The New Jersey Devils will be a far different team when they return from the Christmas break to face the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
Most notably, the Devils will have a new coaching structure. Scott Stevens and Adam Oates were introduced as co-coaches Saturday morning. Stevens will be in charge of the defensemen and Oates the forwards. Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, who fired Peter DeBoer as coach Friday, will also be behind the bench Saturday, serving in a supervisory role.
Stevens and Oates will be co-coaches for the rest of the season. Lamoriello plans to return to the background as soon as he is confident the unique setup the team is employing behind the bench is functioning smoothly.
But the Devils will also look different on the ice as the mumps outbreak continues to hit the team hard.
Forward Michael Ryder is the latest Devil to be sidelined with the illness. He will miss the game Saturday, joining forward Patrik Elias, who was diagnosed earlier this week and missed the game against Carolina on Wednesday. Forward Martin Havlat will also miss the game. He does not have the mumps, but has been sidelined with the flu. He skated on his own Saturday and could be ready soon.
Defenseman Adam Larsson and forward Travis Zajac have also had the mumps, but have returned to action. Goalie Scott Clemmensen, presently in Albany of the American Hockey League, was recently diagnosed with the mumps, Lamoriello said Saturday.
It was not all bad news on the injury/sickness front, as the Devils will welcome back forwards Dainius Zubrus, who was out with lacerations on his leg, and Jacob Josefson, who had a groin injury. Tim Sestito, meanwhile, has been recalled from Albany to give the team 12 healthy forwards.
The Devils spent much of their Saturday morning on-ice session listening as Stevens and Oates, as well as assistants Tommy Albelin, Mike Foligno and Chris Terreri, preached the tenets of the team's revamped philosophy.
There were no line rushes.
"It's going to be a strange game, no question about it," forward Jaromir Jagr said.
The coaches, however, insist the team will be ready for a game against its biggest rival, especially with the Rangers holding a nine-point lead on the Devils in the Metropolitan Division.
"It's baby steps," Stevens said. "Some of the stuff we are doing, most of the guys have already played this way and know what we are doing. It should be an easy transition. Yes, there are going to be some gray areas and some things we will need to talk about. Right now, we want to keep it simple. We don't have much time to prepare, so we have really simplified it. These guys are pros and they may have to think a bit and that's OK."
The Rangers return from the three-day break hoping to maintain the momentum they developed in December. They have won seven in a row and are 8-2-0 in their past 10, taking 16 of 20 available points.
The lineup should be very similar to the one that closed out the pre-break schedule with a 4-2 victory against the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers may welcome forward Lee Stempniak back into the lineup. He has missed the past three games with the mumps. Defenseman John Moore may also return to the lineup, replacing Matt Hunwick. Moore had been scratched for the past four games.
New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said each could be a game-time decision.
Here are the projected lineups:
Mike Cammalleri - Scott Gomez - Jaromir Jagr
Adam Henrique - Travis Zajac – Dainius Zubrus
Tuomo Ruutu - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier
Tim Sestito - Jacob Josefson – Jordin Tootoo
Andy Greene – Peter Harrold
Jon Merrill - Marek Zidlicky
Adam Larsson – Eric Gelinas
Scratched: Seth Helgeson
Injured: Bryce Salvador (lower body), Damon Severson (left ankle), Ryane Clowe (head), Patrik Elias (mumps), Martin Havlat (illness)
Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Martin St. Louis
Carl Hagelin - Kevin Hayes - J.T. Miller
Tanner Glass - Dominic Moore - Jesper Fast
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Dan Boyle
Matt Hunwick - Kevin Klein
Scratched: Lee Stempniak, John Moore
Status report: If Stempniak returns, it is expected he would play on New York's third line and Miller would be scratched. If Moore returns as part of the third defense pairing, it is expected Hunwick would sit. … Helgeson dressed as a seventh defenseman Wednesday as New Jersey went with just 11 forwards. He is likely to be a healthy scratch Saturday.
Who's hot: Lundqvist has won six straight decisions. Nash had three goals on Wednesday and has five in his past four games. He has 23 on the season. … Gomez has seven points in his first dozen games with the Devils, but only three in his past five.