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Good Afternoon

Center Ice roundup: Zach Parise, Ryan Callahan and Rick DiPietro

 The big news from last night is Devils forward Zach Parise is out three months after knee surgery. It would be a monumental blow to any team; for this season's Devils, it's somehow just another step down the ladder.

How did this team fall so far, so fast?

-- Injuries, of course, happen to anyone. That they lost big free-agent defenseman Anton Volchenkov to a broken nose and sore neck so early -- he was hurt in the second game -- set off a bad chain reaction on defense, leaving the Devils with an untested, small-sized group of rookies in key spots.

-- That Kovalchuk guy. Say what you will about his skills, which are terrific; the man is on his seventh coach in 10 NHL seasons, and John MacLean's job isn't exactly secure. Kovalchuk's arrival signaled a change in the way the Devils do things, on and off the ice, and it clearly has been a problem, not all of No. 17's doing.

They face the Hawks tonight with a 3-9-1 record, worst in the league. As I tried to point out in a very convoluted numbers post on Monday, few teams have climbed up into the top eight in the East after a month; no team has made it from last in the conference on Nov. 1 to the postseason in the post-lockout era.

The injuries and dissension and general stinkiness mean that MacLean's job is probably safe for this year; Devils president Lou Lamoriello has historically made a coaching change only when he thinks his team has a shot to contend and needs a kick in the hockey pants.

The Devils haven't missed the playoffs since 1996. Losing Parise won't help their attempt to get back in the race.

-- Off Monday's Rangers win over the Hawks, I wrote a column about Ryan Callahan and how he exemplifies what the Rangers need to be about. Callahan has always shown the "I'll do anything" work ethic, but the scoring is there this season too, as well as some chemistry with the enigmatic Brandon Dubinsky.

Callahan is, essentially, a younger version of Chris Drury. Clutch goals, a willingness to sacrifice the body, an all-situations player. John Tortorella had said Callahan stepped up between periods of the home opener against the Leafs and spoke up after Drury and Marian Gaborik went out with injuries.

Drury's Rangers tenure may not be what fans were hoping for, but Callahan has definitely picked up some things from the current Rangers captain. Which is why it's easy to see, whether it's two years from now or even sooner (depending on Drury's health), Callahan wearing the 'C' for a long time to come.

-- Rick DiPietro's numbers aren't great so far, and both he and his coach admitted yesterday he's still got some rust to shake off. But more injured defensemen has meant more new faces to try and coordinate with, and that hasn't helped DiPietro either.

As Scott Gordon also noted yesterday, losing Andrew MacDonald and Milan Jurcina means the Isles are down two of their bigger D-men; Bruno Gervais and Jack Hillen are both on the small side, so opposing forwards -- as they've done for the last two years -- are bulling their way to the net without much worry of being slowed down.

That's created some chaos in the Islanders zone, which has led to plenty of even-strength goals against and some power-play chances against.

On a lighter note, I asked DiPietro why Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger let the goalie go during the last-minute scrum in Philly. "I told him he has to let me go do something. I can't be on Sportscenter for giving up two goals to him," DiPietro said. Pronger was seen grinning and giving DiPietro a wide berth to go after Daniel Carcillo following Danny Briere's cross-check to Frans Nielsen's head.

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