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At the Rink blog

Zajac still clearing mental hurdles in return to lineup

Friday, 03.23.2012 / 11:54 AM

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer / At the Rink blog

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At the Rink blog
Zajac still clearing mental hurdles in return to lineup
NEWARK, N.J. -- Travis Zajac is close, but not quite ready to return to the New Jersey Devils lineup.

Zajac said after Friday's morning skate at Prudential Center that he doesn't feel any soreness in his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon, and that there is no swelling at all after he skates. But until he is able to overcome the mental hurdle of making sure he's 100 percent comfortable to get back into the Devils lineup, he will stay on the sidelines, working on his hands, timing and conditioning.

Zajac, who had his surgery in August, already returned once this season and suffered a setback, so this time around he's being ultra-careful.

"I came back and it didn't work out, so now coming back for a second time you really want to make sure," Zajac said after the Devils practiced in advance of Friday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. "It is almost more mental than physical at this point. You just have to put yourself in situations where you're going to get knocked around, banged around. Once you know you're alright and healed, I'm sure I'll get back out there and there will be nothing bothering me mentally."

Zajac initially returned in December, but he played only eight games before soreness in his Achilles forced him out of the lineup. He hasn't played since Jan. 2.

Zajac was even shut down from all hockey-related activities for a period of time this winter and went into a walking boot for three-and-a-half weeks. He has been practicing with the team for the last week and hasn't had any setbacks.

"This time I can compare it to how I felt last time when I came back," Zajac said. "I see a difference now. I really have no soreness or tightness or swelling like I did last time.

"If you don't have any of that, now it's just getting comfortable. That's the main thing, I have to be comfortable on the ice to be able to do things that I was doing before I was injured."

Zajac's ideal scenario is to return to the lineup soon (the Devils next play Sunday at Pittsburgh) so he can get in as many games as possible to get back up to speed before the playoffs begin.

"I think he's in a real good spot health-wise," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "When you come back early and it doesn't go well, you have a setback, your mental state is as important as your physical state. We want to make sure both are in the right spot. The key here obviously is that he's ready day 1 of the playoffs and has his game as close to normal as possible."

The Devils will look to snap a dry spell against the Leafs, who have yielded 13 goals in their last two games. New Jersey has scored only five goals in its last five games, but still managed to win two of them by 1-0 scores, including a shootout win over Colorado.

Ilya Kovalchuk has points in the last three games, but linemates Zach Parise and Adam Henrique are both pointless in the last five. Henrique hasn't scored a goal since Feb. 17, a string of 17 straight games. He has just 2 goals in the last two-plus months.

"I think we've been playing the same way, it's been really close every game, but for whatever reason we have nothing to show for it," Parise said. "It's not an excuse. We have to find a way to produce, but I think we're still doing the same things and playing the same way, it's just that right now it doesn't want to go in for us. Hopefully that changes tonight.

"It's a hard time right now and lines go through it, but we have to make sure we're not cheating in different areas and the goals will come back."

Martin Brodeur will get the start in net for the Devils. Here are the rest of their lines and defense pairs:

Zach Parise - Adam Henrique - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Eric Boulton - Ryan Carter - Steve Bernier

Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Adam Larsson

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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