Patrik Elias, Henrik Tallinder out for New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers

Nicholas SteblenkoContributor IIIDecember 20, 2011

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 21:  Patrik Elias #26 skates against the San Jose Sharks at the Prudential Center on October 21, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

New Jersey Devils head coach Pete DeBoer has officially ruled out center Patrik Elias and defenseman Henrik Tallinder for tonight's game against the rival New York Rangers, according to

Elias has been dealing with the flu, while Tallinder has had back spasms recently and will miss his third game.

The Devils have been dealing with Tallinder's absence already while they have been on a hot streak, but Elias has been a key player as New Jersey has won five of its last six en route to pulling within just a few points of the Rangers, Penguins and Flyers in the Atlantic Division.

So far, through 32 games, Elias leads the team with 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists), so it is easy to see why he will be missed in a great matchup against the banged up defense of the Rangers. Travis Zajac will be called upon earlier than expected for the Devils; he is still being eased into the lineup. He will center a line of Dainius Zubrus and Petr Sykora while Ryan Carter will step up to fill his spot on the third line.

Without Elias, the Devils will need to focus on defense a little more. In the past few games, there has been an explosion of offense as they have scored 19 goals in just four games. The top line of Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Adam Henrique will need to carry the load a little bit in the wake of Elias' absence, but they have been doing an excellent job of that already this season.

Tallinder's absence can be accounted for but not for very long as the Devils also found out today that rookie Adam Larsson will be traveling back home to Sweden to attend his grandmother's funeral. He is expected to play tonight but will miss the next two games against the Capitals and Hurricanes.

As I've said before, this stretch to end the year could be a crucial one if the Devils hope to be in a good position going forward. They play two division opponents while the other three are still Eastern Conference opponents, and every point will be critical in the standings under the circumstances. New Jersey will need to stay focused and get on the board early and often at home tonight.