SUNRISE, Fla. - The long wait is over for the New Jersey Devils. Starting goaltender Cory Schneider will be back between the pipes against the Florida Panthers on Thursday night. Schneider returns after missing 16 straight games with groin and hip injuries.
As Schneider returns, the Devils have just 19 games left on their regular season schedule and hold on to the first wild-card spot in the East with 74 points.
"It's great, the guys have done an incredible job [while I was out]." Schneider said. "Keith [Kinkaid] and Eddie [Lack] have just piled up points here for us, and chipped away and got us to where we are. Credit to them, they've done a heck of a job, but now it's up to me. It's one thing to come back and play, but I've got to be as good as these guys have been."
Schneider played for the club's AHL affiliate on Tuesday night to get a full 60 minutes under his belt before returning to the NHL club. He and the Binghamton Devils won the game, 4-1.
"It was good to just get in a game-day routine," Schneider said. "Getting out there and playing 60 minutes, not having any restrictions in controlling drills or controlling shots and just having to read and react [was helpful]."
After the morning skate, coach John Hynes gathered his players at center ice to remind them of the type of team they are up against Thursday. The Panthers are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and are gaining ground on their opponents, just five points out of a wild-card spot.
"It was a reminder that we're playing a team right now that is playing some of their best hockey of the year. They're playing some good hockey, and for us it's about being mentally and physically prepared. The Pittsburgh game is in the past and we have a really good team here tonight."
There will also be a new face in the lineup against the Panthers. Freshly acquired forward Patrick Maroon will make his debut for the Devils. He'll skate on the third line alongside Blake Coleman and Brian Boyle, but will also see time on the first wave of the power play. The power play is an area where Maroon feels he can truly contribute.
"I just try to be a big body in front," Maroon said. "Use my hands as an advantage. Try to find those greasy goals."
Of adding Maroon, Hynes said: "On the power play he's got great hands, great net-front screen guy. He's one of these guys who can make plays out of puck recovery situations. Really just get him in, and like we tell every player that comes in, 'play to your strengths.'"
Game time tonight is 7:30 p.m.
The lineup against the Panthers is expected to look as follows: