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Though they've been one of the most successful teams in the NHL over the past few weeks, the New Jersey Devils have suddenly hit a roadblock.
As the Devils try to prevent their first three-game slide in more than a month on Wednesday, they'll also be hoping to end their recent struggles against the Buffalo Sabres - a team responsible for one of their latest defeats.
New Jersey (16-9-3) hit its lowest point of the season last month, enduring a four-game losing streak from Nov. 8-14. However, the Devils responded with nine wins in their following 10 games.
The Devils owned a four-game winning streak entering Saturday, but fell 4-2 at home to the Sabres (15-12-3). On Tuesday, they lost 3-2 in a shootout at Toronto as goalie Scott Clemmensen allowed two of three Maple Leafs to score in the tiebreaker.
"Not much you can do as a goalie, he's coming one way and kind of backs into you," Clemmensen told the Devils' official Web site after losing for the first time in five starts.
Despite its recent stumble, New Jersey has amassed 19 of a possible 24 points in 13 games (9-2-1) since Nov. 15.
For the Devils to regroup, they'll have to end a recent stretch of futility against the Sabres. They've lost three in a row to Buffalo, including both meetings this season.
"When they scored two, it crushed a little bit of our energy," said Vanek, whose first tally was the 10,000th in Sabres franchise history. "We slowly worked our way back into it, and dominated the last 20 minutes."
Vanek - the league leader with 24 goals - has recorded 10 of his team-best 29 points in the last 10 games.
Although the Sabres will be without captain Craig Rivet (shoulder) and rookie forward Nathan Gerbe (upper body injury) on Wednesday, they will have winger Patrick Kaleta back after he missed seven contests with a head and neck injury.
New Jersey has been dealing with a major injury of its own for the bulk of the season. Four-time Vezina Trophy-winner and future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur went down with an torn biceps Nov. 1 and is expected to miss at least two more months.
In his place, Clemmensen has compiled a 2.43 goals-against average in winning eight of 10 starts. He won his only start against Buffalo in October 2005.
Backup Kevin Weekes made 30 saves versus the Sabres on Saturday, but is mired in a personal five-start losing streak against them.
New Jersey has been getting outstanding production from winger Patrik Elias, who has 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in his last 13 games. He had a goal against the Sabres in Saturday's loss.
Buffalo's Patrick Lalime made 20 saves, improving to 5-2-0 with a 1.57 GAA in his last seven starts versus New Jersey.