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Kovy skates optional; Skoula eager for NYR

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Kovalchuk skated in Wednesday's optional.
Ilya Kovalchuk and Paul Martin were among the eight Devils on the ice for Wednesday’s optional morning skate.

Jersey's Team was set to face off against the Rangers at 7 p.m.

Jay Pandolfo, Andrew Peters, Anssi Salmela, Martin Skoula, and Vladimir Zharkov also skated, with Yann Danis handling duties in net.

“I like to skate in the morning, especially when we’ve got a couple of guys skating, too,” Kovalchuk said. “Just break a little sweat, feel my sticks a little bit.”

He added: “I woke up this morning and felt like I wanted to go work on my sticks a little bit. Hopefully that’s going to help tonight.”

On a personal note, Kovalchuk has settled into a new apartment and expected his car to arrive from Atlanta sometime Wednesday. Following Tuesday’s team meeting to address their recent slump, he saw the Rangers matchup as pivotal.

“I think it’s a huge game for us,” said Kovalchuk, who has eight points in nine games as a Devil. “We had a good meeting and talked to each other, and that should bring a lot of energy for tonight’s game, especially with the rivalry and that last game against them. That’s huge. For them it’s a big game too because they’re right on the edge (of making) the playoffs, so it will be interesting.”

This will be the second time he faces the Devils’ cross-river rivals since the Feb. 4 trade that brought him from the Thrashers. Kovalchuk was held off the scoresheet in New Jersey's 3-1 loss at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 6.

The Devils (38-23-3) have dropped three of four and have gone 6-12-2 over their last 20 games. But they play nine of their next 13 at Prudential Center, where they're 20-9-1 this season.

“It’s important to have a good schedule,” Kovalchuk said. “You played a lot of road games earlier, and you can take advantage of the home games. I think we need it the most now because we were kind of shaky the last 20 games. We have to turn the season around and be ready for the playoffs.”

Skoula expected to get his first taste of the Devils-Rangers rivalry on Wednesday. The 6-3, 225-lb. defenseman was acquired from Toronto at last week’s trade deadline and said adjusting to a new environment can be a challenge when the team is struggling.
“It’s not easy, but on the other hand, I guess you just try to help the team to get back and win some games,” Skoula said. “I’m just trying to work hard and play my best. I don’t want to say it doesn’t matter what comes out of it, but just playing the right way and working hard, eventually you’re going to get back on a winning track.”

He sounded eager for his first taste of the Devils-Rangers rivalry.

“I just know it’s a rivalry,” said Skoula. “I haven’t been a part of it. It’s pretty nice game to start off with (in New Jersey). It’ll be a fun and intense game.”

Skoula, who logged 21:03 of ice time in his Devils debut Sunday in Edmonton, spent three years under Jacques Lemaire in Minnesota. That familiarity with Lemaire’s system should help Skoula’s transition over the final 18 games of the regular season.

“I know what to expect (from Lemaire) and what’s expected of me,” he said. “That makes it a little bit easier to adjust.”

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