Devils prepare for Isles; Fraser returns
Because if they are to stay away from at least a share of the NHL cellar, they will likely need a victory against the New York Islanders Thursday at the Rock.
The Devils (9-22-2) entered Wednesday's action with a two-point lead on the bottom spot held by the Islanders. A win and they could move as many as four points away from the League basement, pending the outcome of the Islanders' meeting with Tampa Bay.
A loss and the Devils would be precariously positioned with an Isles team that has dropped 21 of its last 23, including a 14-game losing streak. New York snapped that skid with a 2-0 win over the Devils on Nov. 26.
“We need to get a win,” John MacLean said. “It happens that we’re playing the Islanders (Thursday). But we need, ourselves, to get a win, and that’s what we need to focus on.”
MacLean’s squad is looking to end a slide that reached three games with Tuesday’s 5-1 defeat in Washington. The Devils’ last five wins have all come on home ice.
“Unfortunately for the Islanders, they’ve been through that for a few years,” said Martin Brodeur, who will make his seventh straight start. “Us, it’s new to us. We’re looking at us more than anybody else right now. It wasn’t the Washington Capitals, it was us last night. That’s the bottom line. I think we have to look at ourselves, what we do, and try to make it a better team.
“Games, they come and go, but our team is staying together. We need to figure something out and start having fun playing the game. The only thing is winning that will bring that back.”
— Mark Fraser (fractured hand) has missed 29 games, and returned to practice with the team on Wednesday. He’s been cleared for contact, but won’t play Thursday.
“It’s been a very long time,” Fraser said. “It feels good (to be back). I’ve been skating for a few weeks now, so the legs and everything feel good. It’s just nice to get out there with the guys and try to get some timing back, and just be a part of the team again.”
He’s taking it day by day for now.
“I’ve yet to really make a hit or take a hit, battle, move the puck,” Fraser said. “I’ve had one practice with the guys; one practice with the guys is a lot different than getting ready for a game.”
MacLean said it’s tough for a player to miss eight weeks, adding there’s no window for a return just yet. Fraser was hurt in the fourth game of the season, fracturing his hand in a fight with Buffalo’s Cody McCormick on Oct. 13
“I’m not sure what the window is because it kind of falls in a funny spot here with the holidays coming up, then playing right after the holidays,” MacLean said. “We’ll have to just monitor it day to day and see where he’s at when we get some practice time.”
–- MacLean reviewed the video of Tuesday’s loss with the team. Patrik Elias’ power-play tally tied it, 1-1, in the second period before Washington responded with four unanswered goals.
“We made some mistakes and we paid for them, so you have to watch them to try and correct them and try not to make the same mistakes over again,” MacLean said.
The coach said he emphasized the importance of players calling out assignments and reads on the ice.
“Talking is communicating on the ice, whether it’s, ‘I got him,’ or ‘You get him,’” he said. “You can’t read somebody else’s mind, but you can tell him what you’re thinking. Communication needs to be a little better.”
–- Ilya Kovalchuk (ill) did not practice but is expected to play Thursday.