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Devils complete road trip by visiting struggling Jets

by Brian Hunter
DEVILS (24-17-2) at JETS (20-18-5)


Last 10:
New Jersey 6-3-1; Winnipeg 5-5-0

Season Series: Third of four meetings this season -- this is the start of a home-and-home for the Devils, but not the Jets, who face the Senators on Monday before making the trip to New Jersey for a game Tuesday. Each team has won its home game, with Adam Henrique's overtime goal giving the Devils a 3-2 victory on Nov. 5 and Mark Stuart's goal with 6:47 left in the third period proving decisive in the Jets' 4-2 triumph on Dec. 3.

Big Story: Ilya Kovalchuk has struggled at times since coming to New Jersey, but the former 50-goal scorer comes into this game on a tear with four consecutive multi-point games -- including 5 goals during that span. Kovalchuk was still more than five years removed from making his NHL debut when the old Jets left for Phoenix, so this is just his second game playing in Winnipeg -- and he's keenly aware of what that means.

"There are not too many rinks where I hadn't scored a goal," Kovalchuk told the Newark Star-Ledger after recording a shorthanded tally in Edmonton on Wednesday. "This was one of them. A couple of weeks ago I was checking it out. I think I have one or two left -- Dallas and Winnipeg."

Team Scope:

Penalty killing has served New Jersey well all season, and the NHL's No. 1 unit at 90.4 percent was tested often against Edmonton. Kovalchuk opened the scoring in the second period with his fifth career shorthanded goal, but the Oilers would eventually tie things up in the third on their fifth power play of the game. In overtime, it was the Devils' turn to strike with the man advantage, as Patrik Elias collected the rebound of a Kovalchuk blast and fed Zach Parise for a goal at 1:06 to give the Devils a 2-1 victory. Johan Hedberg stopped 22 shots one night after he and Martin Brodeur combined to give up six goals on 14 shots in Calgary.

"I had a good feeling coming in," Hedberg said. "It was a fun game to play -- more fun than last night."

Jets: Only five points separate Winnipeg and New Jersey in the standings, but right now that's the difference between the Devils occupying a playoff berth and the Jets sitting outside the top eight. Returning home after a four-game road trip, the Jets were shut out for the second time in eight days, 2-0 by the Sharks on Thursday. They've lost four of five to begin the new year after an extremely successful month of December, and the slump has already worn thin with captain Andrew Ladd.

"How many times have we stressed about getting pucks deep and making sure that we're doing those smart things and how many turnovers did we have tonight? Way too many," he said. "At some point we gotta figure out if we want to be a playoff team or if we're just content with being this win one here, win one there.

"Personally, I'm sick of having these little stretches."

Who's Hot: Kovalchuk now leads the Devils with 17 goals, while Parise has 2 goals and 6 assists during a five-game points streak and Elias has 2 goals and 4 assists during a four-game points streak. … Blake Wheeler has 4 goals in his last six games for the Jets.

Injury Report:
New Jersey forward Travis Zajac is sidelined with a sore left Achilles. Forward Jacob Josefson (collarbone) and defenseman Andy Greene (foot) are on injured reserve. … Winnipeg defenseman Zach Bogosian missed Thursday's game with a lower-body injury. Defensemen Derek Meech (groin) and Dustin Byfuglien (knee) are on injured reserve.

Stat Pack:
The Devils have scored a shorthanded goal (Henrique 2, Kovalchuk) and a power-play goal (Dainius Zubrus, Elias, Parise) in three straight games. … Wheeler leads the Jets in assists (23), points (32), plus/minus (plus-10) and power-play goals (6).

Puck Drop:
Winnipeg coach Claude Noel didn't mince words when addressing the need to get more out of certain players after Thursday's demoralizing loss.

"If you want to be a key player on our team, if that's what you think you want to be, then get ready to play the game like everybody else," he said in the Winnipeg Free Press.
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