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Going to California

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils

The Devils are well aware of the challenge posed by this week's trip to California.

The three-game swing opens with a back-to-back Wednesday in Anaheim and Thursday in Los Angeles before concluding Saturday in San Jose. The Ducks and Sharks sit first and second in the Pacific Division, and, with the Kings, own a combined record of 42-15-8.

But in the midst of a 4-1-1 run over their last six games, Martin Brodeur and the Devils feel they're in good shape to tackle the best of the west.

"Defensively, I think we've been really consistent," said Brodeur, who's won four in a row. "Every single game in the last seven, eight games has almost been a mirror [image of] each other. We've been playing really well."

The Devils (7-8-5) have turned things around since their five-game western Canadian tour early in the season. After a shootout loss in Edmonton and an overtime loss in Vancouver, they scored just four times over the next three games, resulting in regulation losses in Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa.

Much has changed over the past month.

"[Our game is in a] much better place, and we're going to need it to be," head coach Peter DeBoer said. "Our team game is going to get tested by these three clubs. The good news is we've found a way, I think, to rise to the occasion against good teams this year. We're going to need to do that again."

The team has had time to jell since that first journey west, which came just two games into the season.

"We didn't know exactly where our team would be at when we made that trip," Brodeur said. "Hopefully we're going to do well, but we're playing some top teams. All three teams that we're going to play are on top of the League, so it's going to be definitely a big challenge for us to play [them]. We've been playing well against good teams, so hopefully we'll continue that."

The penalty kill has been a major contributor to the Devils' recent success. The PK went 4-for-4 in Saturday's 4-1 win over Pittsburgh and ranks fourth overall at 86.8%

"Penalty killing is definitely a big positive," Brodeur said. "We still have a lot of stuff to work on. Offensively we've had some good games and some tougher games. We just have to be a little more consistent in that department, also."

Offensively, the Devils sit 27th with 2.10 goals per game. But they were buoyed Saturday by the line of Dainius Zubrus, Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr, which combined for two goals, three assists and a plus-12.

Zajac hopes to keep that chemistry going.

"Those two guys, they complement each other well," Zajac said. "They're big, they're strong on pucks, they're good at supporting and holding on to the puck for an extra second to make that play. So, for me, it's just trying to skate hard and create some room and make sure I'm backing them up."

The Devils are also eager to improve their road play: they're 3-6-3 away from home and have been outscored, 35-22.

"The road hasn't been kind to us yet this year," DeBoer said "We have to fix that. No better way or bigger challenge than to go into the three buildings we're going into."

• On Monday, the Devils assigned D Jon Merrill to Albany (AHL) and placed D Anton Volchenkov on injured reserve, retroactive to Nov. 12.

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