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02 March 2007

Brodeur anchors the Devils as Rafalski and Parise provide the offense.

Despite the absence of the injured Brian Gionta, New Jersey continues to move along nicely in the consistent, almost mechanical fashion that people have come to expect from Lamoriello's Devils. Their success, of course, is largely dependant on the play of Martin Brodeur, who was named one of the stars of the month of Februray by the NHL. But even the Devils can't win without scoring goals.

The most impressive performances have come from defenseman Brian Rafalski, who has put up eight points in his last eight games, and sophomore winger Zach Parise, who has been the most important cog in the Devils' offense in recent times. Playing on a line with another skater out of the University of North Dakota, the rookie Travis Zajac, and the veteran Jamie Langenbrunner, the three have been together for the entire season. The trio has quietly put up 59 goals so far this season, including Parise's team-leading 26, more than the 54 from the team's first line of team captain Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, and Gionta.

Rafalski in particular has been playing at a level which makes the still recent loss of defenseman Scott Niedermayer to Anaheim easier to swallow. In the last ten games Rafalski has demonstrated the ability to put up goals, points, and bodychecks which are almost reminiscent of those Scott Stevens would throw around on a daily basis. No one will ever say Rafalski is a major physical presence on the blueline, but despite that Rafalski has a nasty hipcheck which often shows up when least expected.

Other Devils defensemen have shown the ability to elevate their games recently as well. Despite the falling off from the earlier stellar play of rookie Johnny Oduya, who was a recent free agent signing, the Devils haven't missed a beat. One of the reasons for this is defenseman Brad Lukowich. Lukowich has been nothing short of awesome all season long, much to the astonishment of fans from Long Island, whose team shipped him to New Jersey a year ago for a third-round pick. When one thinks of Lukowich one doesn't see a #2 defenseman on a team challenging for the President's Trophy and yet he has elevated his game to that level. Lukowich isn't likely to sustain that level of play forever, but with the trade of the troubled David Hale to Calgary it's becoming clear that Lamoriello and Claude Julien are preparing to integrate the injured Richard Matvichuk back into the lineup.

In the meantime, while the Devils appear to have the necessary cap space to activate Matvichuk if they were to send enforcer Cam Janssen down to Albany, they have filled his roster spot with another rookie free agent signing, defenseman Andy Greene. Greene is a defenseman in the Brian Rafalski mold: he has speed, sound positioning, and a nice shot from the point which will nicely fill in on the second powerplay unit. Greene appears to be an immediate upgrade over Hale, who never found his stride after missing the beginning of the season with an eye injury, and he played well in a 1-0 shutout of the high-powered Penguins. Despite not having the cap space to make a deadline deal, Lamoriello still found a way to improve his team from within.

1 fanatics have replied:

Bleu, Blanc et Rouge said...

You're right, and thanks for winning, you helped out the Habs.

Lukowich is actually great this year, he wasn't great in the playoffs last season but now he is.

Oh and I think Richard Matvichuk is underappreciated.

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