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Devils make rookie blueliner Larsson healthy scratch

by Mike G. Morreale
NEWARK, N.J. -- For the first time in his NHL career, New Jersey Devils rookie defenseman Adam Larsson will be listed as a healthy scratch.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer has opted to give Larsson, the fourth pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, a breather and will replace him in the lineup with recent call-up Peter Harrold.
"He's a young guy and it doesn't hurt to sit up and watch and take a step back sometimes," DeBoer said. "I think, since he's come back from his injury, he's had a few bumps in the road and struggled with some consistency. We've talked to him about that. It's getting to the point in the year here where it will benefit him to sit and watch for a night."
The Devils enter Tuesday's contest against the Chicago Blackhawks at Prudential Center having lost five of their last seven games (2-4-1). The club would not only like to clinch a playoff berth as quickly as possible, but start playing the brand of hockey that enabled it to reach this point in the first place. New Jersey has allowed an un-Devil-like 18 goals in its last five games.
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who will get his third straight start between the pipes, is 0-3-1 in his last four starts and 1-4-1 in his last six. The future Hall of Fame goalie, who on Monday celebrated the 20th anniversary of his NHL debut on March 26, 1992, in a victory over the Boston Bruins at Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, feels Larsson can only benefit from watching.
"He's here for a long time and this is just a bump in the road in his progress," Brodeur said. "It happens with young guys a lot, especially when expectations are high. The depth of our defense has been challenged a little bit with Henrik Tallinder out and (Anton Volchenkov). That makes it tough on younger players with regard to how to deal with it. The games pick up this time of year … the intensity, the drive of teams you play against is higher and you have to step up, and that's one of the hardest things to do as a young player."
Larsson missed 10 games in February with a bruised lower back after taking a check from Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban. In 64 games with the Devils -- he also missed two games for personal reasons -- Larsson has 2 goals, 18 points and a minus-7 rating.
"You can't hide a defenseman, just like you can't hide a goalie," Brodeur said. "That's because defense is where you get exposed the most. For him, it's a matter of working hard. He'll be here a long time and he'll be back in the lineup sooner than people think. But right now, he has to realize he needs to step up a little bit, and that's fine.
"To be honest, I didn't really see anything that the coaches might have saw (with regard to his play). I thought he was playing alright, but they felt he needed that break."
DeBoer wants to see Larsson fresh and confident entering the postseason.
"You don't get to this stage by just jumping in … you go through a progression, and the progression when he came back from injury was to try and let him fight through some of the inconsistencies," DeBoer said. "But at some point, you have to take a different approach and that's where we're at. He handled it well in our conversation, and I'm confident he'll bounce back."
Harrold, who was recalled from the Devils American Hockey League affiliate in Albany on Monday, will skate with Matt Taormina to start the game. In five games with the Devils this season, Harrold has no points and a minus-1 rating. He last played with the club on Feb. 24 in a loss to Vancouver.
Following their contest with the Blackhawks, the Devils will have three more home games, including Thursday's clash with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and two on the road. The club currently sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, has six games remaining and requires a total of six points to officially clinch a playoff spot.
Defenseman Anton Volchenkov did not practice for a second straight day and will likely miss his second straight game with a lower-body injury.
While the Devils lose their leading hitter and shot blocker in Volchenkov, center Travis Zajac returned to the lineup on Sunday. Zajac, playing his first game since Jan. 2, notched one assist in his team's 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He centered Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexei Ponikarovsky against the Penguins, but was working with Kovalchuk and rookie Adam Henrique during the team's full practice session on Monday.
It will mark the first time this season that Henrique will skate on wing.
"It'll be a little change for him playing wing, but he's a smart player and he'll figure it out quick," Zajac said.
The only trio that remained intact from Sunday was Patrik Elias centering Zach Parise and Dainius Zubrus. Nine players decided to rest the legs during Tuesday's optional skate, including Kovalchuk, Dainius Zubrus, Petr Sykora, Elias, Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene, David Clarkson and Marek Zidlicky.
Here are the possible line combinations for the Devils:
Adam Henrique - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Zach Parise - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Petr Sykora - Ryan Carter - Steve Bernier
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Matt Taormina - Peter Harrold
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

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