The Ottawa Senators appeared to have the Eastern Conference's top seed all but secured a few weeks ago. A poor 15-game stretch, however, has allowed several teams back in that race.
|Brian Gionta's overtime goal gave the Devils the win on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
One of those clubs is the New Jersey Devils, who hope to move into sole possession of the Atlantic Division lead on Saturday night when they face the Senators for the second time in four days.
A 3-2 victory over league-leading Detroit on Jan. 12 improved Ottawa to 29-10-4 and seemed to signal that the race for first place in the East was just about over. Since then, however, the Senators have slumped to a 5-9-1 mark allowing Montreal, Pittsburgh and New Jersey to pull within four points of them.
Ottawa (34-19-5) had a chance to put more distance between itself and its closest pursuers on Wednesday at New Jersey, but Brian Gionta's goal 2:14 into overtime gave the Devils a 3-2 victory.
Since scoring 11 goals in back-to-back wins over Florida and Montreal, the Senators have totaled only three in the last two games despite having the top line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley together.
Heatley has played in four games since missing nearly a month with a shoulder injury. Alfredsson, sidelined four games with hip pain at the start of February, said the Senators need to become more consistent.
"We've had too many ups and downs," he told the team's official Web site. "When we've played well, we've played really well. When we've played poorly, we've played really poorly."
Alfredsson, fourth in the NHL with 73 points, has gone without one in a season high-tying two straight games for the third time this season. He has four goals and seven assists in his last nine games against New Jersey.
Ottawa coach John Paddock is still waiting for one of his goaltenders to take control of the starting job.
|Dany Heatley has rejoined linemates Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, but the Senators still have had difficulty scoriing. (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)
Ray Emery, scheduled to start Saturday, had won consecutive games before giving up four third-period goals in a 5-1 loss to Buffalo on Tuesday. He is 3-2-2 with a 1.97 goals-against average in seven career starts against the Devils.
Martin Gerber stopped 28 of 31 shots Wednesday in his third straight loss (0-2-1).
Paddock has decided to juggle his lines for Saturday's game, putting newly acquired Cory Stillman with Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly. Mike Fisher now will center Dean McAmmond and rugged Chris Neil
The Devils moved into a tie with the Penguins for the top spot in the Atlantic despite a 4-3 shootout loss to Atlanta on Friday. Bidding for its third straight victory, New Jersey allowed Marian Hossa's goal with 18.1 seconds left in regulation before falling in the 10th round of the shootout.
"It's disappointing," forward Zach Parise said. "It was a good chance for us to jump into sole possession of first place, but it didn't happen."
John Madden, Parise and Gionta scored for the Devils (32-21-5), who recorded a point for the sixth time in seven games (4-1-2).
Brodeur was outstanding in his 17th straight start, making 29 saves before the shootout.
"We have to get some rest," Brodeur said. "It was a tough game. We have to forget about it as quick as possible. We got some points (this week) so that's one of the positives. Wish we could've had two tonight."
The Senators won the first two meetings this season before the Devils' win on Wednesday.