SENATORS (12-12-6) at DEVILS (11-15-6)
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NEWARK -- Hit hard by injuries and illness for much of the season, the New Jersey Devils will get a key component back in their lineup Wednesday against the Ottawa Senators when forward Patrik Elias returns after missing five straight games and six of the past seven with a groin injury.
Elias was on a line with Travis Zajac and Martin Havlat at the morning skate.
"I'm better than I was before I came back," he said.
Elias was injured Dec. 2 at the Pittsburgh Penguins. After sitting out the next game against the Toronto Maple Leafs he attempted to return Dec. 6 at the Washington Capitals. He scored a goal in 15:15 of ice time in New Jersey's 4-1 loss but said he came back too soon.
"I wanted to get back and play and help out," Elias said. "Ten minutes in I started getting the same issue again. I tried to go through it again but I couldn't really push. It got worse. The situation we're in, you want to be part of the team, you want to play. I didn't feel horrible, but obviously playing games, doing stops and starts, battling and shooting, it's different than if you go on the ice doing laps. We were a lot smarter this time."
Elias has three goals and 12 points in 26 games.
"I don't know if I can help, but you do want to get back," Elias said. "We're losing some points that are on the table again. We've had some good games, some bad games. We need to get that consistency back and feel good. That's the main thing. You look at [Scott Gomez], he's just free out there. He just plays and that's the way we have to play, all of us."
After playing 15 of their past 20 games on the road (5-11-4), the Devils open a four-game homestand looking to avoid a fifth straight loss. At 11-15-6, New Jersey enters play Wednesday six points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and knows it has to take advantage of a schedule that has it home for eight of its next 10 games.
"The best thing to do right now is wipe out the 32 games, start from zero, start from today," forward Jaromir Jagr said. "We know we have to probably win 35 of 50 to make the playoffs, and just go from there. … You have to work day by day, so I think it's the best thing to do.
"Right now we're scared to win. We have the lead, we're afraid something bad is going to happen. When you put a big picture, big goal, you don't have to worry about it. You have to win a lot of games, but there's still room for mistakes."
Five Senators took part in an optional skate ahead of a game that ends a three-game road trip: defenseman Chris Phillips, forwards Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Colin Greening and Milan Michalek, and goalie Robin Lehner. Phillips, whose 1,166 games played are second on the Senators' all-time list behind Daniel Alfredsson (1,178), returns to the lineup after two games as a healthy scratch.
"It's not easy, I don't care who you are," Phillips said. "It's in our makeup to want to compete. When you're taken out it's tough, but I'm not going to pout. I accept their decision even when you're not happy with it. I'm excited to get the call tonight, and will go out there and try and help this team win."
Here are the projected lineups:
Clarke MacArthur - Kyle Turris - Mark Stone
Mike Hoffman - Mika Zibanejad - Bobby Ryan
David Legwand - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Milan Michalek
Erik Condra - Curtis Lazar - Alex Chiasson
Mark Borowiecki - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Cody Ceci
Chris Phillips - Eric Gryba
Scratched: Colin Greening
Injured: Zack Smith (wrist), Marc Methot (back), Chris Neil (lower body), Patrick Wiercioch (undisclosed)
Scott Gomez - Adam Henrique - Jaromir Jagr
Patrik Elias - Travis Zajac - Martin Havlat
Tuomo Ruutu - Stephen Gionta - Michael Ryder
Jordin Tootoo - Jacob Josefson - Steve Bernier
Andy Greene - Damon Severson
Jon Merrill - Marek Zidlicky
Eric Gelinas - Peter Harrold
Scratched: Seth Helgeson
Injured: Mike Cammalleri (lower body), Ryane Clowe (head), Adam Larsson (mumps), Bryce Salvador (lower body), Dainius Zubrus (leg)
Status report: Cammalleri skated lightly in the morning and is "on the horizon," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. ... Zubrus hasn't skated since sustaining cuts on the back of his left leg during a game at the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 8, but there's no infection. "It's become a little more significant than we thought," DeBoer said. "Nothing serious-serious, but more significant than we thought." ... The Senators will decide Thursday whether to loan forward Curtis Lazar to Canada for the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. "It’s a great program," Cameron said. "Our organization will discuss that. When a final decision is made, I'll give you my opinion." ... Pageau, called up Sunday from Binghamton of the American Hockey League, will make his season debut with Legwand shifting to left wing and Greening a healthy scratch.
Who's hot: Jagr has one goal and four assists in his past five games. He leads the Devils with six multipoint games. ... Gomez has points in three straight (two goals, two assists) and six points (two goals, four assists) in his past five games. … Zibanejad has five goals and four assists his past seven games. ... Legwand has at least one point, including four goals, in seven of his past nine games.