Originally created 01/15/04

Devils in midseason slump



WEST ORANGE, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils are going to find out quickly about the extent of their midseason slump.

On tap next for the defending Stanley Cup champions is the Rangers in New York on Thursday. If there is any team the Devils own, it's the Rangers.

New Jersey is unbeaten in its last 10 games (6-0-4) against the Rangers and has a 21-1-12-1 mark against its cross-river rivals dating to the 1996-97 season. Included is a 5-0 victory earlier this season.

But the Devils have won only twice in eight games (2-5-1). A game with the Rangers might be a cure for their ails them.

"I hope this helps," Devils forward Patrik Elias said of playing the Rangers, who have won two of their last three games.

But he knows it won't be easy, because they Rangers have shown recent signs of improvement.

"They are playing a lot better, so it will be tough," Elias said. "They know we are not playing at our best, so this is their best chance to kick the heck out of us. But hopefully, that will motivate us and get us going."

The Devils had one of those motivational tests Tuesday night, going against Ottawa, which came in with just one loss in 13 games.

The teams also met last year in the Eastern Conference finals, with New Jersey winning in seven games. But the Senators embarrassed the Devils 4-0.

Injuries are part of the problem for New Jersey.

Captain Scott Stevens, the cornerstone of the Devils' defense, has missed three straight games with the flu. Jamie Langenbrunner, who had seven goals in 21 games, has not played since hurting a knee in late November.

His absence has not helped with the Devils struggling to score. They have just 12 goals in their last eight games. The only thing that has kept them in some games has been goaltender Martin Brodeur and the defense.

Brodeur leads the league with nine shutouts, and the Devils have allowed a league-low 78 goals. But that scenario must change, Elias insists.

"We can't continue to play games relying on Marty and our defense all the time," said Elias, who leads the team with 13 goals and 33 points. "We have to start scoring some goals and give ourselves a cushion and have some fun.

"Mentally, it's trying. It catches up to you during the season when you play every game tied or up by a goal or always catching up."

Center John Madden said the Devils also haven't gotten away with any mistakes lately. Ottawa capitalized on three odd-man rushes Tuesday night and there were some mistakes down low in a loss before that.

"What concerns us is we've had an opportunity to jump ahead of some teams for first place overall and we haven't done it," Madden said. "That's a concern."

The key for New Jersey it to end the slide quickly.

With 40 games left in the regular season, the Devils are three points behind first-place Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division but have played three fewer games.

"We've put ourselves in great position," forward Jeff Friesen said. "It's time to start cranking into top gear."