One benefit of being sick is that I'm here to provide this bit of crucial news from Tom Gulitti: Franchise leading scorer and New Jersey Devils legend Patrik Elias will make his debut tonight. Here's what Elias has to say about making his debut:
"It’s all right," he said. "Not overly (excited). It will come as the game time will arrive, but it’s not the first time I’m coming back after a long [layoff] or after an injury. I’ve been missing for five months almost not playing in any games. Yeah, it will be exciting. I’ll be a little bit nervous. I just have to make sure I calm myself down and play a smart hockey game tonight."
Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said he will gauge Elias’ ice time on how he plays, but he expects him to play "from 17 to 19 minutes" tonight. That will include time on the power play.
Lemaire admitted he "definitely" would have preferred to play Elias at wing tonight, but, with center Rob Niedermayer being out with an upper-body injury, he has to use Elias at center.
"He hasn’t played all year and didn’t have a lot of practices," Lemaire said of Elias. "But he’s a guy that he looks in good shape, not playing shape, but he didn’t gain any weight. So, to me, it won’t take long. Maybe his passes won’t be as crisp. But I think he’ll be effective."
It's good to see that Lemaire is confident in Elias, though he really has no other choice. There's no other centers on the roster, no call-ups have been made with Lowell, and Lemaire's not going to downplay Elias right on gameday. I'm also glad that Lemaire said he wanted to have Elias at wing because Elias has his most productive and effective seasons when he's playing left wing.
While it's great that Elias will make his debut tonight, I think it's important to note that Devils fans shouldn't expect him to be a game-changer right away. This is his first NHL game since April 2009 and hoping that he'll lead the offense in some manner is simply asking too much. He needs to get into shape both physically and mentally before he can do that. While it will be nice to see Elias on the power play units once again, if you're demanding a Devil to make a difference offense, demand it first from Zach Parise or Travis Zajac, the two leading scorers on the team. The goal for Elias is to not only play smart but just to be a net positive for the team - meaning no stupid penalties, no defensive gaffes, etc. I think Elias can manage that much to start.
Per Gulitti's post (at the bottom), Andrew Peters will also play tonight. OK, you may be less excited for that kind of news. So put him in for Leblond based on the guess of the Devils' line up that I made in my preview that went live at midnight.