Elias has missed the last nine games after suffering a concussion at Colorado on Jan. 16. He took a hard hit by Avalanche defenseman Ryan Wilson as he tried to gain the Colorado zone and eventually had to be carried off the ice on a stretcher.
“I was pleased with the first day,” said Elias, who has 10 goals and 16 assists in 32 games this season. “I felt really good out there for the first half an hour, then just with endurance, I think, I got a little tired. I was just smart about it.”
He was slotted on the right side of a line with Brian Rolston at left wing and Dainius Zubrus
at center, and recounted the Wilson hit after practice.
“I remember everything because I watched it, the way it developed and everything,” said the Devils’ all-time leading scorer. “When I watched it, I saw that I had a guy chasing me from behind; he got a stick on me. I tried to protect the puck on the backhand, put the puck into the offensive zone and all of a sudden, I got hit. As soon as I twisted my body, I lost control of what was going on in the middle. I didn’t see the guy in the middle coming in. Looking at that, it wasn’t a dirty hit. It just happened.”
Elias flew back from Denver with the team on the night of the injury, and said the concussion symptoms lasted anywhere from a week to 10 days. He wasn't sure if Wilson’s hit had made any contact with his head, or if the force of the hit alone had done the damage.
“I had all the symptoms that are normal with a concussion, mild concussion; whatever they graded it,” he said. “Getting a headache, blurred vision for the first few days. I was just tired. I slept all the time, and that’s normal. I talked to the doctor as soon we came back here, and he was good with me. The good thing was, I had a reaction and everything was fine.”
Initially, downtime was an important part of the recovery process. He must still meet with doctors to tell them how he felt during Thursday’s drills.
“The most important thing for me was to just relax,” he said. “The first week, that’s all I was doing, then I started feeling better. I started going for walks and you feel better. You have a couple of good days, then you don’t feel as good the next day. Overall, I think it was the normal process of having a concussion.”
The Devils, who have dropped eight of their last 11, are eager to get Elias back in the lineup. They have been shutout four times in its last 12 outings and need the offense that Elias provides.
It is not yet known whether Elias will return this weekend. New Jersey hosts the Maple Leafs on Friday before visiting Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
“He’s a good player,” Zubrus said. “He’s never going to lose the hockey sense that he has, or the playmaking abilities. That’s always going to be there. It’s good for him that he got into a regular practice, where there’s a lot of scrimmaging so at least he gets a good feel again of what it would be. He’ll definitely be welcome back.”
Head coach Jacques Lemaire said No. 26 is not quite ready.
"There's a process that you have to go through before a guy comes back and plays," Lemaire said. "That's what he's doing right now: going through the process."
Elias wants to be back on the ice and contributing in New Jersey as soon as possible.
“You want to get back just to get back playing,” he said. “If the team is not going the way we’d like to then you want to get out there and help. Even just talking to doctors, you want to be careful. You don’t want to get out there and not feel close to 100 percent. If you feel OK and you get hit again, if that might happen, that’s the worst thing that can happen for people with concussions, when you get another one right after that. I’m not worried about it. Hopefully, I don’t usually put myself in that position, but it’s just the way it worked out. It’s not going to change anything about the way I play.”
He missed the first 13 games of the season to rehab offseason groin surgery, but feels further along in his recovery this time.
“I feel fine physically, the way I skated and everything. I felt all right,” he said. “It hasn’t been that long; three weeks. I’m fine.”
Elias, who was named captain of the Czech Republic in December, hasn’t ruled out the Olympic tournament, which begins in Vancouver on Feb. 16. Devils defenseman Paul Martin was forced to withdraw earlier this week because of a forearm injury sustained at Pittsburgh on Oct. 24.
“I didn’t think about it, to be honest, throughout the whole thing if there was a possibility to miss it or not,” he explained. “It happened with enough time before the Olympics were going to start and I was making progress the way I was supposed to. I’m optimistic about getting back to play here quickly, and just be part of the team again here and do the job. We’ll evaluate when that’s going to be.”
Elias’ first priority, however, is the Devils.
“I want to get back here,” he said. “I still have six games left here – that’s a lot of games. The team is at the point where sometimes you go through those slumps or whatever you call it. We’re not playing with the lightness with that we’ve been playing the first half of the season. I just want to come back and help the guys, help the team get back on track.”NJD NOTESAndy Greene
had a rest day on Thursday. He logged over 28 minutes of ice time in Tuesday's 3-0 loss at Toronto, and leads all Devils with an average of more than 24 minutes a game.
"I call that a rest," Lemaire said. "There's all types of rest. Could be a rest because the guy's really tired. Could be a rest because he's not playing good; you give him a rest. Could be a rest because he doesn't feel 100 percent. He could have a headache."