The Devils had a new, but familiar face at Wednesday’s morning skate.
Rob Niedermayer was back with the team for the first time since he was injured against Washington on Nov. 4. He will be unavailable against Ottawa, but has moved closer to a return to the lineup.
“It was good,” said Niedermayer, who began skating on his own two weeks ago. “It was nice to get out and practice with the team. Felt OK.”
Head coach Jacques Lemaire had hoped to have a player back for Tuesday’s practice. Niedermayer decided to play it safe and wait an extra day, and will discuss the next step with the Devils’ training staff.
“We’re just being smart with it,” he said. “You want to come back and feel good, and sort of not come back and have any setback. It feels good.”
The pivot has missed eight games and has no timetable for a return. He expects to skate in at least one full practice before seeing any game action.
“You have to take part in practice and maybe do a few drills where you get hit a bit and see how it is,” he said.
Lemaire wouldn’t say Niedermayer was close to coming back, but was pleased to see one of his injured regulars return.
“It’s good to see him on the ice,” said Lemaire. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but probably today he’ll tell us how he felt and how close he will be.”
With the Devils missing Niedermayer and Dainius Zubrus
(leg, 4-6 weeks), Lemaire said Patrik Elias
will remain at center for the time being. Elias skated Wednesday morning between Brian Rolston and Jamie Langenbrunner, and has drawn praise for his recent play.
The Devils’ all-time leading scorer has assists in three straight contests (5a).
“He has better puck control right now than he did at the start,” Lemaire said. “He’ll skate with it, make plays. He’s just starting to show what he did in the past. And he’s at center because we don’t have any. It’s that simple.”
The coach didn’t rule out keeping Elias in the middle after Niedermayer gets back, though it sounded unlikely.
“Maybe,” he said. “I would be surprised that I’m going to keep it that way when all the centermen come back. When the centermen come back, he’ll probably go on the wing so we can look a little bit like Ottawa having three good lines; three lines that can score.”
• Despite going winless in their last three, the Devils host Ottawa hoping to extend their home winning streak to five games. Lemaire, though, said he’s focused on what's ahead.
“We’re taking one game at a time,” he said. “We’re not looking at the past. We’re trying to get prepared as good as we can for the team we’ll be playing. At the start, we couldn’t win here and we were good on the road. Now it’s turned out the other way around. I’m not trying to follow that stuff.
• Defenseman Tyler Eckford will shift to wing in his third NHL game. New Jersey will use seven defenseman, and move Matt Corrente back to the blueline.
“Eckford can play the point on the power play,” said Lemaire. “He’s also a good skater, he’s good with the puck, so I think he’ll be fine up front.”
• Lemaire will make his 400th appearance (213-128-58) as Devils coach on Wednesday. Mike Mottau will make his 200th in the NHL.