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Woah, Slow Your Roll, Rolston

Before I get into it, I want to formally welcome Five For Howling to SBN.  Yes, it's a Coyotes blog and it may or may not be a place where you can go there and write fanposts about Shane Doan and how awesome he is.  Welcome!  We'll look forward to how things are on March 12, 2009.

Now, big news is coming out the Devils' practices today from Gulitti. Brian Rolston is not only practicing, but he's looking to play against Philadelphia.  No, not when the Devils host Philadelphia on December 21.  No, not when the Devils play them on March 1 or March 23.  He means this Thursday.  I'm not exactly hopeful about the possibility of him playing.

See, Rolston has been injured with a high ankle sprain; something that kept Sidney Crosby out for more than a quarter of the entire season in 2007-08.   This is something Gulitti brought up on Sunday in admitting he had no idea when he's be ready:

I'm hesitant to guess how far away Brian Rolston is from playing. Rolston (high right ankle sprain) has been skating for a couple of weeks, but something must be holding him back from practicing with the team. I have a feeling it's possible we might not see him before Christmas. Remember how long it took Crosby to come back from his high ankle sprain. He missed 29 total games (21 games initially and then another eight after he came back too soon .Rolston has missed 18 games so far.

Christmas!  And Brian's now talking about lacing them up for a game before the second Sunday in Advent!  I mean, prior reports were just about skating, and it's great that he's now practicing.  But Rolston wants to get back into it for Thursday?  I mean, the optimism is a good thing; but I would definitely not bet on him coming back until he has had some strong practices to test out that ankle.  December 10 at the Rock against Pittsburgh is realistic provided things go well.  But this Thursday? I doubt it. And even if he does feel a lot better, the worst thing that could happen is that Rolston comes back too early like Crosby and ends up re-injurying himself, which would almost guarantee being out past Christmas.  Like Gulitti was (and probably still is), I'm hesistant about Rolston's return taking place this week.

This is part of a larger story, which is actually very fortunate for the Devils.  The larger story from today is that they are becoming healthy again.  Gulitti also reported on the improvement of four other Devils (and one prospect) today.  Gulitti reports Dainius Zubrus is feeling better, so we'll see a better Zubrus on Thursday; and that Pierre-Luc Latourneau-Leblond is not only healthy but back in shape.   He also reports that John Madden is looking to play this Thursday as his left foot is feeling better; and Bobby Holik could return to practice tomorrow if the doctor gives him the OK.   And on the prospect side, Matt Halischuk is already rehabbing after a partial ACL tear in his right knee and he's looking to be back this season.  His prediction for returning is a bit more reasonable than going from practice to games in less than 3 days.

Brent Sutter is going to have the problem - and of all problems, it's not a bad one to have - of finding playing time for all of these newly healthy players.  Sutter has already said he's not breaking up the top two lines.  I would expect Madden to re-unite with Jay Pandolfo on the fourth line.  Sorry, but the Mike Rupp Third Line Center Era seems to be over everyone. I also expect Leblond to get fourth line enforcer minutes with Philadelphia on Thursday.  But if Rolston actually does make it back into the line up, it's going to be really difficult to put him in a spot right away.  Do you give him fourth line minutes to ease him in, even though that line will likely be the physical, big-guy unit in a game against a team with a reputation of being physical?  Do you slot him on the third line and expect him to keep up with checking Philly's best forwards? Or do you throw him back up into the top two lines and hope he can produce without breaking the chemistry?   These questions will become crucial soon, but I don't think we'll see an answer on Thursday.