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Devils put stars together in bid to generate more offence

New York Rangers defenceman Dan Girardi (5) checks New Jersey Devils left wing Zach Parise (9). (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Kathy Willens

Getting a goal is top of mind for the New Jersey Devils in Game 2 on Wednesday night.

They'd like more than one, obviously, but they realize they may have to settle for a single in a series that is going to feature defensive hockey from both sides throughout.

"We know this is not going to be a high scoring series," Devils vet Patrik Elias said. "We've just got to get it in our minds to try and win the game 1-0. That's the bottom line."

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To that end, Devils coach Peter DeBoer had some new line combinations at the morning skate, with captain Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk skating together on a trio with Travis Zajac.

"Definitely not married to those combinations," DeBoer cautioned.

Those three have played together a lot in these playoffs already, however, (it's actually the Devils most common combination at even strength) even though lately DeBoer had been trying to spread his offence out a little more with his two top guns on separate lines.

New York Rangers coach John Tortorella countered that in Game 1 by putting defenceman Dan Girardi on Parise and Marc Staal on Kovalchuk, something that seemed to work relatively well given the 3-0 final score.

<h5 style='border-top: #000 1px solid; border-bottom: #000 1px dotted; font:14px Georgia,serif; font-weight: normal; width: 460px; padding: 5px 0; margin: 20px 0 0'>Percentage of Devils ice time against Rangers defencemen</h5><p style='font:12px Verdana,sans-serif; width: 460px; margin: 5px 0 0 0; line-height: 1.4em;'>Captain Zach Parise saw the bulk of his even strength minutes (roughly 70%) against the top pairing of Girardi-McDonagh in Game 1</p><iframe src="" scrolling='no' frameborder='no' width='460' height='300' style='border-bottom: 1px dotted #000; margin: 20px 0 0' ></iframe>

What DeBoer appears to be aiming for with his new combinations is having his lines be more specialized, with the first unit obviously focused on generating shots in a variety of ways and perhaps even splitting Girardi's focus so he can't key on just Parise.

(Whoever plays the left wing on that line will run into Girardi on the right side no matter what, which is another thing to keep an eye on in Game 2.)

The new second line, meanwhile, looks like it'll be aimed at a two-man forecheck and punishing the Rangers defence, with David Clarkson, Alexei Ponikarovsky and rookie Adam Henrique well suited for a more physical style.

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"Poni's a big guy that down low is pretty hard to push off the puck," Clarkson said. "It'll be good. We're going to have to get the puck in down low, do some cycling and grind it out a bit in the corners. Sometimes moving things around a little bit is a good thing."

(The revamped third unit is a trio of European veterans in Elias, Petr Sykora and Dainius Zubrus.)

Henrik Lundqvist is getting a lot of credit for the Rangers win - and in fairness he did play well - but New Jersey also only generated 21 shots, which included a pitiful four in the third period.

Putting pucks on goal was a weakness during the regular season, as the Devils had the fewest shots per game of any playoff team, and it could be a fatal one in this series if they can't find a way to correct it.

"We want to be a little bit more productive tonight," Kovalchuk said.

The only other potential lineup change for New Jersey will be on the back end, where rookie Adam Larsson could sit in favour of Peter Harrold. That change would be part of DeBoer's push for more offence, as Harrold would play on the second power play unit.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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