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Sutter expects Rolston return in Philadelphia

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Rolston could be back Thursday in Philly. – Brian Rolston appears poised to return for Thursday's game in Philadelphia. John Madden, sidelined for the last four games with a sore foot, is also expected back.

Head coach Brent Sutter is optimistic about his team's improving health, and said Wednesday that he hopes to preserve the chemistry that produced a season-high five-game winning streak in the final six games of November.

The Devils (12-8-2) are tied with Carolina for seventh in the East, three points behind the sixth-place Flyers. Having played 10 of 13 outside the Atlantic last month, they will face division opponents six times in December.

"It's a tough spot for guys to come back with injuries, because we see the standings and where things are, and points are crucial," Sutter said. "Players have to come back and they have to be at their best. They can't be average. If they're average they can't play. So, it's kind of a Catch-22. That's why as a coach you have to work them into situations to help them succeed and help your team to succeed. You can't have average hockey, you need everyone at their best."

Rolston, who has missed 18 games with a sprained ankle, began practicing again on Monday, while Bobby Holik, out since Oct. 18 with a broken pinkie, returned Tuesday. The recovery of their two key offseason acquisitions have been welcome signs for the Devils, who have lost 81 man-games to injury this season.

Goaltender Martin Brodeur underwent surgery on Nov. 6 to repair a biceps tendon, and defenseman Andy Greene remains out of action with a broken hand.

"It's not like we're just bringing one guy [back]," said Sutter. "It's been something that's been a work in progress here for the last few days where you're slowly getting some guys back. You'll get [Madden] back, Brian hopefully, Bobby soon, and hopefully Greenie here soon. So you want to make sure you don't take a step back because you're worried about guys catching up."

Sutter will keep an eye on the conditioning level of the returning players, as the month ahead includes four back-to-backs and two stretches of three games in four nights.

"Fact is, guys like Brian and Bobby, it is going to take some time. It's not going to happen overnight. They've been out of the lineup for a long time. They just started practicing with us. It's one thing to be in practice condition, it's another to be in game condition, not only physically, but mentally too."

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