Lemaire: Playoff talk premature
White (lower body) will miss second game Wednesday in Detroit
|Lemaire focused on keeping Devils playing as well as they can.|
Until then it’s one game at a time.
“I don’t even think about the playoffs right now," Lemaire said following Monday's optional practice. "I can’t be thinking about that. I don’t know, so many points behind. I’ll be thinking about it if we get five points from eighth place. [Then] I’ll start to think about it. Meanwhile, I’ll try to win games and play as well as we can.”
Entering Monday’s action, Lemaire’s squad trailed eighth-place Atlanta by 20 points with three games in hand.
It would take an incredible comeback by the Devils, winners of four in a row. At stake is their streak of 13 straight playoff appearances, which is the second-longest active streak after Detroit (19).
The Devils (16-29-3) were 9-22-2 when Lemaire replaced John MacLean on Dec. 23. Since then, they have gone 7-7-1 and 6-0-1 in their last seven to kindle hope that with 34 games to go, anything’s possible.
They have scored 28 goals while gathering 13 of a possible 14 points to open the second half. Patrik Elias, the Devils leading scorer and lone 2011 All-Star representative, has put up 12 points (6 goals, 6 assists) in his last 11 games, including points in four straight.
His left wing, Brian Rolston, is in the midst of an offensive about-face that few could have predicted last month when he was placed first on waivers, then on re-entry waivers. Rolston has points in four straight, and four multi-point outings in his last seven games (3 goals, 7 assists).
Martin Brodeur, the NHL’s Third Star for the week ending Jan. 23, has reverted to his stingy ways and has limited opponents to two goals in his last two games, including Thursday’s shutout of Pittsburgh. He was 3-0-0 last week with a 1.34 goals-against average and .949 save percentage.
Backup Johan Hedberg was outstanding in Saturday’s 3-1 win at Philadelphia.
Brodeur made 24 saves in Sunday’s 5-2 triumph over visiting Florida as the Devils stayed unbeaten in regulation in the second half. Ilya Kovalchuk recorded a goal and two assists for his third multi-point outing in his last seven games.
A run like that should do wonders for a team’s confidence, but Lemaire has sounded concerned about his team’s mood, which he said has “dropped a bit.”
“Just dropped a bit,” he said.
“That is the question I’m asking myself,” he said.
Lemaire considered things for a bit before changing the subject.
“I might go fishing in a few days in Florida,” he said.
The rod and reel will have to wait until after Wednesday, when the Devils visit Detroit.
The Red Wings put a 4-1 beating on the Devils at Prudential Center on Dec. 11, long before New Jersey had found its stride. Dan Cleary, Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, and Brad Stuart combined for three goals and four assists, though all four are currently injured and not due back until after the upcoming All-Star break.
Their absence has made for tough going in the Motor City. The Red Wings are 2-3-1 in their last six, and haven’t won a regulation game since Jan. 4 in Edmonton.
Goaltender Jimmy Howard missed two games after bruising his knee on a Derrick Brassard shot in Columbus on Jan. 14. He returned with a 26-save effort in Thursday’s 4-3 overtime win in St. Louis, then made 29 saves in a 4-1 loss to Chicago on Saturday.
Howard is tied for third in the League with 23 wins and poses a tough test. For all of their recent inconsistency, Detroit (29-13-6) still holds a four-point lead for first place in the Central Division.
“I want to play well,” Lemaire said. “It will be a good challenge because Detroit always plays well at home and it’s a good team, one of the best teams in the League. Showing up and working hard and playing a good game there will be a good sign for us.”
After Wednesday, the Devils won’t play again until they host Ottawa next Tuesday. As hot as they’ve been, this might not be the best time for a long layoff. It’s difficult to say whether the All-Star break is a blessing or a curse until that first game back.
“It’s always after the fact that we know or not,” Lemaire said. “We come back, they’re rested, we play hard, we win, ‘Hey, the break was good for us.’ We come back nobody’s focused, ‘They’re on holidays again? I guess the break killed us.’”
Colin White (lower body) missed Sunday’s 5-2 win over Florida, and is not expected to play Wednesday in Detroit.
— Nick Palmieri (upper body) is a “maybe” for Wednesday, Lemaire said. “Hopefully he will be [back].”
Palmieri missed both games this weekend, but practiced Monday. He had been playing on the Devils’ top line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac.
“I’m happy to be back on the ice,” Palmieri said. “I feel good. It’s hard being off the ice for two days, but I feel good today. We’ll see how [Tuesday] goes. The final decision isn’t really mine, but we’ll see I guess.”
The injury has improved with the time off.
“Yeah, a lot,” he said. “It feels a lot better from Thursday until now. It’s improved a lot. I’m expecting it to feel even better [Tuesday], hopefully, and we’ll go from there, I guess.”
— Vladimir Zharkov hasn’t played the last two games due to illness, and hopes to be ready for Detroit.
“He was sick,” Lemaire said. “He looks better there [in practice], but he’s not strong as he can be.”
LW Alexander Vasyunov was assigned to Albany (AHL).