said. “I thought he had some jump, just trying to give him a little spark there at that time in the game to see if something would change up. He’s a BC grad, so he played in the Boston area. You never know if you get something out of him there. He’s worked hard.”
Gionta is the younger brother of ex-Devil Brian, and has enjoyed every minute of his NHL experience.
“Obviously it’s a privilege to be out there with those guys on the ice,” said Gionta, who captained the Devils’ Albany affiliate this season and Lowell last season. “They make the game very easy for their linemates. It was awesome just being out there with those guys.”
He hasn’t seen as many wins as he’d like, however.
“We haven’t done as well as a team as we would’ve hoped,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s what matters: getting the win. Personally, it’s been a great experience. I’m just kind of enjoying it, and hopefully trying to become a regular at some point. The most important thing is getting the two points, night in, night out.”
He prides himself on trying to play a smart game.
“I’m going out and trying to be responsible defensively and responsible on the PK," he said. "Hopefully I’ll keep the puck out of our net and try to create some energy out there."
Tedenby rolls with punches
Rookie Mattias Tedenby got a rude welcome in Boston, taking a couple of hard hits from defenseman Mark Stuart in the second period. But Tedenby wasn’t thrown off his game, and finished with a game-high five shots.
“He didn’t go away, that’s a good thing,” MacLean said. “He didn’t shy away. He still wanted to get the puck, he still wanted to get involved and that’s a good sign for him.”
Tedenby, the Devils’ first-rounder in 2008, has a goal and an assist in his first three NHL games. Taking his licks will be part of adjusting to life in the big show.
“Anybody that’s played has been knocked on their [rear end] at some point,” MacLean said. “It’s whether or not you get up and get back into it. He got up and got back into and that’s what we look for.”
Jamie Langenbrunner (soreness) and Matt Taormina (lower body) did not skate.
New look with the lines this morning, as Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus have switched spots.
Ilya Kovalchuk - Dainius Zubrus - Alexander Vasyunov
Patrik Elias - Jason Arnott - Mattias Tedenby
Brian Rolston - Travis Zajac - David Clarkson
Rod Pelley - Adam Mair - Stephen Gionta
Defensemen: Andy Greene, Colin White, Anssi Salmela, Henrik Tallinder, Anton Volchenkov, Olivier Magnan, Matt Corrente.
Goalies: Martin Brodeur, Johan Hedberg