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Devils hope to rebound vs. Caps

by Mike G. Morreale /
Life without Martin Brodeur hasn't been too kind to the New Jersey Devils, but coach Brent Sutter hopes his club can right the ship tonight against the surging Washington Capitals (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-CA, RIS).

It's one of six games on tap in the NHL, including a pair of division showdowns. In the Southeast, the Carolina Hurricanes visit the Atlanta Thrashers while in the Central, the St. Louis Blues travel to Chicago.

Additionally, the Columbus Blue Jackets are in Buffalo; the Detroit Red Wings are in Florida and the Nashville Predators travel to Anaheim.

Here's a look at many of the intriguing story lines:

Soul searching -- The Devils (7-6-2), who have dropped three straight, travel to Verizon Center for the first of a home-and-home set against the Capitals, who have won four straight. The Devils have won six of their last seven in the nation's capital, including a 4-3 shootout decision Oct. 18.

Scott Clemmensen will start in goal. New Jersey has yielded 15 goals in five games without Brodeur, and are 1-4 in that span.

"We've got to find a way to stay in the hunt," Sutter told the Devils' Web site. "We're not going to use excuses. The easiest thing to do is say it's injuries. The bottom line is the guys who are playing have to be rock solid."

One player who has been "rock solid" has been Zach Parise, who leads the Devils with 17 points (11 goals). Defenseman Paul Martin, who has missed the last 5 games due to upper-body soreness, could return to the blue line tonight. His addition certainly would help a stagnant Devils power play, which has produced no goals over their last nine opportunities.

"We're playing hard and doing a lot of good things, but we're making too many mistakes," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "They're killing us and we're not capitalizing on our opportunities."

Soul searching II -- Rookie center Brandon Sutter returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing the last eight games with a concussion.

His presence only can help a Hurricanes team that is struggling right now. Sutter led all Hurricanes forwards in penalty-killing ice time during his team's 5-1 setback to Southeast Division-leading Washington on Wednesday.

For much of the game, Sutter centered a line with Wade Brookbank and Patrick Dwyer.

The Hurricanes, who have lost three of their last four games, likely will have Cam Ward between the pipes tonight against the Atlanta Thrashers. The 24-year-old Ward is hoping his club can snap its recent skid. At the same time, the fourth-season goalie is looking to pick up his first victory in net since a 5-4 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 4.

"We must play like a desperate team," Ward said. "It really is about having the right work ethic. A good work ethic is just as important as your skill level."

It also would help if Eric Staal can get untracked. Through 16 games, Staal has 5 goals and 9 points for the Hurricanes.

"We need to execute a lot better than we did (in a 5-1 loss to Washington on Wednesday)," Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette told The Raleigh News and Observer. "You go back and look at the first four (Capitals) goals ... those four goals were all preventable. We did something wrong. We just didn’t think very well, and because of it we got scored on."

Home ice advantage -- The Chicago Blackhawks will play their fourth straight home game tonight when the take on the Blues.

The club has earned at least one point in 11 of their last 12 games, including the last five, and last year's Calder Trophy winner, Patrick Kane, leads the team with 12 assists and 19 points. Specialty teams also have played a huge part in Chicago's 6-0-3 mark at the United Center in 2008-09. The Blackhawks are 11-for-48 (22.9 percent) on the power play and have killed off 41 of 46 short-handed situations on home ice.

Since taking over as coach Oct. 16, Joel Quenneville has guided the Hawks to a 6-1-3 record. His only loss came against the Blues in his debut as Blackhawks coach Oct. 18 -- a 4-3 shootout decision. Quenneville coached the Blues for parts of eight seasons (1996-2004).

Nikolai Khabibulin will start in goal ahead of Cristobal Huet, which would end a string of seven games in which the goalies have been rotated. Khabibulin made 38 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss to Boston on Wednesday.

St. Louis enters the game having just one victory in their last nine games and currently is on a six-game losing streak. The Blues, led by leading scorer Andy McDonald (16 points), have struggled on the road, going 1-4-1 this season. The team will try to prevent its first five-game road skid since losing 10 straight from Feb. 16-March 15, 2008. The Blues are 2-5-3 in their last 10 games at the United Center, including three straight setbacks.

A fresh start --
The Anaheim Ducks hope to give new executive vice president and general manager Bob Murray his first victory in his new position with the organization when it hosts the Nashville Predators.

If history is any indication, that just might happen.

Anaheim is 15-1-2 all-time at home against Nashville, with the last loss coming in January 2001. Since that setback, the Ducks have gone 11-0-2 while outscoring the Predators, 44-22. More than anything else, the Ducks need to re-establish themselves as an offensive force. After scoring 35 goals in an 8-0-1 run from Oct. 21-Nov. 5, Anaheim has totaled only three goals in losses to Dallas and Florida.

Murray, who had been Anaheim's vice president of hockey operations the last three seasons, was named to his new post Wednesday when Brian Burke resigned.

"We have to go out and produce on the ice and the rest of the stuff will take care of itself."
-- Chris Pronger

"We have to go out and produce on the ice and the rest of the stuff will take care of itself," Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger told the team's Web site. "We have a guy in place (Murray) who is going to be here and keep things moving forward."

Possible return --
There's a good chance Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Pascal Leclaire, who was the team's No. 1 goaltender prior to going down with an ankle injury in late October, will get the nod between the pipes tonight at HSBC Arena in Buffalo.

Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock hinted that Leclaire would start tonight or tomorrow against the Minnesota Wild in St. Paul. Leclaire's last victory came Oct. 21 against Vancouver when he stopped 24 shots in a 4-2 victory.

Despite the injuries to Leclaire and backup Fredrik Norrena (groin), the Blue Jackets (7-7-2) recently reeled off three straight victories behind 20-year-old rookie Steve Mason. Leclaire was activated from injured reserve Wednesday, but Mason got the start and suffered his first career loss in a 5-2 defeat against Phoenix. Mason is 3-1 with a 2.95 goals-against average and .896 save percentage in four appearances this season. He became the first NHL goalie since San Jose’s Nolan Schaefer in 2007 to open his career with three straight wins.

Leclaire was second in the NHL with nine shutouts last season and compiled a career-best 2.25 GAA. At the time of his injury, Leclaire was struggling to find some consistency, with a 3.41 GAA in his first seven starts before the ankle injury forced him to spend seven games on injured reserve.

Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller hasn't beaten the Blue Jackets since Nov. 22, 2002, losing his last two starts. The Sabres, in fact, have only two wins in eight games all-time against Columbus. For the season, Miller is 8-2-2 with a 2.12 GAA and .928 save percentage in 12 games.
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