NEWARK, N.J. --
The New Jersey Devils
will have a key cog back in the lineup on Thursday when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning
at the Prudential Center, with the return of defenseman Anton Volchenkov
The (Bergen) Record reported on Wednesday that Volchenkov did skate on his own Wednesday morning after missing the last two games with a lower-body injury. Coach Peter DeBoer
informed the media that there was a chance he could return to the lineup.
The return of Volchenkov is huge for the Devils, who currently stand sixth in the Eastern Conference, four points ahead of seventh-seeded Ottawa.
Volchenkov, who has 2 goals, including a game-winner, 11 points and a minus-3 rating, leads the team with 166 hits and 120 blocked shots while averaging 18:02 of ice time. During the team's morning skate on Thursday, Volchenkov was paired with Peter Harrold
"He's one of the better D-men on our team and it's kind of good for me to play with him because he's a good stay-at-home defenseman who takes care of his own end … it's comfortable back there with him," Harrold said. "I played a little with him the last stint up, but it's a comfort level with all the defensemen. Everyone here talks a lot and everyone knows what's going on, so they make the transition pretty seamless."
Meanwhile, rookie defenseman Adam Larsson
will sit out his second straight game as a healthy scratch. Larsson was forced to leave a game against the Montreal Canadiens
on Feb. 2 with 5:58 remaining in the third period after being hit hard by defenseman P.K. Subban
The rookie Swede would produce just 2 assists and a minus-1 rating over the next 16 games before coach Peter DeBoer
had seen enough, listing him as a healthy scratch for the first time this season in a victory over the Chicago Blackhawks
"We had a good conversation prior to the Chicago game about my reasons for doing what I was doing and he understood," DeBoer said. "We had an assistant coach sit with him during the Chicago game and kind of watch the play and point out things we felt would help him when he got back in and be more successful."
For the season, Larsson, drafted fourth by the Devils last June, has 2 goals, 18 points and a minus-7 rating. He ranks third on the team with 44 giveaways but also has 93 hits and 67 blocked shots while averaging 20:44 of ice time.
"There's lots of communication going there, but it's not a daily conversation for me," DeBoer said. "This time of year, we've got a lot of bigger things on our plate and Adam Larsson
is a huge part of this organization going forward. But he's not the focal point; the focal point is our team and how we're playing."
DeBoer inserted Harrold, who was called up from the American Hockey League on Monday, into the lineup in Larsson's absence on Tuesday. He responded with two blocked shots in 19:06 of ice time.
There are several players looking to snap out of unusual offensive slumps, including Patrik Elias
, who has 1 goal in his last eight games. Zach Parise
has 3 goals in his last 13 games, David Clarkson
is in the midst of a season-long nine-game goal drought and rookie Adam Henrique
has 1 goal in his last 20 contests. DeBoer will have Travis Zajac
centering Parise and Kovalchuk to begin the game to see if he can generate more offense.
Here are the possible line combinations for the Devils:
- Travis Zajac
- Ilya Kovalchuk
- Patrik Elias
- Dainius Zubrus
- Adam Henrique
- David Clarkson
- Jacob Josefson
- Steve Bernier
- Peter Harrold
- Marek Zidlicky
- Mark Fayne
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale