5 Players Stepping Up for the New Jersey Devils in Zach Parise's Absence

Joseph Kuchie@@jkuchieCorrespondent IFebruary 4, 2013

5 Players Stepping Up for the New Jersey Devils in Zach Parise's Absence

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    Despite a recent four-game losing streak, including three straight losses in overtime, the New Jersey Devils are still 4-1-3 to start the season and remain near the top of the Eastern Conference with 11 points.

    A big part of the team's success is due to its offensive surge, as New Jersey currently has five players with at least two goals in eight games. The Devils also have Adam Henrique back from injury, and Adam Larsson has finally returned to the starting lineup for a few games.

    Many people believed that the Devils would fail this season after losing Zach Parise and Petr Sykora in the offseason, but New Jersey has once against proved the critics wrong by succeeding with what it has. Losing over 50 goals in one offseason would normally cripple an offense, but players like David Clarkson and Ilya Kovalchuk have led the Devils over the hump.

    Here are five specific players who have stepped up in the absence of Parise and Sykora in 2013.

David Clarkson

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    Many players joked about David Clarkson scoring 48 goals this season after he netted the game-winning goal against the Islanders on opening night.

    Clarkson has kept up his hot start since Game 1 by recording nine points in his first eight games (5 G, 4 A). He was just four games away from tying the franchise record for most consecutive games with a point before the team's loss to Pittsburgh, and he currently has more goals, points and shots on goal than Ilya Kovalchuk.

    Most importantly, Clarkson has stepped up by taking Parise's spot on the power-play unit, which got a makeover with the arrival of assistant coach Matt Shaw. Three of Clarkson's five goals have come with the man advantage, and he is almost halfway to his PPG total that he reached in 80 games last year.

    David Clarkson, who had 8 PPGs in 80 games last season, now has 3 PPGs through five games #NJDevils

    — NHLDevilsPR (@NHLDevilsPR) January 30, 2013

    Clarkson and Patrik Elias have been playing very well together so far this season, but the Devils will need this success to continue if they want to stay in first place. Clarkson is on pace to score 30 goals in 48 games, and while it's not likely that he will do this, it seems that he is planning on continuing to be a goal scorer in 2013.

Marek Zidlicky

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    Although he is not a forward, defenseman Marek Zidlicky has become one of the Devils' best offensive threats in 2013.

    Zidlicky has recorded four points (all assists) in eight games for New Jersey so far, keeping up with the hot start that he had in the Czech league during the lockout. Zidlicky had 25 points in 25 games for HC Kladno during the work stoppage, and his ability to pass the puck has transferred over to the NHL so far this season.

    His presence with Ilya Kovalchuk on the power play makes the unit one of the most intimidating in the league, and if he continues to put the puck on net, the Devils will have a very good chance to win. While he obviously won't score the 30 goals that Zach Parise scored last year, he has the ability to help on 30 goals and set up a good number of opportunities.

    Zidlicky remains one of the league's top offensive defensemen despite his age, and the Devils offense will be hard to stop if he continues to set up his teammates with great chances. New Jersey currently ranks 18th with 2.50 goals per game, but that number will only improve once the lockout sluggishness wears off and all teams are back to top form.

Patrik Elias

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    The Devils' most consistent forward over the past 16 seasons is once again at the top of the Devils scoring list in 2013.

    Patrik Elias currently ranks second on the team with seven points through the first eight games, and he has once again become one of the better passers that the Devils have to offer. Elias is trying to repeat last season's success, where his 26 goals and 52 assists were the most that he had since the 2008-2009 season.

    Most of his success last year came from playing with long-time teammate Petr Sykora, whose 20 goals were a huge factor in Elias' 52 assists. Sykora is gone, but Elias is determined to keep up his success despite not having as much talent on offense.

    Elias has scored at least 30 goals in a season four times in his career, but he has only scored more than 30 goals once since the 2003-2004 season. He is clearly becoming more of a pass-first forward, but that might be exactly what the Devils need to have success this season.

    The Devils have plenty of goal scorers on this team who have the ability to put points on the board, so as long as Elias gets them the puck, New Jersey will be fine. He is off to a good start with five assists this season, but that will have to keep up to help replace Zach Parise.

Stephen Gionta

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    It took a few games for Stephen Gionta to get going this season, but he is now back in full form and ready to fill the voids left after the Stanley Cup Final.

    Gionta has one goal and three assists so far this season, and although two of those four points came against the Islanders last Thursday night, he and the rest of his line are starting to show signs of life.

    Gionta, Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier combined for two goals and three assists during the Devils' 5-4 overtime loss to the Islanders, and Bernier added two goals against the Islanders last night. The famous third line is finally getting its game together and is making the Devils a very difficult team to stop.

    With all due respect to Stephen Gionta, there is no way that he will become a top goal scorer. His ability to make plays when they count and skate until the whistle blows makes him a perfect fit for this organization, but there is no way that he tops 30 goals anytime soon.

    That being said, I do believe that his grittiness and his intensity will help replace Parise and Sykora. If the rest of his line can keep up their success and provide a boost for the rest of the team, the Devils will have three quality lines, which every team must have to win games.

    Gionta may not score 30 goals this season, but his playing ability makes the Devils a better team. New Jersey never signed anyone to replace the goals lost in the offseason, so it will have to be a team effort to make up for those goals and win games the Devils way.

    Gionta will be one of those guys who will lead the team to wins.

Ilya Kovalchuk

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    It's Ilya Kovalchuk's team, and he is making sure that he does all that he can to get the Devils back to the playoffs.

    Although David Clarkson is ahead of Kovalchuk in both goals and points, Kovalchuk is still doing his part to make up for the losses of Parise and Sykora. He has two goals in eight games, including a short-handed goal and a game-winning goal, and he leads all NHL forwards in ice time with 26:23 per game.

    It must be noted that Kovalchuk should have a lot more than two goals. Kovalchuk hit the post at least once against both the Canadiens and Islanders over the past week, and it's only a matter of time before the puck finds the net and the goals start coming again.

    Kovalchuk is a high-intensity player and is willing to do anything it takes to win, and he is showing that by the amount of playing time that he is putting in. Kovy has been taking double shifts on the first and fourth line so far this year, and this will likely continue until the Devils find a proper replacement for Parise.

    Parise took away a lot of the goals that Kovalchuk could have scored last season, so it will be interesting to see how he plays now that he has the top line to himself. With the amount of ice time that he is getting and not many goal scorers on the roster, Kovalchuk has the potential to have a great season.