Head coach Jacques Lemaire would welcome any good news on the injury front and said he may have a player ready for Tuesday’s practice.
“Maybe tomorrow, we’ll have one,” Lemaire said after Monday’s skate at AmeriHealth Pavilion. “Who, I don’t know. I’ll just say one. Maybe two. But one, for sure.”
Even better news for a club that went 0-2-1 on its recent trip is that the Devils could see a player return to game action as early as this week. New Jersey hosts Ottawa on Wednesday and visits Boston on Friday. They entertain the Islanders at 1 p.m. on Saturday, opening a stretch of nine of 10 games at Prudential Center.
“You know what, and this is only me, but I think yes,” Lemaire said. “And it’s only me, for what it’s worth.”
Lemaire's Devils have gotten off to a 14-6-1 start without their full lineup intact for a single game this season. Patrik Elias
returned from offseason groin surgery after Paul Martin (forearm, 12 gms missed), Rob Niedermayer (upper body, eight gms), Johnny Oduya (lower body, 10 gms missed) and Jay Pandolfo (shoulder, 12 gms) had already gone on the shelf. On Friday, Dainius Zubrus
was placed on injured reserve after blocking a shot Thursday in Nashville and will miss the next four to six weeks.
Mistakes on the ice have become magnified in their absence. Lemaire used Saturday's 5-3 loss in Dallas as an example.
“It’s simple the way I look at it,” he said. “Most of the guys play as well as they can play. But there’s always room for some improvement on certain guys. You look at our last game, they get a couple quick goals on us, but the guys they just kept playing. We came back, we’re fine, everything’s fine. And then we did make a mistake here and there that cost goals. And after coming back, we do two more. This is what we’ll have to cut down because we don’t have a full lineup. When you do have a full lineup, then the little mistakes that are costly, they don’t turn out to be goals all the time. The little mistakes there that make a difference in winning and losing right now. When you have the whole team, it’s not the same.
“Now it happens because we’re short. You overplay certain guys. Guys are tired, they’re still on the ice because they feel they might as well be. ‘I stay on, last minute, big line on the other side,’ they want to stay on, then he’s tired and doesn’t react the proper way and the puck’s in the net. It’s the little things like that we have to cut down and be sharper. We overplay some guys. When you do, and that is anybody. I’m going to overplay Zach (Parise) or Travis (Zajac) at a time, instead of playing at that level, they just drop. That’s what it does. And maybe that level is not good enough to win. That’s why they have to stay at their best, that’s it.”
Lemaire sees it as his responsibility to manage it.
“I have to be the one to try and control all that,” he said. “But on the other hand, you see if you get a guy that’s not playing well one night, what do you do? Now you have to give him some ice time, but not too much. Then you give more to the other one, and the other one is getting towards the maximum he can take.”
Few teams have gone unaffected by the injury bug this season. The problem, said Jamie Langenbrunner, begins with NHLers that are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before.
“Obviously, training is more than it ever has been for the players,” Langenbrunner said. “It’s not from a lack of being in shape or anything like that. If anything, it might be the opposite. Everyone is just bigger, faster athletes and injuries are going to happen.”
Harder shots don't help either. Stronger players wielding lightweight composite sticks leads to pucks traveling at higher speeds both in practices and games.
“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that there’s more broken bones now than there ever has been,” Langenbrunner said. “That’s obviously with the sticks and the blade. The combination of the sticks and the ability of guys to shoot the puck. Guys can just shoot the puck harder now. Ten or 12 years ago, you had to get out of the way of Al MacInnis shooting the puck. Now there’s two guys on every team that can hammer it. The puck’s coming that much harder, it’s going to cause that many more problems.
But Langenbrunner doesn’t see hockey ever going back to wood.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I’m sure that would cut back on a few of those (injuries),” he said. “It’d probably be better for hockey in general if they went back to wood.”
Reducing player injuries would be just one potential benefit of the change.
“That’s one of the things that would cut down injuries, cut down costs, and for the NHL, cut down costs for the game at a grassroots level,” said the Devils captain. “I don’t think I’m breaking news by saying that. It’s something that’s obvious that could help. The convenience of those sticks, how responsive they are, it’d be hard for guys to get away from them.”
To mitigate the effects of hard-hitting, high-intensity contests, Lemaire said coaches have to be smart about how they rest their players.
“It’s a tough game,” Lemaire said. “The guys they get hit, they have bruises. Why do you think there are so many optionals? To give the guys their rest. It’s not bad now. It’s only three games a week. Wait until it’s five. We’ll have some weeks there that we’ll have four, five in a week. So what do you do? Guys are sore. It’s better they rest than go back on the ice. Every team’s the same.”
• Lemaire raved Monday about Elias’ play in Dallas. The Devils’ all-time leading scorer returned to the lineup on Nov. 6 and has started to heat up with assists in three straight games (5a).
“How he played last game, this is what we want him to play like,” Lemaire said. “He’s poised with the puck. He controls it well. He doesn’t get excited. He doesn’t get rattled in traffic; he can deal with that. He can make good plays, he can score, he can do everything, and he’s just starting to play better.”
Conditioning has been a work in progress for Elias.
“It’s the shape, too,” Lemaire said. “He hasn’t played for a long time. It takes time before he gets to his best, but I’m really happy to see the way that he played last game. Really happy. Now I can see some stuff that he does that’s unique. Getting the puck, when to dish that puck quick and when to hold on to the puck without losing it, he’s cool with that. I know he’s going to make even better plays later on when everything will be up to normal with him, conditioning-wise.”
• Defenseman Matt Corrente has had to get adjusted to life as a forward. He made his NHL debut as a right wing Saturday in Dallas.
“I definitely didn’t see it coming,” Corrente said. “I was really happy to get in, for sure. Really pumped.”
Corrente shook off his nerves early and finished with 9:54 of ice time.
“They (nerves) were there, first shift,” he said. “Feeling pretty excited, first NHL game. But I got my legs going, got a hit in and felt right at home.”
Corrente was selected 30th overall by the Devils in 2006 and made his pro debut with six goals, 12 assists in 67 games last season with Lowell. He was called up on Nov. 11 after posting three goals and eight assists in 15 games with the Devils’ top AHL affiliate.
“I’m just trying to play off my instincts, let the game come to me, and use my hockey sense,” he said. “They went over some D-zone positioning, and they’re working with me as they see I need it, so they’re working with me pretty well.”
The native of Mississauga, Ontario recalled playing some forward when he was “very young,” but was enjoying every minute of his experience at the NHL level.
“Can’t complain,” he said. “I don’t mind it. It’s fun, not to say defense isn’t. But I’m having fun trying to create some offense.”
• Martin Brodeur
rested Monday and did not practice. He relieved Yann Danis Saturday in Dallas and played the final two periods. Devils' goaltending coach Chris Terreri put on the pads and shared goalie duties with Danis at Monday's skate.