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Canadiens-Devils Preview

GAME: Montreal Canadiens (18-14-6) at New Jersey Devils (17-18-5).

TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST.

The Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey Devils try to find some solid footing early in the new year as the teams meet at Continental Airlines Arena.

The Devils are trying to get back to .500 and win consecutive games for the first time since a three-game winning streak from Nov. 23-29. New Jersey posted a 3-0 win Tuesday over the Florida Panthers as Brian Gionta scored two goals and Martin Brodeur made 16 saves for his first shutout of the season.

More important for New Jersey was the return of top left wing Patrik Elias, who had missed the first 39 games due to hepatitis. Elias was grouped with Gionta and Patrick Gomez, assisted on Gionta's second goal and logged barely more than 15 minutes of ice time in his season debut.

"It felt good, no question," said Elias, who has 207 goals in 559 lifetime games with the Devils. "I'm glad to be back. If the fans are excited, that's even better."

With 23 goals, Gionta exceeded his career high of 21 set in the 2003-04 season, and the right wing has had multi-point efforts in three of his last four games. Gomez is playing his best hockey of the season, totaling five goals and five assists in a four-game multi-point streak.

"It helps that they're going well," Elias said. "We're making good plays, spreading the ice pretty well ... I told the coaches when I come back I want to play, I don't just want to go out there and play a couple of shifts and try to work into it."

Montreal has lost three straight games and five of its last six following Tuesday's 6-4 defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Canadiens rallied from a three-goal deficit to take a 4-3 lead, only to see goaltender Jose Theodore yield three more goals in a 16:05 span of the second and third periods.

"Sometimes you wonder if you need it to be a rollercoaster-type of game," Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. We get ourselves back in the game and somehow found a way to let it slip away."

Center Radek Bonk returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing 11 games due to a groin injury and had an assist.

Candadiens defenseman Sheldon Souray, who was drafted in the third round of the 1994 draft by the Devils, has just one assist in 10 lifetime games against them.

STANDINGS (through Jan. 4): Canadiens - 42 points, 4th place, 17 PB, Northeast Division. Devils - 39 points, 3rd place, 17 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Canadiens - Michael Ryder, 17 goals; Saku Koivu, 21 assists and 29 points; Steve Begin, 87 PIM. Devils - Gionta, 23 goals and 41 points; Gomez, 21 assists; Colin White, 49 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 4): Canadiens - Power play: 17.6 percent (41 for 233), 15th in NHL. Penalty killing: 80.8 percent (198 for 245), tied for 21st. Devils - Power play: 14.4 percent (37 for 256), 26th. Penalty killing: 82.5 percent (165 for 200), tied for 14th.

GOALTENDERS: Canadiens - Theodore (14-10-5, 0 SO, 3.16 GAA); Cristobal Huet (1-2-1, 0, 3.67). Devils - Brodeur (15-14-3, 1, 2.85); Scott Clemmensen (2-4-2, 0, 3.83).

SEASON SERIES: Devils, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Nov. 18, 2005; Devils, 5-3. At East Rutherford, N.J., Gionta snapped a 3-3 tie with a power-play goal with 12:35 to play while Gomez and Brian Rafalski each had two assists for the Devils.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Canadiens - 7-8-4 on the road; Devils - 11-7-3 at home.

Associated Press
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