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Devils chase division lead against slumping Islanders

by John Kreiser
DEVILS (40-23-3) at ISLANDERS (26-32-9)

Last 10 -- New Jersey 4-5-1; New York 3-6-1

Season series --
The teams are meeting for the fifth time this season and the third at the Nassau Coliseum, where they split two games six days apart in mid-January. New Jersey has won three of four, including a 4-2 victory on Long Island in the last meeting on Jan. 23.

Big story --
The Devils hit the road after one of their best performances of the season, a 3-1 home victory over division-leading Pittsburgh on Friday night in which they went toe-to-toe with the defending Stanley Cup champs and came out on top thanks to two third-period goals. New Jersey historically has not played all that well at the Nassau Coliseum, but the Islanders are in a free-fall -- they've dropped four in a row, including Thursday's 2-1 shootout loss to St. Louis -- and are headed for another bottom-three finish.

Team Scope:

Devils -- One of the biggest things the Devils will have to counteract is the deflation of going from a showdown with the defending Cup champs to a meeting with the floundering Islanders, whose fall from a playoff spot began the last time the two teams met.

"We have a focus playing against these guys that I wish we would have every game," captain Jamie Langenbrunner said of playing the Penguins. "We understand how dangerous they are, and I think we play accordingly. We have intensity, we're not taking shifts off and when you play that way, things are going to happen."

Islanders --
The Islanders were in eighth place on Jan. 23 and leading the Devils 2-1 late in the second period, but surrendered a game-tying power-play goal in the final minute of the period, lost the game 4-2 and haven't been the same since. Their injury-ravaged defense is the NHL's smallest, their special teams are in the bottom three in both categories and they've struggled to score and to keep the puck out of their net.

"(We need to) just identify what we're doing wrong and correcting them. That's obviously the biggest thing. We're in a little bit of a slump," forward Matt Moulson said after Thursday's loss. "We're going to have to get the greasy goals and greasy wins, that's how you're going to be a successful team in this League. Those one-goal games, we're going to have to learn how to win those more often than not."

Who's hot --
New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk is 3-3-6 in his last five games, including a goal and a pair of assists in the win over the Penguins. … Moulson scored the Isles' lone goal against St. Louis and leads the team with 24 -- superb production from a player signed as a minor-league free agent.

Injury report --
Devils defenseman Paul Martin, who's missed most of the season with a broken left forearm that cost him a berth on Team USA, is still another week or so away from returning. … The Islanders lost center Rob Schremp for the season on Tuesday with a knee injury that will require surgery. GM Garth Snow says goalie Rick DiPietro, who has played only eight games this season and is on IR with a swollen knee, will play again this season.

Stat pack --
Friday's victory was the Devils' 40th of the season, marking their 13th consecutive 40-win season. That tied the Montreal Canadiens (1970-71 through 1982-83, prior to overtime and the shootout) for the longest 40-win streak in NHL history. New Jersey's back-to-back wins over the Rangers and Penguins were its first since Jan. 12. They haven't won three in a row since Dec. 21. … Of the Islanders' 26 wins, just 14 have come in regulation; they are also 5-3 in overtime and 7-6 in shootouts.

Puck drop --
With the Devils in a stretch of six games in nine days, don't be surprised if coach Jacques Lemaire gives Martin Brodeur a night off and uses Yann Danis, who played for the Isles last season. The Islanders' playoff hopes are gone, but they're still working hard under coach Scott Gordon -- and the Devils rarely have an easy time on Long Island, so they can't afford to look past the Isles to next week's meetings with Boston and Pittsburgh.

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