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Niedermayer will play vs. Canucks

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Niedermayer returns to face the Canucks.
The Devils will have Rob Niedermayer back in the lineup tonight against Vancouver, head coach Jacques Lemaire confirmed this morning.

The centerman missed 11 games with an upper body injury he suffered Nov. 4 vs. Washington. After skating on his own for 10 days, Niedermayer began practicing with the team a week ago.

"He had good practices, he feels good," said Lemaire. "From the first practice he felt really good, so I was pretty sure he would play tonight."

For now, Niedermayer's return may not impact Patrik Elias, who has found good chemistry centering a line with Brian Rolston and Jamie Langenbrunner.

To make room up the middle, center Tim Sestito was assigned to Lowell (AHL).

"Right now, (Elias) will stay at center – for the first shift," Lemaire joked. "He will start at center on his first shift."

Jay Pandolfo and Johnny Oduya are still making progress, but neither is ready for game action. Both took part in today's morning skate. Pandolfo (shoulder) has been sidelined for 15 games and began practicing with the team on Monday. Oduya (lower body) has missed 13 games, and returned to practice yesterday.

Pandolfo said he could have played today, if necessary. With the Devils (17-6-1) on a three-game winning streak, including six straight at home, there was less pressure to rush.

"Better off feeling stronger and better every day rather than coming back too early," Pandolfo said. "We have plenty of bodies right now, and the team's doing well, so you don't want to rush coming back."

Pandolfo's conditioning is up to par and he's back to where he feels he can take a hit. There are parts of his game, however, that he'd like to recover before coming back.

"Little bit of strength, battling one-on-one that's probably biggest to get a little stronger at," he said. "I'm not really worried about taking a hit. It's more, you know, if you're battling against a guy one-on-one, being strong on that; that's probably the biggest thing I still have to get a little stronger at."

Tonight's meeting with Vancouver begins a stretch of 10 games in 18 days. The Devils will play a season-high 10 home contests in the month of December.

"I'd like to get back, just don't want to rush back," Pandolfo said. "I want to make sure I'm ready and not put myself at risk out there. I want to be strong, be able to contribute, and play the right way."

He didn't rule out playing Friday versus Tampa Bay or Saturday against Detroit.

"Probably see how I feel tomorrow after practice," he said. "It's basically like I said, a day-to-day thing. It's going to be how I feel when I come in in the morning. If I feel better, feel worse. So far the last three days have been positive. I haven't felt any worse and yesterday I did probably the most activity with battling and all that stuff. Coming in today, I didn't feel any worse, so that's a good sign."

It's still unclear whether Oduya will return to the lineup this week.

"I really don't know now," Oduya said. "Obviously, it's a coaches' decision, too, when I feel I'm in game shape to play."

Oduya began skating on his own last Monday, and said he felt better at today's morning skate than he did at Tuesday's practice.

"It's a lot better today than from yesterday, too. We'll see," he said. "It's a day-to-day thing in how it transpires and how it feels."

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