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Devils wrap up tough trip with stop in Chicago

by David Kalan

DEVILS (3-9-1) at BLACKHAWKS (7-6-1)


Last 10 -- Devils 3-7-0; Blackhawks 6-4-0

Season series -- This is the only meeting of the season between Chicago and New Jersey. The Blackhawks swept a pair from the Devils last season, most recently a 2-1 shootout win in Newark on April 2.

Big story -- Faced with dramatically high expectations this season, New Jersey has somehow found itself in the midst of one the worst starts in franchise history. The order only gets taller Wednesday when the Devils visit the home of the defending champs, who are back in their usual environs -- first place.

Team Scope:

Devils -- A season that started with many expecting a deep playoff run from the Devils has gone wrong in just about every way over the season's first month, and as they wrap up a six-game road trip in Chicago, the swing out West has only made the situation worse. New Jersey has gone 1-4-0 in the first five games of the trek scoring a total of just six goals in that span -- a horrendous showing that has netted the team a League-low seven points despite playing the second-most games.

A poor start induced by lackadaisical play and a defense thinned by injuries has not only made life difficult for goaltender Martin Brodeur, who has a 2.81 goals-against average on the current trip, but has also raised questions around the job security of rookie coach John McLean. The questions are likely to persist if the team's play doesn't pick up quickly -- and with Zach Parise, who has led the team in goals each of the past four seasons, now out for three months after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, that seems less and less likely. With arguably the best player to come out of the Devils' system since Brodeur himself gone for an extended period, this road trip has been punctuated by a massive blow to New Jersey's already fading playoff hopes.

Blackhawks -- Although they sit atop the Central Division, the Hawks are in a deceptive position thanks to a rough stretch that has seen them drop four of their last six games. The Blackhawks have 15 points -- second only to Los Angeles' 16 -- but the reigning champs have played a League-high 14 games, while St. Louis, which trails Chicago by just one point in the standings, has played just nine. The Hawks' current rough stretch culminated Monday in a frustrating 3-2 loss in New York, where Chicago outshot their Original Six rivals 35-23. Winger Tomas Kopecky, who was unable to cash in on a potential game-tying breakaway with less than 30 seconds to go Monday, may be symbolizing Chicago's recent frustrations, registering a minus-8 over the past five games despite scoring a goal and averaging more than two shots per game over that stretch.

The Hawks' offense seems to be ailing with the recent loss of winger Marian Hossa, who had been off to a blistering start this season. Chicago has still averaged 2.67 goals per game over the past six, but that is well below its season average of 2.86. Patrick Kane has six points in his last five games, and Patrick Sharp's 10 scores lead the League, but with Hossa and center Dave Bolland out, the offensive chances have been fewer. The Devils' weakened blue line, however, could provide the Hawks with an ample opportunity to pad the stats.

Who's hot -- If anyone on New Jersey can be considered hot, it would be David Clarkson, the only Devil to tally a goal and an assist -- he has one of each -- on the team's current road trip. … Duncan Keith continues to make a mark as one of the best defensemen on the planet in Chicago, but in addition to his stellar defensive play, the defending Norris Trophy-winner has nine points in his last four games.

Injury report -- The Hawks are missing Hossa, who is expected to be out for at least another week after suffering an upper-body injury a week ago. Chicago is also without Dave Bolland, who is on IR with a rib injury. … New Jersey may see the return of Anton Volchenkov from a broken nose, but it is more likely that he'll come off IR Friday when the Devils host the Rangers. New Jersey's spate of recent injuries also includes Parise, Jacob Josefson, who will miss 6-8 weeks following hand surgery and Matt Corrente, who is doubtful for Wednesday with a broken left hand.

Stat pack -- To get an indication of how dramatic a loss Parise will be for New Jersey, simply take a look at last season's statistics. Parise scored or assisted on 82 of the 216 goals scored by the Devils in 2009-10 -- a whopping 38%.

Puck drop -- Less than one month into the season, the Devils are in trouble in their quest for a 14th consecutive playoff berth. The loss of Parise takes away one of their two best forwards until after the new year -- not the ideal situation for a team struggling to score as it is. A date with the Devils looks like a good chance for the up-and-down Hawks to get back on the upswing.

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