Devils forward Brian Rolston said he is aiming to play in the team's next game Thursday night in Philadelphia against the Flyers. He has been out since Oct. 16 with a high right ankle sprain. He practiced with the team today for the first time since he was injured in the third period of a 1-0 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers in which he scored the only goal.
"I hope I'm playing Thursday," he said. "That's what I'm shooting for."
Center John Madden, who has missed the last four games with a bruised left ankle, also said he plans to play Thursday.
"I'm planning on playing," he said. "I'm practicing to play. So we'll see if I get back in there."
Devils coach Brent Sutter is trying to remain cautious, but admitted "there's optimism" about both players playing against the Flyers.
"We'll see how the week goes," Sutter said. "Yeah, it would be great if we did (get both players back). But let's see how they practice and see how things progress the next two days. After you go through what we've been through the last two months, you keep your guard up. But there's optimism."
Sutter said center Bobby Holik (broken right pinky) and defenseman Andy Greene (broken right hand) skated on their own before practice today. Sutter wasn't sure when Greene will be ready to practice, but said Holik might be on the ice with the rest of the team Tuesday morning if his doctor's examination goes well this afternoon.
"I'm hopeful that maybe perhaps tomorrow (Holik will practice), but I don't know that for sure" Sutter said. "
Holik was injured on Oct. 18 in Washington and hasn't played since. He resumed skating last week.
Rolston skated at right wing today on a line with Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond at left wing and Mike Rupp at center. Sutter didn't say if Rolston would stay with those two if he plays Thursday, but did say he's going to keep his top two lines -- Zach Parise-Travis Zajac-Jamie Langenbrunner and Patrik Elias-Dainius Zubrus-Brian Gionta intact.
"We're not breaking up our top two lines," Sutter said. "They've been very good. We'll see. At this point in time, if they continue to play well, there's no need to do so (break up the top two lines). I like Zubes at center ice. We'll see how it all plays out here, but there's no reason to think we have to change anything with out top six guys as far as the way they're playing."
Starting Roslton out on the fourth line so he can get back in game shape makes sense, but where does he fit in when he's at full strength?
"We'll see how it all plays out," Sutter said. "A lot of things can happen between now and then. When he gets back in game shape and gets his timing back and things like that, there's ways you can work a guy in. He plays the power play. He kills penalties. There's ways around that."
Rolston admitted he was a little rusty today.
"I'm feeling OK," he said. "I'm just going to get sharper as practices go on, just catching passes and things like that. I've been out for a long time. But for the most part I felt good and I'm shooting for Thursday. I haven't talked to the coaches or Lou (Lamoriello) about that, but if I'm back in practice, that's what I'm expecting. I'm expecting to go there and play Thursday. But we'll make that decision in the next couple of days for sure."
Rolston said he no longer feels any discomfort in his ankle.
"I'm grateful that Lou was as patient as he was," Rolston said. "There were plenty of times where I was like, 'I'm ready to go. I'm ready to go.' And he was like, 'You're not ready to go,' and he was probably right. He was right. Unfortunately, ankle injuries take a long time. I'm glad it happened when it did and I still have the majority of the season left."
Rolston said he was "skating hard for at least the past eight days" under the supervision of team strength and conditioning coordinator Mike Vasalani and that he's in pretty good shape considering how much time he has missed.
"Today's practice wasn't that difficult for me as far as my wind," he said. "I was just trying to push myself every drill to get my wind because these guys have it already."
Madden was surprised how long it took his left ankle to heal. He was hit on the knob of the ankle by a shot from Florida's Nick Boynton in the second period of a 3-1 win over the Panthers on Nov. 20 at Prudential Center. He finished the game, but said his ankle swelled up when he took his skate off afterward.
"I've been hit plenty of times in the foot with the puck," he said. "It (usually) feels sore and you get some swelling out and you throw a boot on and you're ready to go. But (this time) I must have gotten hit in a bad spot because it took forever for the swelling to go out and it was hard to walk. It happens sometimes and it's unfortunate.
"It's funny. I didn't feel too much throughout the game and then I took my skate off and I could feel the swelling coming on, but I didn't really give it that much thought. I iced it like I normally do and when I woke up in the morning it was bad."
Madden confirmed what Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said last week that he would have been able to play last week if needed, but the team was on a five-game winning streak before losing Saturday in Pittsburgh and there was no need to rush back before he was fully healed.
"It was one of those things where players in every dressing room that don't play at 100 percent (healthy), but the team was going good and maybe we were a little more cautious than we should have been, but it all worked out," he said.
Madden said he still has some soreness from the bruise because of its location.
"It's on the bone, so every time you get in the skate you (feel it), but it's not to the point where it's going to keep me out of the lineup anymore," he said.