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Devils Head Coach Hints Jack Hughes Isn’t 100% Healthy

Following two stints on the injured reserve this season, is Jack Hughes playing hurt?

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New Jersey Devils
(AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)

NEWARK — The New Jersey Devils suffered another brutal in-division loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday night. It was a game in which the Devils needed their biggest stars to come through in a few crucial moments and yet, the Devils couldn’t find the back of the net until they were already down five goals late in the third period. It was indeed Jack Hughes who scored, however, the Devils’ star forward hasn’t quite been himself lately. It begs the question, is he 100% healthy?

Hughes returned to the Devils from an upper-body injury on Feb. 8th after sitting out of action for about a month. Since his return to the lineup, Hughes has three goals and six points in eight games. Almost any average NHLer would certainly be happy with scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace. However, in the 11 games before his injury, Hughes totaled five goals and seven assists for 12 points. It might not seem like a drastic difference, however, it is clear that Hughes isn’t dominating like he was before his injuries this season.

So, is Jack healthy enough to perform?

“Yup,” Hughes quickly responded when asked exactly that.

Of course, Jack isn’t going to disclose whether or not he’s dealing with an ailment. However, he will be sure to explain that he expects more from himself, especially when the Devils need him most.

“No, I’m obviously not playing my best (right now),” Hughes responded when asked about his performance. “You know, I’ve got to find a way to get to that point and help us make a push.”

The Detroit Red Wings won a big game on Thursday. They leapfrogged the Tampa Bay Lightning in the standings and now it’s Tampa Bay who the Devils need to chase down with five points separating the two. New Jersey has two games in hand.

If they’re going to catch anyone in the Eastern Conference wild card, however, they’re going to need Jack to be himself again.

“We just gotta we gotta regroup,” Hughes concluded. “We gotta digest tonight. And then we gotta wrap our heads around changing our attitude and really believing in ourselves and not just talking and saying that but actually doing that.”

There’s one thing that head coach Lindy Ruff agreed with Jack Hughes about. The Devils need to give everything they’ve got from this point on. What he didn’t agree with? Jack’s not 100% healthy.

“I don’t know if anybody’s 100% at this time of year,” Ruff said about Jack’s health. “We’ve got other guys (injured too). Is he 100%? It’s not 100%, no. But he’s doing what he can to try to help us win a hockey game. And we had other guys, John Marino was sick, and we had Jesper Bratt who was sick but played. It’s the time of year when you’re not going to be 100%. You got to give us everything you got.”

The Devils are off on Friday before they host back-to-back games over the weekend with the Lightning and Montreal Canadiens. After a loss like the one the Devils suffered on Thursday, one might be scratching their head at an off-day. However, the Devils have seen enough bumps and bruises this season and are dealing with an illness bug in the locker room. This seems like preventative maintenance more than anything.

Regardless, Jack Hughes isn’t playing how he did in the first few months of the season because he’s not himself. He’s evidently playing through the pain and yet was still the only one who found twine against the Rangers. Certainly, the Devils want Hughes to be completely healthy as soon as possible. However, Jack’s health isn’t the Devils’ biggest issue right now. He’s healthy enough to play and so he’s doing everything he can to help his team collect points. However, how can an injured Hughes buoy the Devils if the supporting cast isn’t, well… supporting?

“Jack is battling hard,” Ruff concluded. “He’s battling hard. Probably not happy with his game. But he’s battling hard here to do whatever he can do to help us win a hockey game.”

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