Devils getting ready for post-Olympic Games push
More than 30 minutes after the New Jersey Devils finished practice, Travis Zajac was still on the ice working on his shooting and helping rookie Vladimir Zharkov with a couple of things for the NHL's post-Olympic sprint to the playoffs.
Don't think it's a dash?
When the Devils return to action on Tuesday in San Jose against the Sharks, New Jersey will finish the NHL regular season with 21 games in the five-plus weeks.
The Devils enter the stretch with a one-point lead in the Atlantic Division over the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. New Jersey also has a game in hand.
The problem for Jacques Lemaire's team is it stumbled into the Olympic break, posting a 5-10-2 record despite the acquisition of high-scoring forward Ilya Kovalchuk at the start of the month.
``I think it was us just being tired,'' Zajac said. ``It was a lot of hockey. Mentally we were not as sharp as we usually were and you can see it on the ice when things were not going right we weren't skating and moving the puck as well as we usually do.''
While five Devils participated in the Olympics, the rest of the team had a chance to rest and clear their heads.
The time off also gave other players a chance to get healthy.
Right wing David Clarkson, who has been limited to 25 games with a fractured right leg, is ready to return next week. Defenseman Paul Martin, who had to turn down a bid to play for the United States because of a broken left arm, hopes to be ready after the Devils returned from their four-game road trip.
Martin Brodeur's demotion to Canada's backup goaltender also has given him some unexpected rest.
Veteran left wing Jay Pandolfo insisted the key for the Devils will be staying focused and rediscovering the simple game that helped them open a big lead in the division.
``We kind of got into a funk as a team and could not get out of it,'' Pandolfo said. ``Sometimes it happens. You go through a bad stretch and we could not find a way out. It was a lot of different things going on and it was a good time to have this break. Now we start off fresh and it's almost a new miniseason. If we can just get off to a good start, it will be great.''
Pandolfo said the team is more concerned about fixing its own game rather than looking over their shoulders at the Penguins.
Center Dainius Zubrus believes there isn't much to fix.
``I don't want to say we were beating ourselves, but I thought we were a little too easy to play against,'' Zubrus said. ``We worked hard to get the pucks back, but we were careless with it at times, too often trying plays that were too easy to defend. If they work, great. If they don't, which they usually don't, it just ended up with the puck going back to our end and we'd end up spending the shift in our end.''
Zubrus was quick to rattle off the obvious things the Devils need to do - chip the puck into the corners, get traffic in front of the goaltenders, get shots on nets.
``We were doing that the first half of the season,'' Zubrus added. ``It's not something new. It's just something we have to get back.''
The Devils also have to adapt a little more since opponents have made adjustments to their style of play.
Early in the season, the Devils' defensemen were making long stretch passes for quick counterattacks. Opposing defenseman have started playing a little tighter on Devils forwards to take away that option.
The alternative would be to make the long passes to the Devils' centers or the weakside wings coming across.
``Teams have been adapting to us,'' forward Brian Rolston said. ``We have to find a way to push through that and find our game that is going to be suitable for the stretch run and the playoffs. We have a group in here that can go a long way. We have all the tools. We just have to put it together and be on the same page.''