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Tallinder likely for matchup with Penguins

Friday, 12.30.2011 / 1:26 PM ET / News
By Eric Marin
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Tallinder likely for matchup with Penguins

After a six-game absence, Henrik Tallinder is expected to return for Saturday's home meeting with Pittsburgh. The New Year's Eve puck drop is set for 3 p.m., and the final buzzer will be followed by fireworks outside the Rock.

Tallinder (back spasms) hasn't played since the Devils' shootout win in Florida on Dec. 13, and it has felt just as long.

"It always does," Tallinder said. "It's like, even when you have a day off, you feel awkward when you come back. It feels good. I can't really complain."

Players returning from long-term injury often talk about the need to recover their timing. Even though he's been out of action for just two weeks, Tallinder said he'll need to get that back.

"I think so," he said. "Timing is most important. Just timing and trying to see the play develop and stuff like that. It takes hopefully a couple of shifts, only. We'll see."

Tallinder's return would be a welcome one for coach Peter DeBoer, who has also had to manage without Andy Greene (toe) since Dec. 8. Tallinder averages 21:42 of ice time, which is fourth on the team and second only to Adam Larsson among Devils defensemen.

"He's key," DeBoer said. "Anytime you take out two of your top four defensemen, Tallinder, Greene, out of the lineup for an extended period, those are big holes to fill. I thought our guys all chipped in and did a good job. We got some great contributions from the minors in [Matt] Taormina and [Alexander] Urbom. But they're obviously welcome additions back, because you can't survive long-term without those types of people in the lineup."

The Devils (20-15-1) have won six of their last eight and prepare for a Pittsburgh club that's 5-5-0 in its last 10, including Thursday's 4-2 home loss to the Flyers.

Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang remain sidelined with concussions, but the Penguins still represent a formidable challenge.

"They've showed that the last year," DeBoer said. "Teams like that win the Stanley Cup because of depth. They've got, I think, one of the most underrated defenses in the League. I think they've got four or five very good defensemen there. Their goaltender is all-world. Up front, when Jordan Staal is your third-line center when you're healthy and moves up into the second slot and you've still got [Evgeni] Malkin ahead of him, that's a heck of a hockey team."

• DeBoer was asked about Travis Zajac, who has a goal and an assist in six games back from offseason surgery.

"I thought he's been good," the coach said. "We're asking a lot of him. A significant injury. He's less than 10 games back after starting the season late, really with no skating, training camp. I think he's doing well. He's not near where I think we all know he's capable of getting to, but he's working towards that. It's just going to take some time."

Zajac practiced Friday with his regular trio of Mattias Tedenby and David Clarkson. He centered Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk for part of Monday's contest in Carolina, but the plan for now is to keep him with the third line.

It's a luxury the Devils have thanks to standout Adam Henrique, who's second in rookie scoring with 28 points (10g,18a)

"Because of the emergence of Henrique, we haven't had to throw [Zajac] into the fire, so to speak," DeBoer said. "That's the right way to deal with what he's got."