Are the New Jersey Devils Ready For the Stretch Run?

Steve Sullivan is back in New Jersey where he started his NHL career. (Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)

Steve Sullivan is back in New Jersey where he started his NHL career. (Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)

The 2013 NHL Trade Deadline has come and gone and the defending Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils basically stood pat, only acquiring former-Devil Steve Sullivan from the Phoenix Coyotes for a 7th round draft pick in 2014. Currently the Devils are clinging to a playoff spot as the regular season enters it’s final 24 days; GM Lou Lamoriello earlier this season added Alexei Ponikarovsky, Andrei Loktionov & Matt D’Agostini to a roster that will also get a boost when Ilya Kovalchuk returns from his shoulder injury in possibly two weeks.

My THW recaps on the Ponikarovsky & D’Agostini moves can be found by clicking their names.

Coach Peter DeBoer also got another body this week when Dainius Zubrus returned from a 26-game absence following wrist surgery. “I thought he was okay, a lot to ask (of him being) eight weeks out,” said DeBoer following Zubrus’ first game back. “We missed him, but he’s obviously not up to game speed yet. I probably played him too much at 14 minutes (14:14, 3 hits) but we’ll have to find a way to get him up to speed quickly.”

devil's bench

When everyone is healthy DeBoer will have some lineup decisions to make. (Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE)

Here is a version of the potential Devils lineup when Kovalchuk returns from his injury (barring any other injuries):

Forwards:

Kovalchuk-Loktionov-Henrique

Elias-Zajac-Clarkson

Ponikarovsky-Zubrus-Sullivan

Carter-Gionta-Bernier

Extras: D’Agostini-Kostopoulos-Barch

Defense:

Greene-Larsson

Salvador-Zidlicky

Fayne-Volchenkov

Extras: Harrold-Tallinder

Goalies:

Brodeur, Hedberg

Zubrus was happy to be back, but wasn’t necessarily pleased with how he played in his first game since early February. “It definitely feels like I haven’t played a game in a while, but I knew that was going to happen,” he said. “It’s tough when you come back and lose a game like that. You want to come back, you want to play well and you want to win; now every game is so big. I don’t feel like I played a good game, I wasn’t creating much — a big part of my game is when we are in their end and we are cycling, protecting pucks and creating some chances. It didn’t seem like I was able to do that, but it (my wrist) feels fine.”

Scott Nichol and New Jersey Devils right wing Dainius Zubrus

The Devils welcomed back Dainius Zubrus to their lineup on April 1. (Rich Kane/Icon SMI)

As for adding Sullivan, Lamoriello told the media after the deadline passed: “He provides depth at forward. Like we’ve always said you try to get better, but at what expense? So, we really did stand pat. You have to be very careful,” he said. “Everything is done for today with tomorrow in mind, never (sacrificing) tomorrow with today in mind.  It’s the commitment for the players to win and that’s why you have some free agents that people would give you picks and certain (things), but we believe in this team. I believe in the coaching staff and I believe in the players. If not you would make drastic changes or do things. So, that’s not the case.”

Sullivan recently played in his 1,000th NHL game (he is the 285th NHLer to accomplish this feat) against the Nashville Predators in what was a memorable night. Earlier this season he had another memorable night: a hat trick against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Coach DeBoer stated after a loss to the New York Islanders on April 1 that he believed in the team he already had, basically echoing what Lamoriello would say two days later. “We have to find a way to get into the playoffs; we’re in a playoff spot now, it’s in our own hands. I’ve spent a lot of time with the group that we have in that room, a lot of those guys we went to war with last year and took us deep, so I don’t doubt the group.”

Despite their recent struggles, winless in four games (0-1-3) New Jersey’s bench boss is confident that if they stick to the system they can be successful again. “Our group’s hearts are in the right place, these guys come to work every day,” he said. “I know its tough when you go through losing streaks for people to recognize the work that (you see) when you’re this group everyday — they care, they work hard.”

Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiabloTHW or via Email: drdiablo321@yahoo.com

Dan Rice

Dan Rice

Dan Rice is in his 3rd year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 10+ years at various websites. He began his career working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & his resume also includes an internship at the ECHL.
Dan Rice

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