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The Z-Factor

Healthy Travis Zajac will be key piece for 2012-13

Wednesday, 08.1.2012 / 11:48 AM ET / Features
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The Z-Factor




New Jersey Devils fans must be relieved when they think about how much better off their team will be with its No. 1 center, Travis Zajac, in the lineup for a full season.

Zajac missed 67 regular-season games and the team still qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There's no question having the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder in the lineup from the get-go will go a long way in helping the Devils not only qualify, but potentially solidify home-ice advantage in the opening rounds. As the sixth seed last spring, the Devils were forced to win their opening three rounds in the Eastern Conference without the benefit of home-ice advantage.

"If any team would miss their best centerman, it hurts," Ilya Kovalchuk told reporters last season. "We were missing him for almost all year long. Then he came back and gave us a lot of jump. He scores big goals."

After posting two goals and six points in 15 regular-season games, Zajac made up for lost time in the playoffs by connecting for seven goals and 14 points while averaging 20:28 of ice time in 24 games.

He scored the overtime winner in Game 6 against Florida in the first round to keep New Jersey's season alive. Zajac was also the team's best on faceoffs, winning 54.2 percent of his draws on a League-leading 448 chances in the postseason.

He gives the Devils veteran experience and was a tremendous help to Calder Trophy candidate Adam Henrique on the team's top line.

"Getting him back, he makes our team that much deeper," Henrique said. "Obviously not having him for the majority of the year was tough. He's one of our leaders. He's one of our best players. He's a guy that we rely on in big situations."

Zajac's strong two-way game is further evidenced by his 13 takeaways and 35 hits in the playoffs. Zajac spent close to two minutes per game on the penalty kill and more than three minutes per game on the power play during New Jersey's run in the playoffs.

"I think he was probably the biggest acquisition we could have made after the trade deadline without having to get rid of anybody," Henrique said. "He was a huge part of why we had success."

"I love playing and practicing with him because he's so smart in both ends and he works his butt off, but he's not a flashy guy," Patrik Elias added. "He does his job. He's got great hockey sense, great skills. He's strong. He's not going to go out and hit anybody all that hard or anything like that, but he's so annoying to play against."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mike_morreale

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 x - MTL 77 47 22 8 203 174 102
2 x - NYR 75 47 21 7 228 177 101
3 x - TBL 77 47 23 7 249 201 101
4 PIT 76 42 23 11 210 190 95
5 NYI 77 45 27 5 235 215 95
6 DET 75 40 23 12 220 206 92
7 WSH 76 41 25 10 223 188 92
8 BOS 76 38 25 13 201 196 89
9 OTT 75 37 26 12 218 203 86
10 FLA 76 35 26 15 190 207 85
11 PHI 76 30 29 17 198 219 77
12 CBJ 75 36 35 4 207 232 76
13 NJD 76 31 33 12 168 194 74
14 CAR 75 28 36 11 174 204 67
15 TOR 76 28 42 6 198 244 62
16 BUF 76 21 47 8 148 255 50

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
A. Henrique 69 16 24 -3 40
M. Cammalleri 62 25 13 3 38
P. Elias 63 11 21 -16 32
S. Gomez 52 7 24 -7 31
S. Bernier 61 13 14 3 27
T. Zajac 68 11 12 -4 23
A. Larsson 58 3 19 3 22
A. Greene 76 3 18 3 21
M. Ryder 47 6 13 -1 19
E. Gelinas 56 6 11 -3 17
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Schneider 26 28 8 .928 2.19
K. Kinkaid 5 5 3 .918 2.47