Head coach Brent Sutter believes his team has done some good things lately that unfortuantely haven't impacted the wins column.
Hampered by injuries, including Martin Brodeur
's torn bicep, the Devils suffered a pair of narrow defeats, losing 3-1 Saturday to Detroit and 2-1 Sunday versus Edmonton. Looking for its second win in 10 tries against the Rangers Wednesday, New Jersey outshot New York 13-5 in the opening frame and took a 1-0 advantage on Travis Zajac
's second of the season.
But that first-period lead evaporated when the Devils surrendered a season-high four goals in the second period en route to a 5-2 loss at Prudential Center.
"We had seven pretty good periods of hockey up until that point," Sutter said after Thursday's practice at AmeriHealth Pavilion. "We didn't get rewarded for it in two games against Detroit and Edmonton. Then last night in the first period we played well and just seemed to get unravelled and take penalties. Things got out of hand."
The Devils (7-6-2) could get a boost Friday from the return of defenseman Paul Martin, who skated with the team in Thursday's practice and will be a gametime decision for a meeting with the Capitals in Washington.
New Jersey's leading scorer among defensemen with 32 points in 2007-08, Martin has missed five games with upper body soreness. His offensive abilities would be a shot in the arm for a power play that is scoreless in three games and has converted once in its last 18 chances.
The Devils dressed seven defensemen against the Rangers, scratching right wing Nicklas Bergfors. Sutter plans to go with six blueliners for Friday. Jay Leach
, who was called up on Nov. 9, has returned to Lowell (AHL).
Sutter said he has yet to make a decision on whether it will be Kevin Weekes or Scott Clemmensen in net Friday night. Weekes registered 21 saves in his fourth start of the season, but was relieved by Clemmensen, who started the third and recorded 16 stops. The Devils have dropped four of five without Brodeur in the lineup.
"We have two guys here that are capable of doing the job," Sutter said. "Coaches have to make decisions. Coaches make decisions, coaches get questioned. It's just the way it is, and yet that's just the nature of the beast when you're the coach. Whatever goaltender we go with tomorrow, someone will say, 'Why'd you go with him?' It's just the way it is, and I accept that."
The task for the Devils this weekend will be to contain the two Alexanders – Ovechkin and Semin – in their home-and-home set with the Caps that concludes Saturday in Newark.
Ovechkin is the NHL's reigning MVP, while Semin boasts a league-best 13 goals and 27 points in 15 games. Washington has won four straight and leads the Southeast Division by two points over Carolina.
"They're both pretty good," Sutter deadpanned. "Semin's definitely a very good player, and we all know about Ovechkin already... There's some pretty elite forwards at that level with the Ovechkins, the [Sidney] Crosbys, the Semins, the [Evgeni] Malkins, the Parises, the [Ryan] Getzlafs. You can go on and on and on. There are some pretty elite players in that age group.
"You look at all the young players in the game today and how good they are, how smart they are and how they play the game at a high skill level... that says volumes about where the game is."