The New Jersey Devils will try to break out of their recent funk tonight, when they host a Chicago Blackhawks team that will be out to erase the memory of a recent blowout loss.
New Jersey has lost two straight and four of its last five games (1-3-1) and is coming off Sunday's 5-2 setback in Pittsburgh. The slide has allowed idle Ottawa to pull within two points of the Devils for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia is also six points ahead of New Jersey for the East's fifth seed.
The Devils fell behind 1-0 just 64 seconds into Sunday's road loss to the Penguins and Jersey never held a lead in the contest. Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk each had a goal for the Devils, while Martin Brodeur allowed four goals on 27 shots in the loss.
"I don't think we competed as hard as they did," said Brodeur. "That gave them the edge over us. I don't think it was a bad game because we played decent, just didn't have enough."
The 39-year-old Brodeur is 0-3-1 over his last four starts and 1-4-1 in his last six, but the NHL's all-time leader in wins and shutouts is expected to get the start tonight.
The Devils welcomed forward Travis Zajac back to the lineup on Sunday and he posted an assist in his first game since Jan. 2. Zajac had been sidelined with a sore Achilles' tendon.
New Jersey defenseman Anton Volchenkov missed Sunday's game with a lower-body injury and is questionable for tonight.
The Devils, who are 20-13-4 as the host this year, are playing the first of two straight in Newark tonight and will also welcome Tampa Bay to the Prudential Center on Thursday.
Chicago, meanwhile, had won five straight games before getting routed, 6-1, in Sunday's home test against Nashville. It was the second-most lopsided loss of the season for the Blackhawks after a 9-2 setback in Edmonton on Nov. 19.
Sunday's tilt was also the first contest missed by top defenseman Duncan Keith, who was given a five-game suspension for his elbow to the head of Vancouver's Daniel Sedin last week. Captain Jonathan Toews also missed his 16th consecutive game with a concussion, and although the star forward has been skating, he has still yet to be cleared for contact.
The Blackhawks are currently a sixth seed in the Western Conference playoff race. Chicago is four points behind Nashville for the fifth seed and is five points ahead of Phoenix and Dallas.
Chicago fell behind 2-0 in the first period on Sunday and Nashville would build a 4-0 edge just two minutes in the third stanza. Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne stopped 24-of-25 shots to frustrate the Blackhawks, who went 0- for-4 on the power play.
Viktor Stalberg scored the lone goal for Chicago, which suffered its first regulation loss since March 6 and fell to 6-1-1 over its last eight contests.
Corey Crawford was pulled after giving up four tallies on just 15 shots. Ray Emery surrendered two goals on nine shots in relief.
"We didn't have anything going tonight," said Chicago forward Patrick Sharp. "And when we did try to generate some offense we weren't able to get any good shots on the net."
Blackhawks forward Marcus Kruger was held out of Sunday's game with concussion symptoms, but he expects to return tonight. Defenseman Steve Montador could play tonight after missing the last 22 games with an upper-body injury.
Chicago, which is 26-8-5 at home this year compared to a 16-18-3 road record, will alternate road and home games over its next four outings.
Tonight's test marks the lone meeting between New Jersey and Chicago this season. The Devils ended a three-game slide against the Blackhawks when they posted a win in Chicago on Nov. 3, 2010 and Jersey is 11-1-2 with a tie in the last 15 encounters in this series.
Chicago had lost seven straight in New Jersey before recording a 2-1 shootout win at the Rock on April 2, 2010.