When I asked Brent Sutter today if he's liked Fedor Fedorov's effort in the two preseason games he's played in so far, the Devils coach paused for a few seconds and looked up. That long pause was a clue to the answer that followed.
"At times, he's been good. At times, he hasn't," Sutter said. "It's been kind of a hit-and-miss thing. I mentioned this the other day. He's got to learn things in his game. You have to play a certain way over here and, hopefully, he'll pick it up as the games go on. I thought there were different times in both games there were shifts where he was fine and there were shifts that he wasn't very good. I'm just being honest.
"It's up to him how he wants to do it. He can do it the way it needs to be done and he can give himself a chance. Hopefully, he's smart enough to pick that up as far as knowing what has to be done to give himself a chance to make the team."
"There's reasons why isn't in the NHL or hasn't been," Sutter continued. "He went back to Europe to figure that out and this past year (in Russia), he had a pretty decent year. Now. you come back and it's a different game and you have to adjust to that. The biggest thing is always competing. He's got to have a high level and he's a big kid. When he figures that out, he's going to be fine."
Sutter didn't have many glowing words to say about Nicklas Bergfors' play so far either. Then again, he didn't way much at all when he was asked about Bergfors.
"He's been OK," Sutter said.
Bergfors sat out today's practice, but Sutter said it was nothing serious. "There's a couple of guys that have some nagging things and we have a couple of days between games and we're trying to get guys close to 100 percent again."
Sutter said the team will soon make its first set of roster cuts. "I would think probably in the next day or so, you'll see our numbers go down," he said. "I think would like to get down in numbers, especially after (Saturday's) Ranger game. We play four games in six nights (after that) and it's important to settle in."
Sutter again said that two of his three defense pairs are basically set with Bryce Salvador and Paul Martin playing together and Colin White staying with Mike Mottau. Johnny Oduya will be in the remaining pair, but his partner is still to be determined. Andy Greene and Sheldon Brookbank are the incumbent candidates, but Anssi Salmela put himself in the mix with a good first preason game on Wednesday and Matt Corrente isn't out of it yet either.
"You're looking at Johnny and then you're looking at who fits in good with Johnny," Sutter said. "Johnny's going to get minutes too."
At this point, it doesn't look like rookie Jeff Frazee will get to play in any of the team's NHL preseason games. Sutter said he plans to continue rotating Martin Brodeur, Kevin Weekes and Scott Clemmensen. "That could change, but at this point in time the plan is to stay with the three (veterans)."
Sutter on the line of Mike Rupp, Bobby Holik and Dainius Zubrus: "That's a big line in hockey. When you think about it, they're all 225, 230-pound guys that are all 6-5 (Holik is actually 6-4). As long as they all stay within their jobs and the roles they have to do, they're going to be a very effective line. They're a big line. They've got the experience. There's toughness. Obviously, there's size and strength. They've got to play well defensively and they have to be strong on pucks and win the battles along the boards. Definitely, when all three of them are on the ice there's not much room."
I failed to include earlier Sutter's reponse when I asked him if Matt Halischuk will get to play in one of the team's five remaining preseason games.
"I hope so," Sutter said. "That's been discussed. It would be good to get him into a game."