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Clarkson returns to practice

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Clarkson nears a return to game action.
As David Clarkson returned to Devils practice on Wednesday, it was announced that Paul Martin has had a setback in his recovery.

Clarkson was back on the ice with teammates Wednesday morning, following five days of skating on his own. He has missed 12 games since a Zdeno Chara slapshot fractured the bone above his right ankle on Nov. 27.

Martin, meanwhile, will miss four more weeks after undergoing minor surgery on his left forearm on Tuesday. Martin was hurt blocking a shot at Pittsburgh on Oct. 24, and has been sidelined for 26 games. Dainius Zubrus (leg, 15 games missed) is expected to begin skating next week.

The Devils are off until Saturday, when they visit Washington. Head coach Jacques Lemaire ruled out Clarkson returning by then, but said next week would be a possibility. New Jersey hosts Atlanta on Monday and Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

“I felt good, really good,” Clarkson said after skating with Rod Pelley and Vladimir Zharkov. “I worked out pretty hard and watched what I ate. There’s a couple of things that are going to come with time, but at the same time, I felt pretty good.”

Clarkson will need a chance to get back into game shape, but Lemaire said his conditioning looks "OK."

“He’s a guy that takes care of himself,” said the coach. “It won’t be long. It’s the game, you could tell. He comes in, you get all the other guys going to their position quick. He comes in, it’s not there yet. The hockey program is not installed.”

Clarkson had gotten off to a hot start with seven goals and eight assists for 15 points in 23 games before going down. He set career highs across the board last season with 17 goals, 15 assists and 32 points.

Coping with a long-term injury was a new experience for the rugged winger, who played in every game last season and has missed only one regular-season game in the last two campaigns.

“I haven’t been hurt before in the NHL, and it bothers you when you want to be a part of the team, do what you can to help and you’re sitting in your bed,” he said. “Originally, I thought it was worse. When I got to the hospital, I had some things done. They went in, did some work and said I was going to be OK, that in four to six weeks I’d be back playing. They were pretty accurate.”

After the injury, Clarkson was kept overnight in a Boston hospital to ensure the cut on his leg wasn’t infected. He said he knew right away that something was wrong.

“When it hit me and I went down, I tried to get back up and put weight on it, and realized something was wrong in there,” he said. “Then I tried to skate a little bit and there wasn’t much there, so I had to just get to the bench because I realized something’s either broken or bad. I got right off, and doctors were there within minutes and cleaned it up.”

He tested it in the locker room thinking he might return to the game.

“I wanted to put weight on it to see if I could go back,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Don’t take my skate off yet, let me see.’ But I couldn’t do anything. It was too painful and pretty swollen. I couldn’t do anything.”

He’s watched as the Devils (26-8-1) have taken off as the NHL’s hottest team. They have won five in a row, 12 of their last 14, and lead the League with 53 points. Martin Brodeur has added the records for all-time shutouts and appearances by a goaltender since Clarkson last dressed.

“I told people this at the beginning of the year, we have a great group of guys in here with great chemistry,” he said. “Marty’s played unbelievable, and it’s just fun to be in here. Even getting back into it, you think you’re going to be a little bit on the outside of it because you haven’t been here. But even when I was out, I talked to guys every day in this room. It makes you feel like you’re still around and you get to laugh and stuff. It’s just a great group of guys and that’s why we’re winning right now.”

Martin, the Devils’ top defenseman, led New Jersey blueliners last season with 33 points (5g-28a). Andy Greene has stepped up in Martin’s absence, but a healthy Martin would further strengthen a Devils offense that’s tied with Chicago for seventh overall in goals per game (2.89). 

“The outside of the fracture has been healing, but the inside has not been healing at the rate we wanted to see it heal,” said Devils’ President/CEO/GM Lou Lamoriello. “There’s been some minor surgery and he was re-casted, so he will be (out) a minimum of four weeks.”

Lamoriello continued: “It wasn’t healing inside the way it should be, at the rate it was. The calcium was healing outside (the bone), but not inside.”

Lamoriello did not rule out Martin joining Team USA for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

“I don’t think that should be affected,” he said. “If he’s selected, which I would assume he will be – I’ll be speaking to (Team USA GM) Brian Burke, certainly, today – this all just came about, and that’s out of my hands.”
The Winter Games open on Feb. 12, with the hockey tournament beginning on Feb. 16.

“I would not go so far as saying this means he misses,” Lamoriello said.
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