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Devils coach Lemaire returns to face Wild

by Brian Hunter
DEVILS (28-10-1) at WILD (20-18-3)

Last 10: New Jersey 7-3-0; Minnesota 5-5-0

Season Series:
This is the only meeting of the season between the teams. New Jersey won the most recent matchup on home ice, 4-0, on March 20, with Martin Brodeur recording the 101st shutout of his career. It was also Brodeur's first start after he set the all-time record for victories. Patrik Elias scored a pair of goals for the Devils.

Big Story: Up until this season, Jacques Lemaire was the only coach the Wild franchise had known since entering the League for the 2000-01 season. Lemaire posted a 293-255-108 record in eight seasons and led Minnesota to a berth in the Western Conference Finals in 2003. Now he is back with New Jersey, a franchise he led to its first Stanley Cup championship in 1995.

Team Scope:

Devils: Still the best road team in the League with a 13-4-1 mark, New Jersey has nevertheless lost its last two away from home -- however, those defeats have come against a pair of division leaders in Washington and Chicago. The Devils shut out the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins 2-0 on Wednesday, then traveled to face the Blackhawks on New Year's Eve and were defeated soundly, 5-1.

''I think they made us look tired,'' Brodeur said. ''They dictated the game. At the end of the day when they got a 2-0 lead it got tough for us.''

After tying the franchise record for victories in a month with 10, Minnesota had two chances to break it but came up short against Anaheim and Los Angeles. The Wild had their New Year's Eve party at the Xcel Energy Center crashed by the Kings, 5-2, as Alexander Frolov scored twice. The mood in the dressing room later was one of urgency and not letting this minor losing streak escalate.

"We've got to find a way to get ourselves out of the funk if we want to be making our way up to the top, or moving ourselves up into a playoff spot," defenseman Greg Zanon said. "We're going to have to be winning games. We can't be losing back-to-back games."

Who's Hot:
Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner has scored goals in consecutive games. … Minnesota's leading scorer, Mikko Koivu, has six assists during a five-game points streak.

Injury Report:
Forward David Clarkson re-aggravated a leg injury and is out for the Devils. Defenseman Bryce Salvador has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury but is on the road trip and could play Saturday. Defenseman Paul Martin (arm) and forward Dainius Zubrus (kneecap) remain on injured reserve.

Wild defenseman Brent Burns and forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard are on injured reserve with concussions. Burns is back on the ice and skating again. Forward Robbie Earl joins them with flu-like symptoms. Forward Chuck Kobasew is out with a sprained MCL/ACL, and defenseman Clayton Stoner has missed the last two games with a strained groin.

Stat Pack:
New Jersey finished the calendar year of 2009 with 58 victories, five more than Chicago for the most in the League. … Minnesota has reached the halfway point of its season with 43 points. It finished last season with 89, two behind Anaheim for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference.

Puck Drop:
Ex-Devil Petr Sykora, who won a Stanley Cup with the team in 2000 and a second last season with the Penguins, returned Thursday after missing 25 games with a concussion. The 14-year veteran played mostly on the fourth line, but is capable of much more as he gets back in the swing of things.

"It's getting the feel of the game back, feeling the puck," Sykora told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "It doesn't matter really how much you practice, how much you skate, the most game shape you get is by playing games."

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