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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 p - NYR 82 53 22 7 252 192 113
2 y - MTL 82 50 22 10 221 189 110
3 x - TBL 82 50 24 8 262 211 108
4 x - WSH 82 45 26 11 242 203 101
5 x - NYI 82 47 28 7 252 230 101
6 x - DET 82 43 25 14 235 221 100
7 x - OTT 82 43 26 13 238 215 99
8 x - PIT 82 43 27 12 221 210 98
9 BOS 82 41 27 14 213 211 96
10 FLA 82 38 29 15 206 223 91
11 CBJ 82 42 35 5 236 250 89
12 PHI 82 33 31 18 215 234 84
13 NJD 82 32 36 14 181 216 78
14 CAR 82 30 41 11 188 226 71
15 TOR 82 30 44 8 211 262 68
16 BUF 82 23 51 8 161 274 54

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
A. Henrique 75 16 27 -6 43
M. Cammalleri 68 27 15 2 42
P. Elias 69 13 21 -20 34
S. Gomez 58 7 27 -10 34
S. Bernier 67 16 16 2 32
T. Zajac 74 11 14 -3 25
A. Larsson 64 3 21 2 24
A. Greene 82 3 19 1 22
E. Gelinas 61 6 13 -2 19
M. Ryder 47 6 13 -1 19
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Schneider 26 31 9 .925 2.26
K. Kinkaid 6 5 4 .915 2.59