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Offensive struggles threatening Devils' playoff hopes

by Dan Rosen

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils are straining their necks looking up to the rafters after each misstep and each unlucky bounce.

They're searching for answers, for help, for reasons why the puck just isn't going into the net -- and finding nothing.

The results prove that.

"It's just mind-boggling why we haven't collected more points," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said Tuesday.

Mind-boggling, but true.

The Devils haven't won since Ilya Kovalchuk was put on injured reserve with a right shoulder injury two and a half weeks ago. They're 0-3-4 and are now facing a climb to get back into the top eight in the Eastern Conference, with a Wednesday Night Rivalry game against the Boston Bruins at Prudential Center (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN) next on the schedule.

"The way we have been playing, I think we deserve to be there [in the top eight], but we're not," center Travis Zajac told "It's the League right now; there's a fine line between being in the playoffs and sitting outside. The League is so competitive. We're not getting those bounces right now, but I think if we continue to play the same way we're going to get some wins here and hopefully build off that."

They'll have to break out of this slump without Kovalchuk, who declared he's not ready to return after practicing Tuesday for the first time since going down with his injury March 23.

"That's not an excuse for us," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said of Kovalchuk's absence. "We haven't used that as an excuse and we can't. We've got to find a way to persevere."

Translation: They've got to find a way to score. It's been a struggle.

The Devils have six goals in their past five games despite outshooting their opposition by a combined 156-121 -- a stat that can be deceiving if the quality of shots doesn't at least come close to matching the quantity.

They don't feel that's the case.

"When you look at the video of how we're playing, we're getting as many chances [as before], and they're not far-out chances, they're in-tight chances," Devils forward David Clarkson told "It's just like, this can't happen for much longer. It's been going on for a while. I think the quality of shots is there; I think we're not getting the bounces now."

They didn't seven days ago when they outshot the Bruins 40-26 but lost 1-0 because Brad Marchand's pass to the front of the net hit off Jaromir Jagr's skate and got past Brodeur.

"I think we could easily be on a winning streak right now, but those are the bounces you're dealt with sometimes in a game," Zajac said.

They didn't get any help Sunday and lost to the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout, 3-2, despite a 39-26 advantage in shots on goal.

"Odds are if you play that way you're going to win eventually," Zajac said. "It's gotta come. We've been controlling plays. We've been playing against good teams that we've dominated at points in the game. If you look at it, it's going to come."

Clarkson said, "The key is that we don't have much time to wait for it to come. We need to somehow get it to come starting [Wednesday] night."

It starts with their top guys, minus the injured Kovalchuk. None of them are scoring.

Zajac and Patrik Elias have been held to one assist each in the past seven games, and Adam Henrique doesn't have a point. Clarkson has the one goal he scored against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Steve Bernier and Andrei Loktionov, a pair of role players, lead the Devils in scoring over the past seven games with two goals apiece.

"It's always tough when you're competing, you work so hard and once again we don't get rewarded for it," Brodeur said. "Always the first words are, 'It's getting old.' And it is getting old, so right after it's tough. But after that we have to look back and see how we played and we have to be really satisfied. At the end of the day the points are what's important."

They're two points out of a playoff spot right now, but they're also two points out of 11th place with 10 games to go.

"We're in a tough spot right now," Brodeur said, "but we put ourselves into that spot and we have to try to get out of it."


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