After playing excellent offense for more than a month, the New Jersey Devils suddenly can't put the puck in the net.
Perhaps a rematch with the New York Rangers will help them rediscover their scoring touch.
The Devils try to avoid suffering three consecutive shutout losses for the first time in their history on Saturday night when they visit the Rangers - the victims of New Jersey's biggest offensive outburst this season.
The Devils (19-11-3) were one of the hottest teams in the league from Nov. 15-Dec. 21, with offense the primary reason why. New Jersey averaged 3.8 goals during that stretch to post a 12-2-1 record. The highlight may have come Dec. 12, when the Devils beat the Atlantic Division-leading Rangers 8-5 at home.
That scoring output was the highest for the Devils since an 8-2 win at Tampa Bay on Nov. 25, 2005, but New Jersey has now suffered its first consecutive shutouts in nearly as long. Following a 2-0 home defeat to Boston on Tuesday, the Devils put 37 shots on net Friday night at the Prudential Center, but Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury stopped them all and New Jersey took a 1-0 loss.
The consecutive shutout losses are the first since defeats at Tampa Bay and Florida on Jan. 26-27, 2006 for the Devils, who have failed to score in their last seven regulation periods.
They thought they ended their drought in the second period when David Clarkson jammed at the puck in a goalmouth scramble, but a review revealed the puck never crossed the goal line.
"You see the puck go in and you're pretty excited going back to the bench," Clarkson said. "When they review it, you never know. It obviously didn't go in because they didn't count it. I've got to bear down there a little more and get a bit more on it."
New Jersey defeated New York earlier this month despite blowing a four-goal lead. On Tuesday night, the Rangers (22-12-3) squandered a four-goal lead of their own and couldn't overcome it, as an early 4-0 cushion at home turned into a 5-4 overtime loss to Washington.
"Whenever you have a lead, especially at home, you have to find a way to put it away," said Rangers center Chris Drury, who had three assists but also a key giveaway to Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin that led to the tying goal. "We got loose with the puck and got away from the game plan."
Ovechkin, who had two goals including the overtime game-winner and added an assist, offered a harsher assessment of New York's play.
"They stopped playing hockey," he said. "They probably believed 4-0 they'd win the game. They tried to play conservative, but we play a different way."
The Rangers have played much better at home against the Devils in recent meetings. They've defeated New Jersey five straight times at Madison Square Garden, where they are 7-1-1 in the teams' matchups since the start of the 2006-07 season.
New York beat the Devils 4-1 at MSG on Oct. 13, when Aaron Voros had two goals and an assist. Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves for the Rangers to win that contest but has struggled lately, giving up five goals or more three times in his last seven appearances including all eight New Jersey scores on Dec. 12.
The Rangers, who lost 3-2 at San Jose last Saturday, are trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak since a five-game slide Jan. 2-10.