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Frustrations mount after Toronto loss

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Brodeur left early after aggravating bruised right elbow.

Thursday's trip to Toronto produced another setback for the Devils, this time a 3-1 defeat by the host Maple Leafs.

Toronto struck for two power-play goals, including Kris Versteeg's tally that made it 3-1 at 13:17 of the third period. Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel also scored for the Leafs.

Dainius Zubrus had the only goal for the Devils, whose offensive struggles continued. New Jersey (5-12-2) went 0-for-2 with the man advantage, and have gone 1-for-36 on the power play away from home.

The team held a closed-door meeting following their second straight defeat, and fourth in the last five games. They were shutout Monday in Boston after tallying four goals in consecutive home contests.

"We go and we think we take a step, and then we take steps back," head coach John MacLean said. "The story of the game tonight: the power play. They're 2-for-3 and we're 0-for-2. They execute, we don't execute. It's frustrating."

Martin Brodeur played two periods but left the game after aggravating his bruised right elbow. The Devils are headed to St. Louis to face the Blues on Saturday; Brodeur returned to New Jersey for further evaluation.

"It's just the same thing," MacLean said. "He just tweaked it there again. It's more cautionary than anything to make sure he's fine. We'll evaluate him tomorrow."

Brodeur stopped 18 of 20 shots, and was relieved by Johan Hedberg at the start of the third. Hedberg allowed one goal on seven shots.

Frustrated, MacLean will keep at it, hoping to unlock the Devils' offensive potential.

"You always have ideas," he said. "You always keep trying and you don't give up, you keep plugging away. As difficult as it is sometimes, you have to get through it. We're going to keep getting prepared and keep trying until we get this thing right."

Toronto (7-8-3) snapped an eight-game losing skid with a four-goal rally against Nashville on Tuesday. Patrik Elias said the Devils needed a better effort from the very start.

"We're playing one of the teams that is struggling also and it seemed like they were the team playing a little bit looser out there. It's frustrating," Elias said. "We know we have a lot of guys hurt, we have young guys, new guys. We want to make sure that's not an excuse here. We don't have too much to lose here anymore. We have to go after it."

Trailing by two, MacLean pulled Hedberg for a 6-on-5 advantage with 2:22 left in regulation. The Devils still couldn't solve Jonas Gustavsson, who finished with 29 saves for his second win of the season.

"We have to be the team to initiate the game now and playing the way we're playing the last 10 minutes when we're down," Elias told reporters. "Sometimes it feels like we're waiting to get down in the game. Once that happens, all of a sudden we play better hockey: everybody's just jumping on the puck, everybody's moving as a five-man unit out there. That's what we have to do from the get-go. We just wanted to make sure that was being said."

Elias had a team-high six shots and was asked if he can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The Devils have been unable to build from last Friday's stirring 4-3 overtime win over Edmonton.

"That's kind of a gray area right now, obviously," said Elias. "A lot of us have never been in this situation. But it's life, you try to work through it. Nobody else is going to help us except the guys that are here."

Jamie Langenbrunner (neck) and Matt Taormina (ankle) did not make the trip. The Devils entered Thursday's game with 103 man games lost to injury.

"Yeah, we might have a few guys out of the lineup, but even when they were here we were still not playing the way we wanted to," Elias said. "It's always up to the guys in this locker room. We're playing another team that's struggling a little bit right now and they have to go in there and initiate the game. A lot of the times we play hard, but we just have to play smart and with determination, excitement."

Next week brings four games at or close to home. The Devils host Washington on Monday, Calgary on Wednesday, then head to Long Island next Friday. Philadelphia visits the Rock for a matinee next Saturday.

New lines
Zubrus' goal was the product of his new line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Vasyunov. Trailing 2-0, Kovalchuk found Vasyunov at the left circle, and the Russian rookie's centering feed went off Zubrus' right skate at 10:14 of the second. Led by Kovalchuk's four shots, the trio accounted for 1g-2a and seven shots.

Normally Kovalchuk's centerman, Travis Zajac was slotted between Brian Rolston and David Clarkson.
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