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Devils ready for showdown in Steel City

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Jamie Langenbrunner and the Devils skate Saturday in Pittsburgh.
Two nights after an important win, the Devils are set to face their toughest challenge of the young season.

Head coach Jacques Lemaire called Thursday's 4-2 road triumph over the Rangers a "huge win." Zach Parise scored twice for New Jersey, which blew a two-goal lead before Dainius Zubrus broke a 2-2 tie in the third period. Jersey's Team improved to 4-0 away from home.

Up next, another test. The Devils practiced Friday afternoon at AmeriHealth Pavilion before hopping on a plane to Pittsburgh, where they battle the defending Stanley Cup-champion Penguins on Saturday.

The Penguins were an NHL-best 8-1-0 entering their game against Florida on Friday.

"They're at their best right now," Lemaire said of the Pens, who were looking to extend their winning streak to seven games. "They're playing great hockey, they won last year and they're on that roll. It's a good measuring stick for us."

The Devils (5-3-0) devoted significant time this week to practicing their power play, which is 0-for-16 over the last four games. They were scoreless in their lone opportunity against New York.

Devils' '08-09 wins vs. Penguins
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Dec. 10: 700K 
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"We're OK," Lemaire said. "We're just OK. It's like the game we're playing. We're OK. I think that we can improve, and my job is to try to be as good as we can be. So, if I sound not happy sometimes, it's because I know we can improve certain things. I know we can do certain things better. I know we can play more minutes – good minutes – in a game."

Brodeur made 29 saves on Thursday to beat Henrik Lundqvist in regulation for the first time in a regular season game on Broadway. His workload won't get any lighter against Pittsburgh. Evgeni Malkin led the NHL with 113 points last season, and topped all Pens with four goals and seven assists for 11 points in his first nine games.

Next on the Pens' scoring list, with eight points in nine games, were Sidney Crosby (4g-4a) and defenseman Sergei Gonchar (2g-6a). Gonchar broke a bone in his wrist against St. Louis on Oct. 20 and will miss four to six weeks.

Gonchar's absence is significant, but Lemaire was wary of Pittsburgh's dynamic offense even without their power-play quarterback.

"He was playing really well," he said. "It made their power play even better with the shot he's got; how effective he was on the power play. But they still have a good power play. They have so many guys there."

The Devils went 3-3-0 against Pittsburgh last season, with two wins in overtime.

"They're the top team in the League right now, definitely," Brodeur said. "They're the Stanley Cup champions and all that, so definitely it's a big challenge for us to go out there and perform against the top team and see where we're at. Divisional game for us, too, so it's very important."

Brodeur, a three-time Cup winner, said a title defense can be daunting.

"As a team it's tough because you know everybody's gearing up for you," he said. "So many times you go out there and you get the best of everybody every time. It gets old. That's one of the things when you defend, is not to slack off. They don't seem to be having that problem this season. They have guys that take a lot of pride in where they're at in their career in Malkin and Crosby, and they're playing well. (Marc-Andre) Fleury also.

"But it's always that thing that's tough. You have to be accountable to everything because everyone's going to play well against you. That's what defending the Stanley Cup is."

Defenseman Mike Mottau will not make the trip to Pittsburgh because of a lower body injury. Mark Fraser has been activated from IR and will likely see his first action of the season.

Lemaire spoke confidently of his 23-year-old blueliner, who would step in against the League's hottest team.

"It'll be tougher, but I think he's going to be fine," Lemaire said. "He works hard and he's very determined. He plays an aggressive game around the net. I think he'll be OK. Maybe a little nervous at the start. I like the way he was playing before he got injured."

Fraser debuted with seven NHL appearances in 2006-07. He had no worries about taking on Pittsburgh in his first game of 2009-10.

"To be honest, I wouldn't be too concerned who the opponent is," he said. "I'm just really anxious to get out there and treat every opponent the same."

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