Patrik Elias has played every one of his 1,227 NHL games in a New Jersey Devils sweater, so rejoining the lineup after sitting out the opening twenty games with a sore knee shouldn’t have been that big of a deal. But prior to making his season debut on November 25 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a lot had changed on and off the ice for the Devils franchise — from the GM to the head coach to the new system to a new organizational philosophy. He was self-admittedly (and understandably) rusty in the first game back, but the following two games – a home-and-home with the Montreal Canadiens – he was noticeably better.
“Pretty good, I like it,” Elias told The Hockey Writers when we asked how he is adjusting to new coach John Hynes’ system. “I think the last game (vs. Columbus) the loss was on me — I played in our zone defensively (on the game-winning goal) the way we used to, instead of being patient and letting guys regroup and get back into position. It ended up we got out of places; it’s part of it (for me), I’m going to make mistakes but I’m still looking at video, still talking to the guys obviously. I’ll get it quickly,” he added with a grin, “I’m pretty knowledgeable, I think.”
His first game back he played on a line with two players he knows from the previous regime (Jacob Josefson and Stefan Matteau), but Elias told THW that at this stage of his career it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) matter who his line mates are. “It really doesn’t matter (who I play on a line with), the last few years I pretty much played with everyone, always, so you adjust. We didn’t have a bad shift really, we didn’t create much (either),” he admitted. “We got stuck one time in our zone and we got scored on, so that was unfortunate. But overall its wasn’t a bad game but we know and I know I can be better.”
He was a bit critical of himself, but in reality he had a little over a week of practice with the team after sitting out since the second day of training camp and slowly making his way back without a surgery to recover from. “Not bad physically; hockey-wise, not so much,” he said. “I was fine physically, honestly. With the puck, the poise, the patience; a couple of times on the power play — I still don’t feel as confident as I should — but that’s going to come with more games and getting the timing down, reading the plays better.”
“Obviously it’s disappointing with the loss, we didn’t come out really hard in the first twenty minutes and Schneids kept us in it. We tried to come back in the second and the third, but you see if you don’t go for sixty minutes then not too many times your going to get the (two) points.” The challenge would get even stiffer with the East-leading Habs coming to town on Black Friday, before a rematch the following night at the Bell Centre. “Those games (vs Montreal) are always fun, and the guys (here) always respond well to a challenge,” Elias said. “We’re going to have to help (Cory) Schneider more than we did tonight (though).”
His coach was certainly pleased with the ability to add such a crucial veteran presence into his lineup for the first few times this season. “I thought it was a good first game for Patrik; he looked good, quick, and I thought he was really smart with how he managed his shifts — he didn’t over-extend himself,” Hynes told the media after the loss to the Blue Jackets. “He has a strong work ethic, so for being off that long and putting the (rehab) time he put in, he looked pretty good out there.”
Game two of Elias’ return was a lot better, and he quickly netted his first point of the season when he assisted on a power play goal from Lee Stempniak that gave New Jersey a 2-0 lead in a game they would eventually lose 3-2 in a shootout. For a guy that has over a thousand points in the NHL, the lifelong Devil admitted to THW that getting that first point of the season was important for him mentally. “No question. It doesn’t matter if you have 1,000 or 1,200 or two points; it’s always nice to get involved (on the score sheet) and I made a good play on the power play,” he explained. “We weren’t really good last game (vs. Columbus) on the power play, and part of it was on me because I didn’t…I was kind of rusty…I didn’t make really good plays. I was all over the place, trying too hard, but it’s a process.”
Point number 1,018 of Patrik Elias’ career and first of this season came on this assist:
Like he mentioned earlier about his poise with the puck being off a bit, he felt he had improved from that first game to the next. “Better than last game, I’m getting there. Today there were three, four plays where I still didn’t get my shot through. But I’m starting to get shots and get opportunities, I missed a few passes there in the third,” said the 39-year-old winger. “(Jordin) Tootoo was wide open in the slot (and I missed him). That’s the poise, that’s the patience and you have that split second to make a good play. It’s coming, (this) is expected. Hopefully I can just keep building up like this.”
Despite the loss there were a lot of positives to take out of the first game vs. the Habs that he felt they could carry into and build upon in the rematch a night later on the road. “Same concept (as far as game plan goes) basically. It’s a little different when you play away or at home, and they’ll be coming at us in the first period for sure; the first ten minutes we have to be ready for that,” he said. “We saw what they did (tonight), when they had success it was only when we didn’t make good plays in the neutral zone. They’re a good transition team, they’re quick forwards, and the D jumps in; I thought we played a pretty good hockey game tonight.”
Goal number 407 of Patrik Elias’ career:
Up in Montreal it was Elias, scoring his first goal of the season on a deflection of Adam Larsson’s point shot, that would start the Devils comeback, as in the rematch it was New Jersey that rallied from down 0-2 this time to clinch a dramatic victory in overtime. He was not credited with an assist on the game-winning goal, but watching the video below he clearly could have been given one for poking the puck towards Adam Henrique to start the rush up ice that led to John Moore netting the winner in one of the most dramatic come from behind wins for the Devils in quite some time.
New Jersey came out of the home-and-home with Montreal with three of a possible four points and with Elias still getting into game shape, his presence will likely only assist the surprising Devils as they move into a less strenuous stretch of games in December, including two games each against Florida and Detroit and three games against division rival Carolina. The Devils’ career leader in every major statistical category started this past week on the third line, but likely could end up on the second line before too long if he continues to be a contributor.
Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiabloTHW or via Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.