The New Jersey Devils thought they hit rock bottom during 2010.
If the beginning of 2011 is any indication, the team's free fall is still continuing.
The Devils will look to win their first game of the new year tonight against their Atlantic Division rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, tonight at the Prudential Center.
Over the past few seasons, the matchup between the Devils and Flyers usually determined playoff and division position. This season, however, both teams sit on the opposite end of the spectrum.
The Devils enter the game losers of two straight and 13 of their last 15 games. Even a change in coaches couldn't shake New Jersey's slump. Since Jacques Lemaire took over, the Devils are 1-5-0.
New Jersey's inconsistent play and bad luck doomed them in a 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night. New Jersey managed one shot in the first period, their lowest of the season. An untimely turnover by Ilya Kovalchuk led to a Cal Clutterbuck goal and a 1-0 deficit.
The Devils dramatically improved their play in the second period. New Jersey outshot the Wild, 14-4, and tied the game on an Ilya Kovalchuk goal.
A fluke goal by Clayton Stoner sent the Devils to yet another loss. Stoner dumped the puck into the Devils zone. His attempt clipped the stick of Ilya Kovalchuk and deflected off a partition near the Devils bench. With Johan Hedberg behind the net, the puck caromed towards the open goal. It hoped over the stick of the diving Hedberg and into the net for Stoner's first career NHL goal.
The Flyers sit fourth in the Eastern Conference and second in the Atlantic Division with 53 points. Philadelphia has rode the strong play of goalies Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky. Despite injuries to players such as Chris Pronger, the team continues to pile up wins.
Philadelphia broke a 22-year losing streak in Detroit Sunday, defeating the Red Wings, 3-2. The Flyers jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second period, then held on as Detroit answered with two goals in the final frame. The win at Joe Louis Arena was the first for Philadelphia since November 4, 1988.
Johan Hedberg will make his second consecutive start for the Devils. The regular playing time is helping him find a rhythm.
"It's different when you play regularly than when you play once in a while," Hedberg told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. "I feel like I get more into the rhythm thinking and then moving and the way I feel the game. My patience is better. I know when I haven't played in a while, sometimes you want to do too much and you end up chasing it around. Hopefully, I can play a patient game and read the play as well."
The Flyers and Devils have split two games this season. Hedberg backstopped the Devils to a 2-1 shootout win on November 27. Bobrovsky led the Flyers to a 5-3 win on December 4.
Martin Brodeur will dress a backup for consecutive games since January 17, 2004 (versus the Washington Capitals) and January 20, 2004 (at Pittsburgh). Brodeur hadn't played well in recent years against the Flyers, dropping 13 of his last 16 starts against them.