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Parise, Zajac, Kovalchuk reunited on top line

Volchenkov returns to lineup tonight vs. Tampa Bay

Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:48 PM ET / News
By Eric Marin
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Parise, Zajac, Kovalchuk reunited on top line
The Devils have loaded up their first line and will go with a top trio of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk for tonight's home meeting with Tampa Bay.

Martin Brodeur starts in goal. Anton Volchenkov (lower body) returns after missing two games.

"I think all three of us are pretty excited about it," Parise said of his new linemates. "Travis and I have obviously played really well together, we've both had career seasons playing together. And Kovy and I have, I think for the most part, played well together this year. I'm excited about it. I think we'll complement each other well and if we play the right way, if we don't cheat offensively, I think we're going to get a lot of good chances."

Parise, Zajac and Kovalchuk broke training camp as a line last year and combined for two goals, three assists in the season opener against Dallas. But the Devils stumbled in the early going and a knee injury would limit Parise to just 13 games.

"[Zajac] had one three minutes into the game and I was like, 'Whoa, here we go, this is going to be fun,'" Parise said, recalling the 2010-11 home opener.

Parise has played significant stretches this season with Adam Henrique at center and Kovalchuk at right wing. But since Zajac returned to the lineup Sunday in Pittsburgh, Parise has skated with Patrik Elias at pivot.

In his two games back, Zajac has had Kovalchuk on his right wing. Alexei Ponikarovsky was slotted as Zajac's left wing Sunday before Henrique had the opportunity on Tuesday.

Petr Sykora will move back to the second line with Elias and Dainius Zubrus. The Devils have scored 11 goals in their last eight games and want to find a higher gear offensively before the puck drops on the playoffs.

"We're looking for combinations that work, that I can trust; I think I've said that," coach Peter DeBoer said. "The Elias unit is one group that I think has been a constant all year. They've given us a consistent game, maybe not offensively consistent as you would like, but you know you can trust them on the ice. I believe they're capable of reproducing some of the things they did at different stretches this year on a consistent basis."

Zajac saw his ice time increase to 15:56 on Tuesday, up from 13:31 in his first game back from Achilles tendon soreness. DeBoer believes he's ready to take the next step.

"We want to keep those guys together, and I think it's natural that, with Travis's history playing with both Kovy and Zach at different points, that we would get to this point once he got back," DeBoer said.

Both Henrique and Elias are left-handed shots. Parise indicated that Zajac being a righty gives them an advantage.

"It makes a huge difference," Parise said. "For me, I like to have a right-shot center. It's easier on the breakouts for me. For him, I guess it's more natural."

Parise also expects Zajac's face-off skills to have a big impact on their line.

"He's so good at draws and I think teams are so good now, if you lose a draw, you might not get the puck back the whole shift," he said. "But if he's winning more than 50 percent, 60 percent of the draws, you're going to have the puck more. He's good in our zone so we don't spend a lot of time in our zone. I think we think the game alike, so we almost know what the other guy wants to do, what he's thinking."

The Devils are hoping these lines can click with five games to go in the regular season. With their magic number down to three points, they can clinch a playoff spot with a win tonight and a Washington loss to Boston.

"Ideally, we'd like to have everything set," Parise said. "But you run into something different when you get a guy like Travis coming back late in the season. Also, it's not a secret we haven't been lighting up the scoresheet lately. I guess we didn't give [DeBoer] much of a choice. We needed a little bit of a change. Now, hopefully these will stick."

Projected lines:





1 WSH 49 36 9 4 161 110 76
2 FLA 51 31 15 5 141 112 67
3 NYR 51 28 18 5 146 132 61
4 TBL 50 28 18 4 131 115 60
5 BOS 51 27 18 6 149 136 60
6 NYI 49 26 17 6 134 121 58
7 DET 51 25 18 8 125 130 58
8 NJD 52 26 20 6 117 118 58
9 PIT 49 25 17 7 126 122 57
10 PHI 49 23 18 8 117 128 54
11 CAR 52 23 21 8 124 138 54
12 MTL 52 24 24 4 137 141 52
13 OTT 52 23 23 6 142 164 52
14 TOR 50 19 22 9 116 134 47
15 BUF 52 21 26 5 119 137 47
16 CBJ 53 20 28 5 133 167 45


L. Stempniak 52 15 23 7 38
M. Cammalleri 42 14 24 15 38
K. Palmieri 52 20 15 3 35
A. Henrique 50 16 16 14 32
T. Zajac 44 7 17 6 24
D. Schlemko 44 6 9 -8 15
A. Larsson 52 2 11 12 13
D. Severson 50 1 12 0 13
A. Greene 52 4 6 2 10
J. Moore 44 3 7 -1 10
C. Schneider 23 15 5 .929 2.03
K. Kinkaid 3 5 1 .909 2.52