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Just like old times for Lemaire and Devils

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - During Jacques Lemaire's first stint as New Jersey Devils head coach, his teams were best known for their mastery of the neutral zone trap, a defensive strategy that has become synonymous with boring hockey.

Not surprisingly, in his second tour of duty with the Devils, Lemaire's club is also known for its solid defensive play. But this isn't 1995, and Lemaire knows that rule changes in recent years have made it difficult to get by on defense alone.

When Brent Sutter resigned as Devils head coach in June, New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello probably didn't take long to decide on a replacement. After all, Lemaire had been fired by the Minnesota Wild just a few months before, ending his tenure as the first and only coach in that expansion franchise's history. So just like that, the Devils were able to bring back the all-time winningest coach in club history.

Jacques Lemaire is trying to earn a second Stanley Cup title as coach of the Devils.
Lemaire originally coached in New Jersey from 1993-98 and led the franchise to its first-ever Stanley Cup title in the spring of 1995. He left following the 1997-98 campaign, but the Devils have kept more or less the same team defense philosophy and helped them win two more Cups after Lemaire's departure. Now the coach is back in the Garden State to try and earn a second title as a coach.

Although a famous saying tells us "you can't go home again", that wouldn't seem to be the case for Lemaire and this year's Devils.

His club entered Tuesday with 28 points, tying them with Washington for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey also had an eight-game winning streak before it was halted Monday night in Philadelphia. Additionally, the club has proven it can win anywhere, as the loss to the Flyers was New Jersey's first in 10 games as the road team, falling one win shy of the NHL record for most consecutive wins away from home to start a season.

Current league rules prevent teams from using the trap to the same effectiveness that the Devils did in the mid-90s, but Lemaire's philosophy of personal responsibility to team defense never goes out of style.

"Doesn't matter who's going to be here, or how many injuries, we're still going to play the same way," Lemaire recently told the Devils' web site. "We haven't changed: the skill guys, they get their points. We don't change."

Whatever the formula for success Lemaire is using this time around, there is no doubt that it's working for his current batch of Devils. That includes New Jersey's best skill player, Zach Parise.

There was some concern heading into the season that Parise's offensive talents would not be maximized under Lemaire's system. After all, Sutter had used more of an aggressive offensive strategy during his two seasons with the Devils and last year, Parise had a career season with personal-bests in goals (45) and points (94).

However, the 25-year-old Parise has not shown signs of slowing down under Lemaire's system, and already has 11 goals and 24 points in 19 games this year. If Parise keeps that pace up he could wind up eclipsing his numbers from 2008-09.

But, Parise has also shown the ability to play a solid all-around game, something that Lemaire's star player in Minnesota, Marian Gaborik, wasn't always capable of doing.

"Zach is a great model for the young guys," Lemaire told his club's site. "Zach doesn't have his success because he's cutting corners short, or because he's not working every night. That's why he's got success, because he's working every night, he's working every shift. He does what he has to do every shift to be successful. That's why he's good."

But the real test for the Devils will come this spring, when Lemaire tries to reverse the club's recent trend of early playoff collapses. Lemaire inherits a team that suffered first-round playoff exits in each of the last two seasons, and New Jersey hasn't moved past the second round since winning its last Cup in 2003.

Lemaire has always been a winner. He was part of eight Cup championship clubs as a player with Montreal, and won two more title as an assistant GM with the Canadiens before leading the Devils to the promised land.

At this early stage of the season, who knows if another Cup is in the cards for Lemaire and the Devils, but a fourth title for the franchise would truly make this homecoming a success.

FORSBERG STAYING IN SWEDEN...YAWN

I can't be the only person who is somewhat bored with the annual flirtation former NHL superstar Peter Forsberg has with his former league. At least this year Foppa had the decency to not let the rumors drag deep into the season.

The hockey world learned Monday that Forsberg has decided to play the remainder of the season for Modo in his home country of Sweden. It's a smart decision, considering the former Hart Memorial Trophy winner is uncertain how his foot would hold up to the NHL grind.

Forsberg, who has won two Stanley Cup titles and two Olympic gold medals during his storied career, last played in the NHL for Colorado during the 2007-08 campaign after joining the Avalanche in late February of that year. He was more than effective when on the ice, but his chronic foot problems make him less than reliable.

Last year, Forsberg contemplated returning to North America, but was only able to skate in three games for Modo while preparing for another shot at the NHL.

Now the hope is Forsberg can stay healthy for the rest of the season in Sweden, and then possibly make a return to the NHL in 2010-11. However, he will turn 37 years of age before the next season begins and it's becoming a distinct possibility that he will never play in the NHL again.

It's sad to see injuries to take such a toll on a once-great player, but sooner or later Forsberg needs to face the facts and simply call it a career. But I guess as long as NHL franchises are interested in his services, Forsberg will always at least consider returning, and it's hard to blame him for that.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.
Dan Di Sciullo