SENATORS (12-12-6) at DEVILS (11-15-6)
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NEWARK -- Hit hard by injuries and illness for much of the season, the New Jersey Devils will get a key component back in their lineup Wednesday against the Ottawa Senators when forward Patrik Elias returns after missing five straight games and six of the past seven with a groin injury.
"I'm better than I was before I came back," he said.
Elias was injured Dec. 2 at the Pittsburgh Penguins. After sitting out the next game against the Toronto Maple Leafs he attempted to return Dec. 6 at the Washington Capitals. He scored a goal in 15:15 of ice time in New Jersey's 4-1 loss but said he came back too soon.
"I wanted to get back and play and help out," Elias said. "Ten minutes in I started getting the same issue again. I tried to go through it again but I couldn't really push. It got worse. The situation we're in, you want to be part of the team, you want to play. I didn't feel horrible, but obviously playing games, doing stops and starts, battling and shooting, it's different than if you go on the ice doing laps. We were a lot smarter this time."
Elias has three goals and 12 points in 26 games.
"I don't know if I can help, but you do want to get back," Elias said. "We're losing some points that are on the table again. We've had some good games, some bad games. We need to get that consistency back and feel good. That's the main thing. You look at [Scott Gomez], he's just free out there. He just plays and that's the way we have to play, all of us."
After playing 15 of their past 20 games on the road (5-11-4), the Devils open a four-game homestand looking to avoid a fifth straight loss. At 11-15-6, New Jersey enters play Wednesday six points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and knows it has to take advantage of a schedule that has it home for eight of its next 10 games.
"The best thing to do right now is wipe out the 32 games, start from zero, start from today," forward Jaromir Jagr said. "We know we have to probably win 35 of 50 to make the playoffs, and just go from there. … You have to work day by day, so I think it's the best thing to do.
"Right now we're scared to win. We have the lead, we're afraid something bad is going to happen. When you put a big picture, big goal, you don't have to worry about it. You have to win a lot of games, but there's still room for mistakes."
Devils coach Peter DeBoer was absent from the morning skate for personal reasons and will meet with the media at 4:45 p.m. ET.
Five Senators took part in an optional skate ahead of a game that ends a three-game road trip: defenseman Chris Phillips, forwards Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Colin Greening and Milan Michalek, and goalie Robin Lehner. Phillips, whose 1,166 games played are second on the Senators' all-time list behind Daniel Alfredsson (1,178), returns to the lineup after two games as a healthy scratch.
"It's not easy, I don't care who you are," Phillips said. "It's in our makeup to want to compete. When you're taken out it's tough, but I'm not going to pout. I accept their decision even when you're not happy with it. I'm excited to get the call tonight, and will go out there and try and help this team win."
Senators coach Dave Cameron, who played two seasons for the Devils (1982-84), will address the media at 5 p.m.
Here are the projected lineups:
Scratched: Colin Greening
Scratched: Seth Helgeson
Status report: Larsson skated with Helgeson in the morning. He's missed the past seven games with the mumps. "I want to get back in as soon as possible," Larsson said, "but at the same time I have to realize I've been pretty sick, so I have to get my energy back." … Pageau, called up Sunday from Binghamton of the American Hockey League, will make his season debut, possibly at center, with Legwand shifting to left wing and Greening a healthy scratch. ... Anderson makes his first start since a 5-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 11 in Cameron's coaching debut. He's allowed at least three goals in nine of his past 10 starts (2-6-2, 3.28 goals-against average).
Who's hot: Jagr has one goal and four assists in his past five games. He leads the Devils with six multipoint games. ... Gomez has points in three straight (two goals, two assists) and six points (two goals, four assists) in his past five games. … Zibanejad has five goals and four assists his past seven games. ... Legwand has at least one point, including four goals, in seven of his past nine games.