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No decision yet on when Elias will play

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
No date has been set for Elias' return to the lineup.
Patrik Elias' second day of team practice left more questions than it answered. Elias said he felt some soreness Tuesday and doesn't know if he will play in Wednesday's home game against Washington.

Elias reported that he felt, "OK," after completing the practice, which was held on Prudential Center's main rink.

"I felt a little bit tired there at the end," said Elias. "Not physically tired, just the leg didn’t feel 100% today. We’ll know tomorrow, I guess, what they’re going to decide."

Head coach Jacques Lemaire thought Elias looked ready to go, but that the choice would ultimately rest with the left wing.

"We want to make sure that he’s 100 percent – close to 100 percent – and he’s the one that will determine that," Lemaire explained. "The way he’s playing right now, he can play. If it’s (up to) me, he’s going to play. He’s the one that makes the decision."

Elias, the Devils' all-time leading scorer, has not played this season after undergoing surgery in September to break up scar tissue in his groin. He notched 31 goals and 78 points last season to finish second to Zach Parise in team scoring.

Elias returned to practice for the first time on Monday, and said he felt winded after what was a high-intensity session. He has been skating on a line with Travis Zajac at center and David Clarkson at right wing.

"Yesterday, it was a tough practice, it was just, conditioning-wise, I felt really tired," Elias said. "Today I felt OK, just at the end there, we did a lot of turning, stopping, starting. It didn’t feel great. It felt fine, but it didn’t feel great, especially there at the end. And I’m not talking about hockey sense, because that’s going to take a while."

Elias said he hopes to ease back into action once he does finally return.

"Physically, I can go out and play. I don’t think I can go out and play 20 minutes right from the get-go," he said. "I can go out there if I feel 100%. Yesterday I felt good; there was no issue. Today I felt a little sore in there."

He said he would have a discussion with the training staff after participating in Wednesday's morning skate. The schedule continues at home against the Islanders on Friday and at Ottawa on Saturday.

"If I felt like I did (Monday), I probably would go," he said. "Today, at the end I felt a little bit of soreness. Don’t really know how to describe it, but just couldn’t push off at the end, a little bit, as hard as I wanted to. Obviously, it was two totally different practices than what I’ve been used to."

The 8-4-0 Devils have won two of three since losing Paul Martin (forearm) and Jay Pandolfo (shoulder) for four to six weeks. After dropping back-to-back games to start the year, New Jersey has prevailed in eight of its last 10.

"No sense in rushing, but the guys are doing well; they’re playing fine," Elias said. "I’d like to get out there as soon as possible – that’s not even an issue. I just didn’t want to get out there and be out there for five minutes and then take a week off again."

Jersey's Team improved to a franchise-best 7-0 on the road with Saturday's 2-1 shootout win at Tampa Bay. They are still trying to find their rhythm at home, however, where they have opened 1-4-0. The point of having practice on the main ice surface, Lemaire said, was to give the players some added familiarity with their home rink.

The players won't be staying in hotels before home games – just yet.

"We're not at that page yet," Lemaire joked.

An upper body injury has shelved Alex Ovechkin for Wednesday, but Lemaire said the Caps are dangerous even without the two-time reigning MVP on the ice. The Devils were victorious in their lone meeting with Washington this season, a 3-2 shootout decision in D.C.

"When I watched their games, when I saw Ovechkin went out and stopped playing, you know what, their team played better," Lemaire said. "Lot of guys elevated their games because he wasn’t in. That’s what usually happens. Not that you don’t miss a guy like him. Everyone elevates their game. They have enough skills there. Him, he’s an attraction, that’s what he is."

Langenbrunner says Devils will need to be at their best vs. Caps, with or without Alex Ovechkin.
Jamie Langenbrunner was back at practice after a rest day on Monday.

"I'm going with the theory that you take a few days off, you should come out of it and score a goal," the captain joked.

Langenbrunner skated Tuesday's practice with Rob Niedermayer and Zach Parise, and knows what Elias will bring once he's healthy enough to return. 

"He's a pretty talented hockey player," he said. "What'd he have, 78 points last year? So I don't think we underestimate how valuable he is to this team. He's a 30 goal scorer and a guy that knows how to play the game and knows how to win. Plus, he can play in all situations. I think he'll be a big addition when he comes back."

Road success has helped to mitigate the Devils' struggles at the Rock. Langenbrunner wouldn't parse out any moral victories from the disappointing home start.

"Should I go with Bill Parcells' 'You are what your record says you are?'" he asked. "We're 1-4 at home. It's unacceptable. You need to win your home games, and thankfully for us we've taken care of some business on the road and eked out a couple of shootout wins that have definitely masked that home record. We a chance to still rebound from it – we haven't buried ourselves."

For Langenbrunner, practicing on the main rink wasn't about the team finding a comfort zone in its own building.

"I don't know if it's a comfort thing for us," he said. "For us, we just haven't played well at home. Our penalty kill hasn't been as good at home, our power play hasn't been as good, our 5-on-5 play hasn't been as good. Put those three things together and you're not going to win that many games."

With or without Ovechkin, Langenbrunner said the Devils will need to be sharp against a dangerous Capitals' offense.

"It's still obviously a very talented team and a very good team," he said. "If we think just because he's not going to be here that it's going to be an easy game, then we'll be 1-5 at home before you know it. I think you go at that team and respect that team. Our team still comes to play when Patrik's out of the lineup or when Marty (Brodeur) was out of the lineup, so I don't think you're going to see any different from that team."

• Johnny Oduya has not practiced this week, and Lemaire confirmed the defenseman will miss Wednesday's game. Oduya has not seen game action since suffering a lower body injury last Thursday at Boston.

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