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Off to franchise-best start, Wild welcome in Devils

by Brian Hunter /
DEVILS (12-10-1) at WILD (15-7-3)


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

Season series:
This is the only meeting on the 2011-12 schedule between these teams. Clayton Stoner picked up his first NHL goal off a crazy carom 74 seconds into the third period and the Wild beat the Devils 2-1 in New Jersey on Jan. 4, in their most recent matchup.

Big story: Minnesota has spent the past several days seesawing back and forth with Pittsburgh in the early fight for the Presidents' Trophy -- a great achievement for a franchise that entered the season with a three-year playoff drought and a rookie coach in Mike Yeo. Now the Wild, whose 2.16 team goals-against average is fourth in the League, will look to build upon these excellent first two months.

Team Scope:

Devils: With the exception of perhaps the middle 20 minutes, there wasn't much to like about the opener of New Jersey's four-game road trip, a 6-1 rout suffered in Colorado on Wednesday night. The Devils came out flat, suffered defensive breakdowns early and surrendered a three-goal first. Ilya Kovalchuk got them on the board in the second and provided a glimmer of hope, but the Avs, who have struggled this season to put the puck in the net and win games on home ice, got three more in the third -- including a shorthander, the League-worst sixth allowed by New Jersey.

"No excuses. There haven't been many nights this year where I had to stand here and tell you that we didn't show up and play," coach Pete DeBoer said in the Newark Star-Ledger. "Tonight was one of them right from the drop of the puck. In the first period it looked like we were still in New Jersey."

Wild: It's been a complete team effort for Minnesota in the journey to the top of the standings, and Kyle Brodziak was the guy playing hero Wednesday night in Edmonton. His power-play goal in the second period completed the Wild's comeback from a 2-0 deficit, and he struck again in the sixth round of a shootout for a 3-2 victory over the Oilers. Devin Setoguchi also scored in regulation, while Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley tallied in the shootout prior to Brodziak's winner. Heatley's goal in the fifth round kept the Wild alive.

"You're down 2-0, and a couple of guys are hurt. Those are games that are sometimes easy to just pack it in," Brodziak said. "It makes it that much harder to stick with the game plan and keep pushing forward. It's a testament to the guys how everyone stuck together. We didn't break and it paid off."

Who's hot:
Devils rookie Adam Henrique assisted on Kovalchuk's goal against the Avalanche, giving him 1 goal and 3 assists during a three-game points streak. … Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom has won six of his last eight starts, allowing two goals or less in each of those victories. That includes a pair of shutouts. Koivu has 3 goals and 7 assists during a seven-game points streak which ties his career high.

Injury report:
New Jersey defenseman Andy Greene was out of the lineup Wednesday with an undisclosed injury after blocking a shot in the team's previous game Saturday. He's day-to-day, as is forward Dainius Zubrus, who left the game with an ankle injury after being hit by a shot in the third period against Colorado. … Minnesota forwards Darroll Powe (charley horse) and Cal Clutterbuck (thigh) and defenseman Justin Falk (back spasms) are day-to-day. Powe and Clutterbuck left Wednesday's game after suffering lower-body injuries and the team recalled forward Cody Almond from the AHL on Thursday. Forward Guillaume Latendresse and defenseman Marek Zidlicky are indefinitely out with concussions.

Stat pack:
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur is 7-1-2 with a 2.23 goals-against average and one shutout in his career against the Wild. … Koivu saw a team-high 24:42 of ice time Wednesday with linemate Dany Heatley (24:33) right behind him.

Puck drop:
Setoguchi knows what it's like to finish high atop the standings from his days in San Jose, and he's aware Minnesota isn't getting awarded anything just for playing two solid months.

"We are just over a quarter of the way through, so we have a long ways to go," he said. "It is nice to see your name there but we know that teams only get better throughout the year. We can only take it game by game."

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