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Penguins-Devils Preview @NHL

For two teams coming off 2-0 losses - and separated by only one point in the Atlantic Division standings - it would be hard for the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins to feel much more differently about themselves.

Despite their recent defeat, the Devils are still riding a strong stretch of play even without their best player, while the Penguins are trying to turn around a midseason swoon that has coach Michel Therrien fuming heading into Friday's visit to Newark.

New Jersey certainly wasn't pleased with a 2-0 loss to Eastern Conference-leading Boston on Tuesday, but strong defense by the Devils (19-10-3) slowed down the high-powered Bruins as Scott Clemmensen stopped 22 of 23 shots he faced.

"It was a good test to see where we're at in a sense. They're where we want to be," New Jersey coach Brent Sutter told his team's official Web site. "I thought it was a very good hockey game in a lot of ways. A break was the difference in the game."

The Devils have been getting most of the breaks recently, thanks in part to Clemmensen. Playing in place of injured four-time Vezina Trophy winner Martin Brodeur, Clemmensen is 11-2-1 with a 2.23 goals-against average in his last 14 starts.

Behind Patrik Elias, New Jersey had also been clicking offensively before Tuesday, averaging 3.8 goals in its previous 15 games while going 12-2-1. Elias had 11 goals and 16 assists over that span.

Pittsburgh (18-12-4) has even more offensive talent, with the NHL's two points leaders in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. But that hasn't translated into much success lately, as the defending conference champions have lost six of nine to sink to fourth place in the division - one point behind New Jersey.

Poor defense has been a problem at times for the Penguins, but it was a lack of offense that cost them on Tuesday, when they managed only 15 shots and lost 2-0 at home to the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning.

"It doesn't get much worse than that," said defenseman Ryan Whitney, who played his first game of the season following offseason foot surgery.

While Malkin's 58 points are the most for an NHL player before Christmas since Mario Lemieux's 60 for Pittsburgh in 2002-03, Crosby has been struggling, with only one goal in 11 December games. The No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005 has just three points in his last five contests.

Pittsburgh's poor penalty killing also has slowed the team down. In the Penguins' last six games, opponents have converted 32.4 percent (11-of-34) of their power plays, with each opponent scoring at least once on the man advantage.

But Therrien said the Penguins' problems are more mental than physical.

"We don't have the right attitude," Therrien said. "We like to complain about each other on the bench and on the ice. They better wake up pretty quick. ... I'm really disappointed with their work ethic and the concentration. Until they change their attitude, we are going to have the same results."

This game will be the fourth meeting this season between the teams, with New Jersey winning two of the first three, including a 2-1 overtime victory on Oct. 11.

Crosby had a hat trick in the Penguins' 4-1 home win over the Devils on Nov. 29, but Pittsburgh lost by the same score at the Prudential Center on Dec. 10. The Penguins had been 5-0-1 in their previous six visits to New Jersey, shutting out the Devils three times over that span.

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