Decision expected Tuesday on Parise's return
|Parise's return date still uncertain. GETTY IMAGES|
Parise, who has missed 63 games, is close to returning and said Monday’s practice was the best he’s felt since rejoining the team last Thursday.
But Ilya Kovalchuk, Colin White and Anton Volchenkov were all absent from the ice Monday as they continue to nurse various bumps and bruises.
“I think today was the step in the right direction, for sure,” a hopeful Parise said. “But I’m still not sure. Unfortunately, that’s only the second team practice that I’ve had. It was really good, I thought, but I don’t know. I guess we’ll make that call [Tuesday]. I’m not sure yet.”
There has been no official confirmation yet that Wednesday will indeed be the day. Parise underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in November, and has not played since Oct. 30. He resumed light skating on March 3.
“I’m excited for whenever it is, whether it’s Wednesday, Friday or Saturday, I’m still not sure,” he said. “I guess [Tuesday] will be a big deciding factor on how I feel. But really, I’m still not sure. I don’t know yet.”
Kovalchuk reported that’s he’s “still a little bruised” after taking a Thomas Vanek shot in the foot Saturday in Buffalo, but expects to practice Tuesday. White and Volchenkov both suffered lower body injuries Friday in Pittsburgh.
“I don’t know what he tried to do: dump it in, or score from the red line,” Kovalchuk said of the Vanek play, which happened during the Devils' 2-0 loss to the Sabres.
Parise traveled with the team this weekend, taking part in the morning skates. There were more signs Monday that he’s closer to being ready.
“During those down-low drills, I felt like the timing is getting a lot better,” Parise said. “I’m able to make decisions a little quicker, so those are the things that I’m looking for right now.”
He skated with Travis Zajac and Nick Palmieri, replacing Kovalchuk on the top line. Parise and Zajac share a chemistry that has helped propel them to career seasons in the past.
“That was definitely nice getting to play with him again,” Parise said. “I definitely felt like we were still able to find each other out there. That’s a good sign, too, that we haven’t lost that ability yet.”
Lemaire sensed that Parise and Zajac were happy to be reunited after Zajac took a shot so hard that it cracked the glass. An arena crew had to replace the fractured pane while practice continued at the opposite end of the rink.
“Zach had the same sweater as Travis, Travis went on and broke the glass,” Lemaire said. “He was all pumped up and said, ‘I’m going to shoot now.’”
The coach doesn’t plan on moving either Parise or Kovalchuk to the right side, and won’t try them on the same line. Still, the coach will have decisions to make at left wing.
“Zach will probably not play with Kovy,” Lemaire said. “Myself, I don’t think it’s a good fit. I don’t like that fit.”
He wouldn’t get into specifics on why, at this year's training camp, he felt the pairing didn't work.
“They always can play together – anybody can play,” Lemaire offered. “Now, it’s what’s the best for the line, for the team, for this, for that.”
Kovalchuk is likely to see new linemates during the final seven games of the season.
“That’s a big question,” Lemaire said. “Now you’ve made me think. It will be an experiment to see where they’re all going to fit.”
The coach sounded as though he expects to tinker a bit.
“Every day,” he said. “At the game, too. I think we’ll try different combinations there, to see who will fit better with who.”
Meanwhile, foot ailments are nothing new for Kovalchuk, who had to deal with a broken foot last season while with Atlanta.
“It just felt a little weird yesterday and it felt kind of the same, so I just wanted to make sure it’s not broken,” Kovalchuk said.
He joked that he was just picking up the slack with Volchenkov out of the lineup.
“So now I’m a shot blocker,” Kovalchuk said. “Volchie wasn’t there, so somebody had to block shots. Maybe I’m going to wear Marty’s pads next game.”
Kovalchuk offered his own solution for the logjam at left wing.
“I think we have not enough D, so maybe I’ll play on D,” he said.
He will probably go back to wearing the foot guards he used for parts of last year.
"I think I will. You never wear them before something happens. After, you always want to make sure," he said.