Jay Pandolfo was the latest player to return to practice, and skated Monday on a line with Rob Niedermayer and Ilkka Pikkarainen. He has missed 15 games since suffering a shoulder injury at Pittsburgh on Oct. 24 and had been skating on his own for the past 10 days.
Pandolfo felt “pretty good” for his first day back.
“I’m just kind of taking it day to day,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing, to see how I feel.”
Though Pandolfo didn’t face much physical contact during his first team skate in more than a month, it was a change from his solo workouts.
“Having to react with another guy is definitely different than skating on your own,” he said.
Pandolfo didn't expect to be ready for Wednesday’s home game with Vancouver, but the December schedule will offer plenty of opportunities. Beginning on Dec. 2, Jersey’s Team will shoehorn seven games into 11 days.
“I don’t know about that,” Pandolfo said of facing the Canucks. “Probably not, but I’ll see how I feel tomorrow after skating today.”
Pandolfo's shoulder, and not his conditioning, will determine when he gets into the lineup.
“I’m feeling fine conditioning-wise,” he said. “I mean, you get into a game, it’s totally different, but I felt good through practice. That’s been the good thing, I’ve been able to continue skating for a little bit, so that’s helped.”
Once the Devils’ iron man, Pandolfo holds the fourth longest consecutive games streak in club history (307). He appeared in every game during three straight regular seasons from 2003-04 to 2006-07. A groin injury in 2007-08 cost him 28 games.
He tallied a goal and an assist in his first three contests before he was hurt in the ninth game of the season.
“It’s frustrating, but I guess it’s better to happen at this point in the season than happen at the end of the year,” he said. “You’ve still got a lot of the season left, which is good.”
Now he’s close to coming back.
“Pretty anxious, but I’ve waited this long so I might as well make sure I’m feeling 100 percent,” he said.
The Devils have overcome a long list of injured regulars to go 17-6-1, scripting one of the NHL’s remarkable stories through the first quarter of the season. Dainius Zubrus
(leg, four games missed) and David Clarkson
(leg, one game) blocked shots a week apart that will keep them both on the shelf for four to six weeks.
Through it all, Pandolfo has been impressed with the team’s resilience.
“I think it’s been great,” he said. “They’ve played really well and a lot of young guys have stepped up and played great, so it’s been really nice.”
Niedermayer has missed 11 games with an upper body injury, but could play Wednesday.
“I have to talk with the trainers, see what they say and sort of go from there,” he said. “We’ll see tomorrow. Hopefully it feels good again.”
Signed as a free agent on Sept. 25, Niedermayer recorded two goals and five assists in 13 games. He wouldn’t indicate that he was targeting Wednesday.
“I’d like to get back in the lineup as soon as I can,” he said. “It’s been a while.”
The centerman took part in the morning skate last Wednesday, then practiced with the team on Thanksgiving.
“It’s nice to practice with the team and with the guys instead of just skating laps,” he said.
Head coach Jacques Lemaire was left with a positive impression.
“They’re skating well,” Lemaire said. “It’s always the puck control and plays that you need a little more time. I’m pleased with looking at the way they’re skating.”
Lemaire offered more good news when he said Johnny Oduya (lower body, 13 games) would practice Tuesday.
“It’s looking better, getting the guys back,” he said. “It’s a big thing for us, especially centers. Center is a huge position. You lose your centers – I’m pleased with what the other guys did there, the players that replaced them – but the regular guys that started at center, they’re good. It’s good that the ones that replaced them did well, so the team did well.”
It's not yet clear where Patrik Elias
will play once Niedermayer is ready. Elias has clicked at center with Brian Rolston on his left wing, and they each had two goals and two assists in Saturday’s 6-1 romp over the Islanders.
“That’s the thing,” Lemaire said. “They’re playing well, so I might leave it like that. But it’s always a line that you can come back (to). Even if you put Patrik on the wing for a period, you can always come back and put him at center depending on teams we play and so on.”