NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The lockout-shortened 48-game season hasn't started and the New Jersey Devils are already looking goals.
Not the type a team sets before the season. The Devils need the ones that cross the line, ripple the nets and get fans out of their seats.
Truth be told, the Eastern Conference champions don't know who is going to produce them.
There is no doubt that Ilya Kovalchuk will get his share and that Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus and David Clarkson will produce.
The concern, however, has to do with the loss of former captain Zach Parise to free agency and veteran Petr Sykora, an off-again, on-again Devil who has won a Stanley Cup with the franchise. Parise, who signed with Minnesota, had 31 goals last season and Sykora, who was not re-signed, added 21.
That's a big total (52) for a team that isn't loaded with natural goal scorers.
"It's hard to replace guys like Zach and Sykie," goaltender Johan Hedberg said. "Those are pure goal-scorers. This will be an opportunity for other guys to step up. We have talent in this system, and sometimes all you need is opportunity."
Healthy again after a season to forget, Travis Zajac could be one solution, especially after playing well in the postseason. Bobby Butler, who was signed by general manager Lou Lamoriello after a disappointing season in Ottawa, is another option along with youngsters Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson and Adam Henrique, once he's healthy.
Zajac, who missed most of last season because of an Achilles' tendon injury that required surgery, had two goals in 15 regular-season games and added seven more in 24 playoff contests as New Jersey defeated Florida, Philadelphia and the Rangers en route to the Stanley Cup finals.
"We're going to have to do it collectively," Zajac said after practice on Monday. "I don't think it's going to be one guy that is going to replace Zach. Those are awfully big shoes to fill and I don't know if we'll find the player to replace him. With this team, we've dealt with that before — losing some big pieces — and we found a way to overcome it. We'll have to do that collectively again."
Zajac can be a big part of that. He scored 20 goals in 2008-09 and 25 the following year before slipping to 13 in 2010-11.
"I had a strong playoff and I think this is a big year for me," Zajac said. "It's a chance where I can hopefully take my game to another level. I have had some extra time to work on things and I am excited to get that chance and help the team in any way possible."
Zajac is probably going to center the No. 1 line and should have Kovalchuk on his right wing.
The left side is open and either Tedenby or Elias, who had 26 goals last season, would be a fit.