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Ponikarovsky happy to be back in familiar place

by Mike G. Morreale

NEWARK, N.J. -- Left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky returned to the ice for the New Jersey Devils during Friday's morning skate at Prudential Center and will be in the lineup against the Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m. ET).

Ponikarovsky, acquired by the Devils on Wednesday in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for a pair of draft picks -- a 2013 seventh-round pick and a 2014 fourth-round selection -- arrived in New Jersey on Thursday. He'll wear No. 12 and begin the game skating on the top line, with center Travis Zajac and right wing Ilya Kovalchuk.

It's Ponikarovsky's second stint with the Devils. The team acquired him in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes in January 2012, and he had 18 points in 33 regular-season games, and a goal and eight assists in 24 Stanley Cup Playoff games. During the playoffs, he often skated on a line with Zajac and Kovalchuk

He signed with the Jets in July, and had two goals in 12 games.

"It's not too much time gone by [since I last played with the Devils] and it should be not too tough for me to fit in again," Ponikarovsky said. "What did I think when I got the news that I'd be coming back? I knew the team and system of the team I would be coming to play for and it was a feeling like I kind of never left."

Devils coach Peter DeBoer isn't too concerned with Ponikarovsky's learning curve since he's familiar with the team's style of play in all three zones.

"It'll be a new old face in the lineup," DeBoer said. "It's nice to see him and obviously the guys were excited to see him back. He was a big part of our team last year. It's nice that he knows the system and the expectations, so the meetings are a little bit shorter than they would be with a new guy. And we know what he's about and he knows the expectation, so it's all good."

Zajac said he's excited to have Ponikarovsky back in the lineup.

"He's a big body and hard on pucks and tough to play against because of his size and he's got good skill," Zajac said. "He'll help out our line by getting in on the forecheck and making plays. I like playing with him and I think he'll do a nice job."

The wrist injury sustained by Dainius Zubrus during a Feb. 5 win against the New York Rangers played a part in Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello's decision to reacquire 6-foot-4, 225-pound Ponikarovsky. Zubrus underwent surgery on his left wrist Thursday and will be sidelined 4-6 weeks.

The addition of Ponikarovsky means 2012 first-round pick Stefan Matteau will be a healthy scratch for the fifth time this season.

"I spoke with Stefan this morning and he's a great kid," DeBoer said. "He's learning what it's about on a daily basis to play in the NHL. There are so many details of the game that a young power forward needs to learn in order to play and we're spending a lot of time on video with him. He's going to be a very good player; he just has to absorb as much as he can, and when he gets in there, make the most of his opportunities."

DeBoer confirmed that goalie Martin Brodeur would start against the Flyers on Friday and Johan Hedberg will start Saturday against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Here is the probable lineup the Devils will use Friday:

Alexei Ponikarovsky - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk

Patrik Elias - Adam Henrique - David Clarkson

Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier

Krystofer Barch - Jacob Josefson - Bobby Butler

Bryce Salvador - Mark Fayne

Andy Greene - Adam Larsson

Anton Volchenkov - Marek Zidlicky

Martin Brodeur

Johan Hedberg

Injured: Dainius Zubrus

Scratched: Henrik Tallinder, Peter Harrold, Stefan Matteau

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

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