After winning three games in a row, the New Jersey Devils are in a slide.
They've lost four of their last five games, allowing four goals or more three times. In two of their four losses, they scored just one goal. They've followed strong performances with weak ones, and a few bounces haven't gone their way.
New Jersey will have the chance to break their two-game losing streak tonight at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center on MSG Plus.
The Devils will play four of their next five games at home. The lone road game is a short trip to Philadelphia tomorrow night. With 15 of their next 21 games on the road, it's a welcome break and an opportunity to right the ship.
"We've got to get back on the winning track," center Patrik Elias told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "It doesn't matter if it's at home or we're away. It's nice to be at home here, everybody again settled with their families and everything. We have three games in four [days] and we've got to start off right. We're playing the Toronto Maple Leafs. They're playing good hockey. They work hard and they've got a couple of dangerous guys."
Toronto enters the game as one of the early season surprises. They went 7-3-1 in their first 11 games and lead the Northeast Division with 15 points. Phil Kessel has led that hot start, collecting 10 goals and 18 points during the first month of the season. The league named him Player of the Month for October.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer stressed the importance of limiting Kessel's opportunities.
"He's absolutely flying in the clips I've seen of him out there," he told Gulitti. "It's one, team awareness of when he's on the ice. He has the ability that you can think you're in good position against a guy like that and all of a sudden he's five feet by you. So, that's something we have to be aware of - take away his time and space and try and limit him."
One way to limit Kessel may be to start Martin Brodeur. The Devils goalie came off the injured reserved list this week and said he could play in tonight's game.
"There's no doubt in my ming that if they were to ask me to play, I could play," Brodeur said to Gulitti. "But I want to make sure I'm 100 percent to go out there and play, to the level I feel comfortable, anyway."
Brodeur injured his shoulder making a save during the first period against the Los Angeles Kings on October 13. He aggravated an injury from four years ago.
"It's nothing for me to not be able to play," he said to Gulitti. "I just banged it really hard this time around compared to other times I was tweaking it, tweaking it. When you play for so long, over a 1,000 games, you're going to have things that happen that will never go away. If you talk to any old players, they'll tell you after they retire things are coming up. For me, I just hurt it really bad (this time). So far, the only thing you can do is just rehab to get better."
If Brodeur can't play, Johan Hedberg will start his seventh straight game. He's 4-3-1 with a 2.28 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. In 18 games against Toronto, Hedberg is 8-5-0-1 with a 3.00 goals-against average and a .897 save percentage.
New Jersey's lack of offense has contributed to their early season struggles. They've scored just 18 goals in their nine games. They've scored one goal or less in four of their games. Elias said the lack of scoring has cost them wins.
"We know how to play to win," the center told Gulitti. "We really have to put the puck in to win hockey games. We had chances. We've got to bury those, stay loose a little bit and stay focused on those chances, and I think we'll be ok. We're working hard defensively, playing ok, but it's just that you're not going to win too many hockey games scoring just one goal."