Both the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils, who face off against one another Monday night at the Prudential Center, are within striking distance of a playoff spot in the tight Eastern Conference. Both are in need of an exceptionally strong push to pass a slew of teams still ahead of them in the standings, however.
The Sabres (21-20-10) are tied for last place in the East with 52 points, yet are only seven points behind the eighth-place Philadelphia Flyers in the conference. They picked up at least one point in five of their last seven games (4-2-1) following Saturday's 4-0 shutout victory over the Ottawa Senators.
"We want to get to our best," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said on Saturday. "We want to get where we're a good team every night."
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The Devils (22-21-10) are two points better than the Sabres, and that much closer to the final playoff spot in the East. Like Buffalo, the Devils have played better of late, picking up points in seven of their last 10 games (6-3-1) after skating to an impressive 5-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night.
However, what stands out the most about New Jersey's recent play is how lopsided their home and road splits have been.
While the Devils have won their last six road games, they have not won on home ice since Jan. 2, posting an 0-5-2 mark in that span.
"We have to be a good road team and a good home team, just be a good team period," said Devils right winger Kyle Palmieri.
Monday's contest is the start of a five-game home stand for the Devils, and a stretch where they play eight of their next nine games at the Prudential Center, a building that has seen New Jersey win just once in its last ten home contests (1-7-2).
The good news for New Jersey is that its long dormant offense is waking up. The Devils have scored 12 goals in their last three games overall, and have recorded four or more goals in four of their last eight games.
"We are generating more chances, and when you're getting chances you start feeling better about your game," said Palmieri, who has ten goals in his last 21 outings. "You start to feel more confident out there to make plays and have the puck on your stick."
On Saturday, the Devils scored five goals for only the fourth time this season. Taylor Hall, who had not scored a goal in the previous seven games, netted a pair, and Travis Zajac scored for the first time in ten games.
The contributions came from everywhere Saturday as Jacob Josefson recorded his first goal of the season, and defenseman Seth Helgeson scored the first goal of his National Hockey League career.
Like New Jersey, the Sabres have struggled offensively most of the season, as well. Both teams have scored 125 goals, just one more than the Florida Panthers, who have the fewest goals in the conference.
Saturday was a feel-good win, though, for the Sabres as four different players scored, Jack Eichel had a pair of assists, and Robin Lehner made 37 saves for his first shutout of the season.
"We've all been working hard, but we just haven't had results," Marcus Foligno said to the team's web site after scoring his ninth goal Saturday. "It's nice to have results lately."
Two important defensemen returned to the Sabres lineup following injury absences, as well. Josh Gorges missed 12 games due to a hip injury, and Jake McCabe was back after sitting out the previous five contests with a shoulder issue.
The Sabres defense corps is now almost back to full strength, though Zach Bogosian will not play against the Devils because of a rib injury.
"It's nice to be playing better, but I've got to be honest, every two points we get is a really good feeling" said Lehner. "We want that feeling to continue."