John MacLean starts first season as Devils coach

Except for the new coach, a couple of defensemen and having

$100-million superstar Ilya Kovalchuk around for a full season, the

New Jersey Devils haven’t changed much.

Martin Brodeur is in goal. The nucleus up front still features

Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, Jamie Langenbrunner and

the expectations, of course, are very, very high.

The Devils enter the 2010-11 season looking for their 14th

straight postseason berth. They are also under a little more

pressure after being eliminated in the opening round of the

playoffs for a third consecutive year.

”Obviously, you don’t forget something like that,” veteran

Brian Rolston said of the embarrassing five-game loss to the

Philadelphia Flyers. ”We all have a memory. But this is a new team

and a different approach. We certainly can be one of the best teams

in the East, but we all know ultimately what’s important. This team

has been one of the best teams in the NHL for a considerable amount

of time, but we’ve faltered when it counted.”

The job of turning things around belongs to John MacLean, the

former Devils who rose through the coaching ranks and was selected

to replace the retired Jacques Lemaire.

It’s a big job.

Since winning their third Stanley Cup in 2003 – the others were

in 1995 and 2000 – the Devils have not made it past the second

round.

”I’m excited, anxious, ready to go,” MacLean said. ”I think I

have controlled emotions right now. I’m trying to keep everything

in check. I think we have some good lines, some good depth. I think

we have good speed. We’re able to do some damage offensively. We

have great enthusiasm. I think we’re all anxious to get it

going.”

During training camp, MacLean has tried to get his team to play

a transition game, while continuing to stress responsibility in the

defensive end.

The 38-year-old Brodeur continues to be the backbone of the

team. He had 45 wins and nine shutouts in helping the Devils allow

a league-low 191 goals and win a second straight Atlantic Division

title.

”We have a high level of excitement,” Brodeur said. ”That’s

the best way to describe it. I love this locker room, because we

have a bunch of guys who want to be here. No one ever wants to

leave here. It’s great. Everyone wants to be a part of this team.

This could be a lot of fun, because we have a great atmosphere.

It’s a lot different than in other years.”

One major change is the fallout from the Kovalchuk signing. The

15-year deal that the Russian forward signed put the Devils over

the NHL salary cap and they will be starting the season on Friday

night against Dallas with a league-minimum 20-man roster.

That means everybody plays, every night, unless president and

general manager Lou Lamoriello makes a deal or two to cut

salary.

New Jersey got under the league’s $59.4 million salary cap on

Wednesday by making roster moves with injured defensemen Bryce

Salvador and Anssi Salmela.

Even with 20 players, there is a lot to like about the Devils,

starting with the new top line of Parise, Zajac and Kovalchuk, who

has moved from left wing to the right side to fit on the line.

”I can’t wait to get going,” said Kovalchuk, whose original

17-year, $102 million contract was rejected by the NHL because it

tried to circumvent the cap. ”I know we’re going to have a great

year and I’m excited about that.”

The Devils, who were fined and lost a future first round draft

pick because of the illegal signing, have added some size. They

signed free agent defensemen Anton Volchenkov (6-foot-1, 226

pounds) and Henrik Tallinder (6-3, 214) and acquired Jason Arnott

(6-5, 220) in a trade with Nashville.

A member of the Devils’ Cup winner in 2000, Arnott is centering

the No. 2 line with Elias and Langenbrunner on his wings, while the

No. 3 line has Dainius Zubrus centering for Rolston and David

Clarkson.

Gone from the defense is Paul Martin, who signed as a free agent

with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

However, Volchenkov is a big hitter in the Scott Stevens mold

and Tallinder is a solid defender.

”We expect to go all the way every year,” said Parise, who had

38 goals last season. ”It’s just the expectations that are placed

on us. But we have a new team and it’s the start of something new

with new leadership. We have to move on from last year. We have a

good atmosphere this year. We all understand that what happened the

last few years is unacceptable. We have high standards here and we

have not met those standards in a while.”

If the Devils fall short again, there might be a lot more

changes next season.