Some may scoff at the notion, but the New Jersey Devils acknowledge that superstar goalie Martin Brodeur will have to show he deserves to get his usual heavy workload once he returns from his arm injury.
Brodeur is progressing in his rehab but is still about a month away from returning from left bicep reattachment surgery Nov. 6. But the Devils will need him in top form to stay in contention for the Atlantic Division title, and Scott Clemmensen's fine play means Brodeur doesn't have to jump into the workhorse schedule he and New Jersey have been accustomed to for 15 seasons.
"We have to get him ready to play without it being disruptive to the team," Devils coach Brent Sutter told the New York Post. "The juggling is going to be important, how we manage that.
"It's not like this is the start of the season. It's not like these are exhibition games, and we're getting guys ready to play."
The upshot is that Clemmensen owners shouldn't be quick to dump the longtime backup once Brodeur is cleared to play. Clemmensen is 20-9-1 with a 2.25 goals-against average and .923 save percentage after leapfrogging Kevin Weekes for the starting job in Brodeur's absence.
Clemmensen will undoubtedly be back on the bench once the playoffs start, but he has certainly earned his teammates' and Sutter's confidence to help get them to a good postseason position.
Kessel overcomes mono
Bruins forward Phil Kessel appears ready to return after missing six games with a bout of mononucleosis and could play Thursday against the Devils, according to the Boston Herald.
The paper said Kessel was medically cleared to resume playing, but coach Claude Julien will make the final decision after the morning skate Thursday.
"I feel good," Kessel told the Herald. "It was nice to get back at it. My strength is fine. I've been working out for the last week or so. I'm fine, I'm back. I got my tests done again [Tuesday] and everything is good again. I'm cleared. It was a good day."
Kessel leads the Bruins with 24 goals, has 41 points and is a plus-17 in 42 games.
Positive marks for Thrashers duo
Defensemen on bad teams usually see their plus-minus sink to ugly levels, but the Swedish duo has been an exception.
"We have the same backgrounds growing up, how we see hockey," Havelid, 35, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Havelid has a goal, 10 assists and is a plus-4 in 49 games while Enstrom has a goal, nine assists and a plus-3 in 49 games this season.
"We're almost like the same player," Enstrom, 24, told the paper. "It worked out good from the beginning, almost from the first time we played with each other."
One thing to watch, however, is if Havelid is traded before the deadline. His name has come up in rumors and Enstrom would likely struggle with a new partner if Atlanta throws in the towel on this season. Enstrom has skated with Havelid for most of his season and a half in the NHL.
Atlanta defenseman Mathieu Schneider has also been mentioned in trade rumors. His departure likely would mean more power-play time for Enstrom, who has just four assists with the man advantage this season. He had four goals and 22 assists on the power play as a rookie last season, when he finished with five goals, 33 assists and a minus-5.
"He's young and has fresh legs, so I let him go," Havelid told the Journal-Constitution about Enstrom. "I'm old, tired, so I stay back there."
Henrik Zetterberg must have been trying to carry a lot of his money because the Red Wings forward's back injury will force him to miss Thursday's game against Dallas.
Zetterberg, who just signed a 12-year, $73 million contract extension, left Tuesday's overtime loss to Columbus in the first period after his back tightened up, according to the Detroit Free Press.
"When he gets bumped in the back, we're probably overcautious," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock told the Free Press on Wednesday. "We just felt that, a couple of years ago when we didn't do it that way, that it came back to bite us in the butt a little bit, so we're going to get it looked after. He'll miss tomorrow's game, for sure."
You can write it down
There might be a goaltender controversy in Anaheim, but don't ask Ducks coach Randy Carlyle about it.
Carlyle started Jonas Hiller for the second consecutive night Wednesday, the first time this season either Hiller or Jean-Sebastien Giguere started in back-to-back games, according to the Orange County Register.
Pestered by reporters as to who the No. 1 goaltender is, Carlyle danced around the topic and said, "I chose Jonas Hiller to play. Write it."
Columbus' 1-2 punch
Nash got much-deserved attention for his hat trick Tuesday night against the Red Wings, but Huselius had an assist and a number of other nice setups to show how dangerous the Blue Jackets can be in the last months of the season.
"We seemed to click from the very start of the season," Nash told The Columbus Dispatch. "Kristian is just such a pure playmaker. He has great vision and he's really patient with the puck.
"He can find guys through traffic. He can make passes over sticks and through legs. Kristian is just a really skilled player."
Nash has 22 goals, 24 assists and a plus-12 through 44 games, while Huselius has 13 goals, 20 assists and a minus-1 in 44 games this season. Nash is bordering on untouchable in fantasy, but Huselius' injuries and past streakiness have contributed to his being available in nearly 20 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
"It's a thrill to play with Nash because he's just so talented," Huselius told the Dispatch. "I think we had a tough time at the start, but it's getting better and better. We just have to keep finding each other. You know he's going to score big goals for us."
Their chemistry helps make up for Columbus' lack of a top passing center. R.J. Umberger was given chances early in the season but he's more of a scorer, and even coach Ken Hitchcock acknowledged early on that Umberger wasn't the playmaking type. Rookie Derick Brassard worked his way up to the top line before his season was cut short by a shoulder injury.
Lately, veteran Manny Malhotra has played well between Nash and Huselius. Malhotra has mainly been a checker his whole career, but he has decent skill, as evidenced by a seven-game point streak (two goals, seven assists) that ended Tuesday against the Red Wings. He's available in 98.9 percent of leagues.
Combine Malhotra with Nash putting all of Hitchcock's disciplined two-way instructions to use, and the three can confidently be put into any situation.
"The part I like is they're a threat without giving it up on the other end," Hitchcock told the Dispatch about Nash and Huselius. "That's the difference in those two from the start of the season to now. They take pride in their responsibility when the other team has the puck. And when they have the puck, they're scary."
Briere update No. 257
I thought there wouldn't be anything new to report about Daniel Briere, but the Flyers forward is closer to getting back on the ice, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"Danny's feeling good and is close to skating," Flyers coach John Stevens told the Inquirer. "He's on a walking program now, and he'll be progressed to light jogging and will get back on the ice soon."
Briere, who had surgery on his groin and stomach Jan. 22, isn't expected back until Feb. 19 at the earliest.
"I've talked to him, and it's very clear how disappointed and frustrated he was," Stevens told The Inquirer.
"We basically told him, 'Look, hopefully we've found the root of the problem and we'll get this behind us and you'll come back with the best part of your season ahead of you.'"
Jim Wilkie is a former NHL editor and writer for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.