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Devils visit Washington without Carter

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils

The Devils headed to Washington on Wednesday without Ryan Carter, who will miss this week's games against the Capitals.

Stefan Matteau, a healthy scratch for the last three contests, returns to the lineup and will fill Carter's spot on the third line with Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier.

Carter (upper body) was injured in the second period of Monday's game versus Ottawa and did not return. He did not make the trip to D.C., where the Devils play a rare back-to-back road set Thursday and Saturday.

"For sure it's going to be a big loss, but we have a lot of depth on this team," Bernier said. "We're going to bring Stef on our line for next game and we're going to try to keep working the same way."

The move is a change for the rookie Matteau, who has seen playing time on the top line with Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk.

"I'm back in the lineup, that's all I want," Matteau said. "Doesn't matter where I am. Even if I'm not in, if it's best for the team; I'm glad to be back in. I'm just going to try to stick and work as hard as I can."

Just as the Devils added Alexei Ponikarovsky to fill in for Dainius Zubrus after his wrist surgery, the hope is that Matteau can step in and help remedy Carter's absence.

"That's what you have depth for," head coach Peter DeBoer said. "That's why we keep around the number of guys we keep around. Hopefully Stef will jump in and it'll be seamless."

Matteau's physical game is considered a constant whether he's skating with goal scorers or grinders. He'll keep that mindset heading into the next two contests.

"I don't change my game," Matteau said. "(Gionta and Carter) are two great players, high-energy players. It's obviously not the same kind of game style, it's more of a forecheck game and straight lines. That's what I'm going to do."

Said DeBoer: "I think he might be better suited at this point in his career for probably the line he's going to be playing on (Thursday) night, but we think he has the capability down the road of being able to ride shotgun with a couple of skill guys in your top six. Regardless, his game doesn't change. It's up and down the wing, get to the front of the net, chip pucks in, be physical."

Matteau, 18, has already shown he can do a little of everything. He has a goal and an assist and a plus-3 mark in nine games, with as many hits as shots on goal (14).

"He's one of the guys who can play everywhere: he can play on the first line, he can play on the fourth line, as well," Bernier said. "He's got a lot of speed and very good vision. We're going to try to use that to our advantage."

Gionta welcomed Matteau onboard.

"We've talked a little bit today during practice," Gionta said. "We're still going to keep that same mentality of keeping it simple and just trying to keep that puck down low. Stef's a big body, he protects that puck well, so it should be nice."

Washington (5-9-1) sits last in the Eastern Conference with 11 points, but has won three of its last four. They saw a three-game winning streak snapped with Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Rangers.

"They've been getting better," DeBoer said. "Their team game is probably 50 percent better than it was (at the start of the season)."

The Devils (9-3-4) have won six of their last nine (6-2-1). They needed overtime for a 3-2 win over the Capitals on Jan. 25.  

The back-to-back road games will be a new experience for DeBoer.

"It's the first time i've done it in the NHL," he said. "If you're going to spend three nights somewhere, I can think of worse places than Washington. It's a good test for us. Get on the road, spend a little time together and hopefully get our game in a good place."

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