Travis Zajac, pictured here in a game against the Red Wings, is set to tie Ken Daneyko's franchise mark of 388 consecutive games played. If he plays Thursday in Ottawa, the Devils' center will set the Devils mark for consecutive games played. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
It's a testament to the health and luck of a player in any sport to play multiple games in a row.
For the New Jersey Devils' Travis Zajac, his string of 387 consecutive games resembles the second best streak in franchise history. Tonight, in his 388th consecutive start, Zajac will make history, tying Ken Daneyko for the longest consecutive games played streak in Devils' history.
Zajac downplayed the importance of the streak.
"I think it's an unusual record," Zajac told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "I've just been fortunate to be able to play in these games and feel good enough that I can compete at a high level. I don't think it's a huge deal. Yeah, I want to play in every game. I want to be out there. I want to compete hard. That's the fun part about playing the game."
The streak began on October 25, 2006, the day after Zajac missed a game. The night before, the Devils' center missed a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins with a bruised thigh. Throughout the streak, Zajac said injuries never bothered him. But illness almost ended it.
"I would say injury-wise, I had some bumps and bruises, but nothing that would ever keep me out of a game," he told Gulitti. "It was more probably feeling under the weather that was hardest to get through."
Daneyko originally began his streak on November 4, 1989. The hard-nosed defenseman, known for his physical style and shot-blocking abilities, had his streak snapped on March 29, 1994, when he suffered a shoulder injury against the Montreal Canadiens.
Zajac believes that the physical nature of Daneyko's game made his 388 straight starts more impressive.
"It's pretty impressive that a guy like Daneyko played that many games straight," Zajac told Gulitti. "He was such a presence on the ice, blocking shots, playing tough minutes, I think as a forward it would be a little easier to reach than as a d-man."
While the sentiment may be true, today's NHL takes a demanding toll on the body. Bigger and more physical skaters now patrol the ice, dishing out devastating body blows. Concussions are on the rise as routine collisions become more and more violent. Players block harder shots and go through the rigors of an 82 game schedule.
Zajac is no slouch either. Since he rookie season, the Devils' young center has blossomed into the team's number one faceoff man. He's been an anchor on the top line for two-plus seasons, playing with the likes of Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. Last season, he set career highs in goals (25) and points (67). In the past three seasons, Zajac has averaged over 19 minutes of ice time. He's become a regular on both special teams units. That's a lot of hockey to play season after season.
Devils' coach Jacques Lemaire credited Zajac for the way he takes care of himself and the way he plays the game.
"Some of it is a little bit of chance, luck. It has to be," Lemaire told Gulitti. "The other one is the guy is in good shape and, talking about Travis, he protects himself well although he plays in traffic. He knows how to go into the boards. He knows when he's first what to do. He knows when he's battling with someone - I like as a coach that he's strong and he uses his body very well and he's strong. He's got a strong stick is what we call the guys that come out with the puck often. And that is because he gets his body there, he knows how to work one-on-one.
"He's good. He's very good."
Zajac's teammates also noticed the significance of the streak.
"It's hard to do," Martin Brodeur, who was teammates with Daneyko, told Gulitti. "You have to be ready to play with injuries. That's the bottom line. I'm sure he wasn't 100 percent every single game, but you have to pull through and learn to play. And he plays good minutes, too. I think you can be a third or fourth-liner and play different kinds of minutes. But when you play like Dano all those years and (Zajac), they're more important minutes in a hockey game. So, definitely more power to him to keep that going."
Daneyko, who will be in attendance with the MSG Network tonight, feels no bitterness about his record coming to an end.
"It lasted a long time, almost 20 years," Daneyko told Gulitti. "All records are going to be broken eventually. I'm just glad it's a player like Travis who I admire for his dedication and the way he plays the game. There are going to be days when you don't feel your best. You have to play through injuries and illness, which I'm sure he has. He believes in that, as did I."