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Atlantic: Devils confident scoring will take care of itself

by Chuck Gormley

Marian Hossa has posted four goals and five assists for a total of nine points in his last nine games. Hossa highlights
Imagine Marian Hossa riding shotgun on a Devils' top line with Patrik Elias and Zach Parise.

Seems pretty hard to imagine, doesn't it?

But if the stars were aligned properly and Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello considerably sweetened an offer he reportedly gave Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell, it could have happened.

"Whenever you make a decision, you have to be sure it's going to make you better overall, not just in one spot," Lamoriello told The Bergen Record recently. "We felt we did that and we don't look back."

In the weeks leading up to the Feb. 26 NHL trade deadline, the Devils were humming along with a 7-0-1 mark. But there was a nagging question over whether the Devils needed a sniper if they hoped to trade punches with the dangerous Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins.

So Lamoriello reportedly went fishing for the biggest catch of the season. Exactly what Waddell wanted in return for Hossa may never be revealed, but it's a good bet forwards Travis Zajac and David Clarkson were at the top of the list.

The Devils' immediate response to Lamoriello's shrewd deadline posture -- he picked up defenseman Bryce Salvatore for enforcer Cam Janssen on deadline day -- was a collective shrug of the shoulders. They scored two goals in their next three games -- all losses – and people in Newark wondered if Hossa would have looked better in Devils' red than Pittsburgh's black. In fact, over a nine-game stretch, the Devils managed to score more than two goals only twice and were held to one goal or fewer six times.

"We have the players that can score," Lamoriello said. "We've shown it."

In the past two games, the Devils have erupted for eight goals in back-to-back wins over the Wild and Avalanche, moving into sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference. And they did it without a goal from Elias, who was struck in the knee by a
shot from Sheldon Brookbank and was forced to sit out Saturday's game in Colorado.

Zajac, who has just one goal in his last 20 games, took Elias' spot on the top line with Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner. Dainius Zubrus picked up the slack with two goals and an assist after going pointless in eight straight.

The win over the Avalanche was the Devils' fifth in six games after their three-game swoon and with Marty Brodeur playing at the top of his game, the Devils again are looking like the team to beat in the East.

Brodeur (40-22-5) reached 40 wins for the third-straight season and for the seventh time in his career. No other goalie has won 40 games more than three times.

"That's why he's the best in the game," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "I say those things, but it's the truth. It's a darn good accomplishment on Marty's part, but we're not a satisfied group."

The Devils have won the Stanley Cup three times in 12 seasons, but haven't had a coach last an entire season since before the NHL lockout. Larry Robinson walked away midway through the 2005-06 season and Claude Julien was fired with three games left last season and replaced by Lamoriello.

Sutter is among the most demanding coaches in the NHL and is looking to get his name on the Stanley Cup for the first time since he won a pair of Cups with the New York Islanders in the early 1980s.

"There doesn't have to be a tremendous amount of love between the players and their head coach," Sutter said. "There has to be a tremendous amount of respect. I demand respect. I demand hard work."

The Devils will need to overcome their chief nemesis if they hope to hold onto their Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference lead.

The Devils have three more chances to beat the New York Rangers for the first time this season, beginning Wednesday in Newark. In five previous meetings the Devils are 0-3-2 against their northern rivals, scoring just four goals in the five games and getting shut out twice by Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist.

Around the Atlantic -- The Rangers had their 10-0-3 bubble burst when they lost back-to-back games to the red-hot Florida Panthers and not-so-hot Tampa Bay Lightning last week. "We came on this trip with a lot of confidence and felt like our game was where it should be," goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. "But it felt like we were missing something in our game and got out-battled a little bit in these games." The Rangers play three games in four nights this week with Tuesday's home game against the Penguins followed by visits to New Jersey (Wednesday) and Philadelphia (Friday). "It's up to us how we respond to this," Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr said. "We have to go home, regroup and get back to the basics of how we play." … The Flyers' freefall continued on Sunday with a 7-1 blowout loss in Pittsburgh. The Flyers had lost three straight one-goal games before getting lit up by Evgeni Malkin (four points) and Company. Part of the problem has been G Marty Biron's play on consecutive days. He is now 1-9 when playing on back-to-back days -- 1-4 on the front end and 0-5 on the back end. The Flyers also will be hurt by the loss of veteran defenseman Derian Hatcher, who could miss the remainder of the season with a broken right ankle after he blocked a shot in Saturday's loss in Boston. … The Penguins, meanwhile, continue to roll without Sidney Crosby. The Pens have won five of their last six games and produced 14 goals in their last two wins. They are now 13-6-4 without Crosby, who has missed 23 of the past 26 games due to a high right ankle sprain. Crosby is expected to be sidelined at least another week with the injury. … Now that the Islanders are out of the playoff race, there's a good chance top prospect Kyle Okposo will see his first NHL action this week when the Isles face the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday in Uniondale. Okposo was the seventh pick of the 2006 draft and signed a three-year deal with the Islanders three months ago after leaving the University of Minnesota. If Okposo plays in fewer than 10 NHL games this season -- the Isles entered the week with nine games remaining -- his contract does not kick in until next season. "It would be foolish to think we're rushing him in any way," Islanders GM Garth Snow told Newsday. "He's been one of the best forwards in Bridgeport, averaging just under a point a game. He's earned a chance to put on an Islanders uniform and play at the NHL level." Okposo has 23 points in 27 games for Bridgeport.

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