DEVILS (15-11-6) at SENATORS (15-13-2)
TV: MSG PLUS, SNET-E, TVA
Last 10: Devils 5-4-1; Ottawa 5-2-3.
Big story: After a rough patch without goalie Martin Brodeur, the Devils have looked solid in two wins since his return. Unfortunately for New Jersey, however, the road to a postseason berth got even bumpier Saturday when star forward Ilya Kovalchuk suffered a shoulder injury that will sideline him for 2-4 weeks. The Devils will start navigating a lengthy stretch without him Monday when they visit a Senators team that's won four of its last five games.
Devils: After struggling for several weeks without their starting goaltender, the Devils got an enormous boost when Brodeur return Thursday night in the most unusual of ways: Brodeur was credited with a power-play goal after a being the last Devil to touch a puck that caromed into an open net. He's been solid on the back end, too, allowing a total of two goals in back-to-back wins against Carolina and then Florida Saturday night.
Those victories have helped to stabilize New Jersey, which was in danger of dropping from the East's top eight, but the team now has another obstacle to deal with following the announcement that Kovalchuk will miss significant time during the season's stretch run. Kovalchuk's 27 points trail only Patrik Elias for the most on the team. New Jersey must find a way to fill the offensive void in order to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Senators: Considering Ottawa has endured lengthy injuries to Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Craig Anderson this season, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Senators floundering near the bottom of the standings. And yet, here they are, wedged in the middle of the East's postseason field and within range of catching first-place Montreal. In addition to being in playoff position with less than half of the shortened season to go, Ottawa is playing some of its best hockey of the season, going 4-1-0 in its last five games.
After dropping the first game of a five-game homestand to Boston on last Thursday, Ottawa rebounded with a 5-3 victory over Tampa Bay Saturday night, a win that may have led to the firing of Lightning coach Guy Boucher. With three games left on homestand, the Senators have a chance to gain significant ground in the standings before they head out on a seven-game road trip at the start of next month.
Who's hot: After signing a lengthy contract extension with New Jersey this offseason, Travis Zajac has played like he's worth the money lately, tallying five points in his last three games. ... It's hard to be as productive on the blue line as Sergei Gonchar has been lately. Gonchar has 15 points during a 10-game point streak.
Injury report: In addition to Kovalchuk's injury, the Devils will likely be without Alexei Ponikarovsky, who is doubtful with a lower-body injury after being retroactively placed on IR Sunday. The Senators, in additon to the long-term injuries to Spezza, Karlsson and Anderson, placed Milan Michalek on IR two weeks ago following knee surgery. He is out indefinitely.
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