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After fast start, Devils having a tough time finding offence

The Canadian Press

2/3/2010 12:18:10 AM

TORONTO -- The New Jersey Devils will need to rediscover their offensive flair if they want to reverse their fortunes.

After soaring to the top of the Atlantic Division through the first three months of the season, the Devils have been an average team in the New Year, posting a 7-8-1 record in 2010.

After Tuesday night's 3-0 setback to the Maple Leafs in Toronto, the Devils have been blanked three times in their past nine games, averaging well under two goals per contest.

"We're working, but we're just not sharp," said Devils coach Jacques Lemaire, who has watched his team's Atlantic lead dwindle to one point over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"Passes are not going through, the right play isn't there at the right time. That's why you don't create a lot of chances. We've just got to be sharper."

Part of that is due to the absence of top-six forward Patrik Elias, who's been out since mid-January with concussion-like symptoms. Still, the players in the lineup aren't doing enough to generate scoring chances, let alone cash them in.

Lemaire said some of his players are trying to do too much themselves, rather than staying focused on details.

"We don't play as a group," said Lemaire. "It's all individual effort. Little passes that should be there that are not there. Not seeing a guy on the side of the net, getting in front of the goalie so the guy can get a clean shot -- little things that bring you goals, but you have to sacrifice to get them."

One Devil who's counted on heavily for offence is Zach Parise, who leads the team with 25 goals and 57 points through 55 games. The 25-year-old left-winger said his team has been on the wrong side of the puck all too often during their recent slide.

"It hasn't been easy for us lately," Parise said. "Tonight it was just a matter of us doing a bad job of controlling the puck. We were chasing it around all night, we weren't making plays, we were throwing pucks away. It seemed like we were chasing them the whole time.'

In addition to Elias, New Jersey has also been playing without Paul Martin since he fractured his forearm in late October.

The injury hasn't healed nearly as quickly as expected, forcing Martin out of not only the Devils lineup, but also pushing him out of the roster spot he was originally given on the U.S. Olympic team.

One potential replacement for Martin -- not to mention Leafs defenceman Mike Komisarek, who seems increasingly likely to miss the Games with a suspected shoulder injury -- is Devils blue-liner Andy Greene.

Though he's not a household name and has cooled of late along with his team, Greene has shown quickness and capable offensive acumen this year with 24 points in 52 games.

"He's had a really good season for us, he's been good on the power play," said Parise, who will be part of the U.S. team in Vancouver. "He makes a good first pass out of the zone and he plays well defensively. If (he's named as a replacement), he'll be a good fit."