Line stability working for Devils
He has avoided tinkering with his line combinations, and it’s working.
“Well it’s the first time in 16 years that I don’t change it,” Lemaire said today. “There’s always a first time, and I had to come back to do it.”
It’s easier to leave well enough alone given how the Devils have played. They’re 13-1-2 in their last 16 games, with just one regulation loss since Jan. 9.
Throughout this run, the top two lines of Ilya Kovalchuk-Travis Zajac-Nick Palmieri and Brian Rolston-Patrik Elias-Dainius Zubrus have been virtual constants.
“When guys are playing well, you don’t look as much,” he said. “If a team is losing, you’re going to look at ‘What can I improve?’”
But winning hasn’t stopped Lemaire from tweaking things in the past. Elias says one of the biggest differences between the Lemaire of this year and last is that the lines have stayed together stable even during this successful stretch.
“A lot of the times, to find something that works, you have to leave it alone for a while,” Eilas explained. “That wasn’t the case last year. We always had different [linemates] two, three games, even if we were winning.”
Last year, Lemaire also had a healthy Zach Parise and more opportunity to mix and match.
“I’ve got no other matchups,” he said. “Last year, I had more matchups that I could do. This year, this is what see.
But the coach’s newfound patience might not last.
“I see changes coming up soon. In the near future. It’s got to be,” Lemaire said.
“I don’t know [why],” he said. “It’s just life.”
Devils “as good” as last year
Lemaire said this year’s Devils are as good, but not better than the team that won 48 games and the Atlantic Division title last year.
The current squad is red-hot and trying to climb back into the playoff hunt after falling to last place overall during the first half.
“As good, not better. Definitely not,” Lemaire said.
What if they had Parise, who has been out since October?
“Would be better up front, not as good defensively,” said Lemaire. “Definitely better up front.”
Martin Brodeur will backup Johan Hedberg tonight after missing the past four games with a knee sprain. Hedberg has won four straight, allowing just six goals over that span. Brodeur is 8-1-1 in his last 10.
Lemaire corrected the suggestion that the goaltending is the biggest reason for his club's turnaround.
"I have to say it’s the whole team," the coach said. "I have to say it’s the whole team, because our goalies were not good at the start because our defensemen were not good, and our forwards, at times, were not good. Now that everyone’s playing better, it helps the goalies, too."
– Anton Volchenkov returns tonight after serving a three-game suspension.
– Adam Mair will enter the lineup for Tim Sestito, who cleared waivers today. Mair last played on Feb. 10 at Toronto. He was matched with Rod Pelley and David Clarkson at the morning skate.