-- The New Jersey Devils
are getting healthier by the day.
First it was center Rob Niedermayer
, who returned to the lineup on Wednesday after sitting out 11 games with an upper-body injury.
Against the Detroit Red Wings
on Saturday at Prudential Center, coach Jacques Lemaire
expects to have forward Jay Pandolfo
(shoulder) and defenseman Johnny Oduya
(lower body) back in the mix.
"It's been good getting guys back in the lineup -- we're starting to get healthy again and up to speed," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner
said. "A lot of guys have done a lot of good things and shown they can play in this League during this stretch of injuries and that'll help us down the road. It's just the nature of the game to suffer some injuries but what was a question mark for us at the start of the season (depth) isn't anymore."
Both Pandolfo and Oduya were on the ice Friday for the team's optional skate at Prudential Center. With games slated Friday and Saturday, the Devils' training and coaching staff did not want to risk either player re-aggravating his injury.
Pandolfo has missed a total of 17 games since Oct. 24.
"It's going to be interesting to see how I respond after one game," he said. "Maybe I could have played tonight and been fine tomorrow, but maybe it's safer to play one of the two. Maybe if we didn’t have three in four nights, that would make a difference too. We play Monday, too. Friday, Saturday, Monday would have been a little tough after not playing for six weeks."
Said Lemaire, "It was either (Friday) or (Saturday) night, so we figured (Saturday). Especially the games today, they're so intense and to play two games in two nights, it's hard when you haven't played for a while. They didn't have a lot of practices, so we decided (Saturday) will be a good time. They will have a day after before (Monday's game in) Buffalo. So, that will be perfect."
Oduya has missed 15 games since suffering his injury on Oct. 29.
"Anytime your team is doing great (when you're injured), that's what you want, you want the younger guys to take advantage and the older guys to take responsibility," he said. "It was the same situation last year with Marty (Brodeur) out (50 games). It's a team effort all the time -- we just need to play our system and play the way we want. Coming back to the lineup and having that behind you, makes not playing for five weeks a little easier. Now, I just want to come back, work hard and have the things that have went well for me, return."
The fact Oduya will be up against the offensively gifted Detroit forwards upon his return makes no difference to the fourth-year defender.
"It doesn't matter who I return against; every team in this League has a couple of guys who are top players," Oduya said. "Once you're in game mode, you're in. It doesn't matter who you're playing. You still have to be at the top of your game because, if not, it's tough to win. They're a good team but, for me, it's all about getting back out there and playing."
The Devils are still without forwards David Clarkson
(broken ankle) and Dainius Zubrus
(fractured right kneecap) and defenseman Paul Martin
"Hopefully, we can get more guys back and keep going here," defenseman Andy Greene
said. "Sooner or later, we'll have the whole team together again."
In the meantime, Greene has been encouraged by the play of the young players who've filled in.
"The young kids have been playing great and are making it tough on the coaches," Greene said. "But that's what you want. You want them to make it tough."