Head coach Jacques Lemaire has confirmed that the 6-5, 225-lb. centerman will be in the lineup when the Devils visit Ottawa on Tuesday.
Zubrus suffered a leg injury blocking a shot at Nashville on Nov. 19. He rejoined the team for a morning skate on Jan. 20, and took part in his first full team practice on Monday.
“I still think it’s going to improve over time, but I felt pretty good,” Zubrus said. “I can’t complain too much.”
Zubrus has two goals and five assists in 20 appearances this season, and had not missed a game during his first two campaigns as a Devil. He's eager to be back in action.
“(I feel) as good as I can feel right now and I don’t think it’s going to get very much better any time soon,” he explained. “I feel I can handle the load of the games and the practices.”
He indicated the Devils’ upcoming schedule had impacted his target date for a return. It’s not yet certain whether he will play in Buffalo on Wednesday.
“This is my first, real practice, really, where we’re doing 3-on-2s and 3-on-3s and playing 5-on-5s in the end,” he said. “This is (my first) real practice in a long time, I don’t know when the next one would be. We have three games in four nights then we have another two in three nights, Friday, Sunday. After that, again, I’m sure there’s plenty of games. What am I, going to skate by myself for another week or two?"
Lemaire said Zubrus’ versatility is a major asset for the Devils (34-15-1), who entered Monday with a four-point lead over Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division. Zubrus centered Andrew Peters and Nick Palmieri at practice.
“Size, skating, can kill penalties, can play on different lines,” said Lemaire, who was optimistic about Zubrus’ conditioning level. “He’s been on the ice quite a bit. He’s been working after the optionals that we’ve had with the guys. He’s the kind of guy that stays in condition. He’s in good shape.”
The timing of the injury might have worked out to Zubrus’ benefit.
“Maybe a good thing is that it happened early enough in the season where I had time to recover and still play the same season,” Zubrus said. “If this would’ve happened in March or April, it probably would’ve been even tougher.”
Lemaire said Martin Brodeur
will make his 30th straight start in Ottawa. The back-to-back will be a challenge for his squad, which rebounded from a shutout on Long Island to take two of three last week.
“Two good teams,” he said. “Two teams that have been winning lately. They have their guys back. Ottawa’s got a full lineup now and they’re playing great. It’s a good team. We’ll have some work to do.”
• Rod Pelley was back at practice after missing the last three games with a lower body injury.