After crossing nine time zones and traveling more than 5,000 miles to get home, the Devils’ Olympians were on the ice for practice Monday and ready to step back into an NHL marathon that still has 23 games to go.
Jaromir Jagr, fresh off his fifth Olympic appearance, offered a rave review of his experience in Sochi.
“I think, to me, it was probably the best Olympics I've been in,” said the Devils’ leading scorer. “The organization, everything, was the best. The buildings, facilities, the arenas – everything was brand new. They spent a lot of money, but they did a good job.”
Jagr was in more familiar territory at AmeriHealth Pavilion, skating with linemates Dainius Zubrus and Travis Zajac. Patrik Elias was back at center, between Adam Henrique and Damien Brunner.
Elias' fourth Olympics were memorable, but for the wrong reasons. Illness limited him to just three of the Czech Republic's five games, though he returned in time for the Czechs' quarterfinal loss to the United States.
"Something was going around there," Elias said. "A few of the athletes got sick. I got a fever for four days, I couldn't really breathe much, I had bad bronchitis. Wrong time, but I'm happy to be back now and feeling well."
Brunner’s first Olympics ended in the qualification round, but the Swiss winger enjoyed his time in Russia.
“We went to watch some curling and some short track speedskating and that was pretty exciting,” Brunner said. "The whole feeling, when you got to the food hall, you saw all the athletes every day, that was pretty special. The setup was unbelievable, how they built everything. It was really nice.”
With the Winter Games in the rear view, the quest for a playoff berth is back in focus. The season resumes Thursday against Columbus at Prudential Center.
“I think all we need to do is score the one extra goal in those games,” Jagr said. “Keep the same defense we play, our goaltenders are awesome. Find one extra goal in the game. That would make a huge difference with all the ties we would win. One extra goal is what we need."
Jagr believes good things could happen for the Devils in the postseason if they can get in.
“I feel like we have a good enough team to do some damage,” he said. “We were able to play close games and even beat the best teams in our conference. We play Boston pretty well, Pittsburgh. Once you get in, you never know. The way we play defense, we might surprise a lot of teams."
Keeping No. 68 fresh after the Olympics will be a top priority. Head coach Peter DeBoer knows his best offensive player will need to be at the top of his game down the homestretch.
"He got back on Thursday, so we gave him Friday, Saturday, Sunday off,” DeBoer said. "He’s back out here today. I’m probably more worried about it than him. When you speak to him about it, he sees it as a non-issue and his play seems to have backed that up. I think our schedule fits that it should help him. We’re not overloaded here the last 23 games although we have six or seven back-to-backs left.”
Jagr doesn’t anticipate any ill effects from his Olympic participation, though.
"Because I played those games over there, I think it’s going to be better than for guys who took a rest,” he said.
• Eric Gelinas was recalled from Albany (AHL) and was paired with fellow rookie Jon Merrill.
“I think we know what he can provide offensively,” DeBoer said of Gelinas. "Sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward. Hopefully his time down there is well served and he can potentially help us up here."
Dainius Zubrus - Travis Zajac - Jaromir Jagr
Adam Henrique - Patrik Elias - Damien Brunner
Ryane Clowe - Andrei Loktionov - Michael Ryder
Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold
Eric Gelinas - Jon Merrill