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At the Rink: Ducks at Devils

by Dan Rosen

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac will play against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday after missing the previous seven games with an upper-body injury.

Zajac hasn't played Dec. 3 against the Carolina Hurricanes. He was injured in the first period of that game.

"We're excited to have him come back in, and happy for him, too," Devils coach John Hynes said. "He was out a little bit longer than we thought he was going to be, but he worked hard so it's good to get him back."

Zajac returned to skating with the team Thursday morning before a 5-1 loss against the Florida Panthers. At the time he said he still could slightly feel some effects of his injury. He participated in a full practice Friday and was on the ice for an optional skate Saturday morning at Prudential Center before saying he was ready to go.

"There's no hesitation or trying to protect myself or anything like that," Zajac said. "I think that's the key, if you can go out there with no restrictions. Should be 100 percent."

Zajac will play on a line with right wing Kyle Palmieri, who has six goals and nine points in his past 10 games. They were together before Zajac got hurt and both players, and Hynes felt they were establishing chemistry that showed they could be a solid forward pair for a long time.

"It seemed that way, that Travis and Kyle were playing real well," Hynes said. "Kyle has continued that on even in Travis' absence and that's a tribute to Palmieri and his work ethic and commitment. But Travis is such a smart player and the way he's playing with his aggressiveness this year, if we put those guys back together, which we will tonight, there should be some chemistry. It comes back to [Zajac's] hockey smarts and his work ethic. He's a versatile guy that can play with multiple guys."

Keith Kinkaid will start in net for the Devils. Cory Schneider will play Sunday against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden.

The Ducks did not have a morning skate at Prudential Center. They have lost two in a row, including 3-0 at the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. It was the seventh time they've been shut out this season, and have been limited to one goal or fewer in 15 games.

Hynes, though, said the Ducks need to be respected and considered a dangerous opponent despite their scoring woes. He called their League-low 5-on-5 shooting percentage (4.6 percent) "unsustainable."

"If you look at where they're at in the standings you can see where they sit, but then you look above them and they're still clearly right in the mix," Hynes said. "The league gets better as the season goes on and they have experience. Going into the year I think they were picked to be in it, and that hasn't changed. Even when you look at their quality of play, they play some pretty solid hockey. The puck hasn't gone in the net for them. They've got veteran coaches, a veteran team. They're the same team that was picked to be real good. They're right there to go from last to right into the playoffs. That's motivating. A lot of times the rubber meets the road in the next 25 games and they're a team that should be highly respected."

Here are the projected lineups:


Jiri Sekac - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry

Patrick Maroon - Ryan Kesler - Jakob Silfverberg

Rickard Rakell - Mike Santorelli - Andrew Cogliano

Carl Hagelin - Shawn Horcoff - Chris Stewart

Cam Fowler - Kevin Bieksa

Hampus Lindholm - Josh Manson

Clayton Stoner - Sami Vatanen

John Gibson

Frederik Andersen

Injured: Simon Despres (concussion)

Scratched: Korbinian Holzer

Suspended: Nate Thompson


Mike Cammalleri - Adam Henrique - Lee Stempniak

Jiri Tlusty - Travis Zajac - Kyle Palmieri

Patrik Elias - Jacob Josefson - Tyler Kennedy

Sergey Kalinin - Stephen Gionta - Tuomo Ruutu

Andy Greene - Adam Larsson

John Moore - Damon Severson

Jon Merrill - David Schlemko

Keith Kinkaid

Cory Schneider

Injured: Bobby Farnham (upper body)

Scratched: Eric Gelinas, Stefan Matteau, Jordin Tootoo

Status report: Hynes said he might have to make a game-time decision with his defensemen because of a possible injury to Schlemko. Zajac is replacing Tootoo in the lineup… The Ducks did not have a morning skate. The above lineup is what they used in the third period against the Sabres on Thursday.

Who's hot: Palmieri has points in back-to-back games and in six of his past seven (4-3-7). He has 13 goals this season, one shy of his career high. He scored 14 in each of the past two seasons with the Ducks. … Kalinin has two goals in his past four games after scoring two in his first 26.


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