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Devils get shot-blocker Volchenkov back in lineup

by Mike G. Morreale
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils will have a key cog back in the lineup on Thursday when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Prudential Center, with the return of defenseman Anton Volchenkov.
The (Bergen) Record reported on Wednesday that Volchenkov did skate on his own Wednesday morning after missing the last two games with a lower-body injury. Coach Peter DeBoer informed the media that there was a chance he could return to the lineup.
The return of Volchenkov is huge for the Devils, who currently stand sixth in the Eastern Conference, four points ahead of seventh-seeded Ottawa.
Volchenkov, who has 2 goals, including a game-winner, 11 points and a minus-3 rating, leads the team with 166 hits and 120 blocked shots while averaging 18:02 of ice time. During the team's morning skate on Thursday, Volchenkov was paired with Peter Harrold.
"He's one of the better D-men on our team and it's kind of good for me to play with him because he's a good stay-at-home defenseman who takes care of his own end … it's comfortable back there with him," Harrold said. "I played a little with him the last stint up, but it's a comfort level with all the defensemen. Everyone here talks a lot and everyone knows what's going on, so they make the transition pretty seamless."
Meanwhile, rookie defenseman Adam Larsson will sit out his second straight game as a healthy scratch. Larsson was forced to leave a game against the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 2 with 5:58 remaining in the third period after being hit hard by defenseman P.K. Subban.
The rookie Swede would produce just 2 assists and a minus-1 rating over the next 16 games before coach Peter DeBoer had seen enough, listing him as a healthy scratch for the first time this season in a victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.
"We had a good conversation prior to the Chicago game about my reasons for doing what I was doing and he understood," DeBoer said. "We had an assistant coach sit with him during the Chicago game and kind of watch the play and point out things we felt would help him when he got back in and be more successful."
For the season, Larsson, drafted fourth by the Devils last June, has 2 goals, 18 points and a minus-7 rating. He ranks third on the team with 44 giveaways but also has 93 hits and 67 blocked shots while averaging 20:44 of ice time.
"There's lots of communication going there, but it's not a daily conversation for me," DeBoer said. "This time of year, we've got a lot of bigger things on our plate and Adam Larsson is a huge part of this organization going forward. But he's not the focal point; the focal point is our team and how we're playing."
DeBoer inserted Harrold, who was called up from the American Hockey League on Monday, into the lineup in Larsson's absence on Tuesday. He responded with two blocked shots in 19:06 of ice time.
There are several players looking to snap out of unusual offensive slumps, including Patrik Elias, who has 1 goal in his last eight games. Zach Parise has 3 goals in his last 13 games, David Clarkson is in the midst of a season-long nine-game goal drought and rookie Adam Henrique has 1 goal in his last 20 contests. DeBoer will have Travis Zajac centering Parise and Kovalchuk to begin the game to see if he can generate more offense.
Here are the possible line combinations for the Devils:
Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - David Clarkson
Ryan Carter - Jacob Josefson - Steve Bernier
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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