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Devils still near top despite list of injuries

by Mike G. Morreale /
NEWARK, N.J. -- The one thing the New Jersey Devils certainly can be thankful for as they enter the holiday weekend is that despite all their injuries, they remain in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Pretty impressive when you consider the Devils are without forwards Jay Pandolfo (dislocated right shoulder), Rob Niedermayer (upper body) and Dainius Zubrus (fractured right kneecap), and defensemen Paul Martin (broken arm) and Johnny Oduya (lower body).

And it won't get any easier Wednesday when the Devils host the red-hot Ottawa Senators, winners of four straight and six of their last nine. The Devils, meanwhile, will be looking to snap a season-high three-game winless streak (0-2-1).

"By no means did we get blown out in any of those three losses, and Nashville and Dallas are tough places to play," Devils scoring leader Zach Parise (27 points) said. "But we're ending up on the other side of those tight games that we were winning. There are still things we can do better and we'll definitely welcome the hurt guys back as soon as they can get back."

Devils coach Jacques Lemaire was happy to see Niedermayer, his checking center, skating with the team at Wednesday's morning practice, but said Niedermayer will miss his ninth straight game.

"It's good to see him on the ice," Lemaire said. "I don't know how long it's going to take, but he'll let us know. He won't play tonight, that's for sure."

"I'll talk it out with the trainers; we have a game plan," Niedermayer said. "I felt good out there. It was nice to get out and practice with the team. The injury has kept me out a few days longer than I thought, but I just have to be patient."

The Devils' lineup will consist of six rookies, including defensemen Tyler Eckford and Matt Corrente, who played their first NHL games last week. They'll join first-year players Niclas Bergfors, Matt Halischuk, Tim Sestito and Mark Fraser on the ice tonight. The Devils activated rookie right wing Ilkka Pikkarainen (flu) from injured reserve this morning and assigned he and rookie wing Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond to AHL Lowell for conditioning.

"There are still things we can do better and we'll definitely welcome the hurt guys back as soon as they can get back." -- Zach Parise

"We're satisfied, but worried in a way," Lemaire said. "The last few games -- the tight games we used to win -- we lost and it seems we lose them by a certain mistake at the wrong time. So that's what you have to correct. But they're learning and getting there."

Eckford likely will be moved to forward against the Senators, and Corrente, who made his NHL debut at right wing against Dallas on Saturday, will be moved back to his natural defensive post. Eckford, incidentally, made his NHL debut on defense against Nashville.

"I'll probably be doing a combination of things, but I'm in the lineup and I'm happy about it," Eckford said. "I'll just go out and follow the lead of the big guys, and basically our line will look to provide energy while getting the puck deep."

Eckford last played forward for the Queen's Park Pirates (PIJHL) in 2001-02, but was determined to be a better fit along the blue line in 2004-05 when he was the highest-scoring defenseman in the BCHL -- finishing with 22 goals and 43 assists as a member of the South Surrey Eagles.

Contact Mike Morreale at
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