Thursday, November 17, 2005

Devils Face Stiff Competition This Weekend

The Devils unpredictable season continued Tuesday in a 4-1 loss at Buffalo. After Scott Gomez opened the scoring, the Sabres score four unanswered goals. Even worse, Buffalo's no-name D shutdown New Jersey's offense. The Devils were unable to get many shots through. After 11 in the first, they had that total for the final two periods.

That won't work against their next two opponents. The Devils host Eastern Conference leader Montreal Friday night and then travel to Ottawa Saturday to play the league's most explosive offense.

It promises to be a big challenge. Both Montreal and Ottawa are quick skating skilled transition teams who can take advantage of miscues. The Devils must be sharp in all facets to have a chance in these games. In past seasons when faced with adversity, they rose to the challenge.

What they do have going for them entering Friday's match-up with the Canadiens is that Martin Brodeur has always fared well against the club he grew up in Montreal idolizing. A vintage Brodeur performance would go a long way to having a successful weekend.

However, it's not just all on his shoulders. Having struggled offensively, the Devs need more from everyone. Brian Gionta has done his part, pacing the club in goals (10) and points (17). After a slow start, Scott Gomez takes a three-game point streak (2-3-5) into Friday night. Rookie Zach Parise also has looked better the past few games (1-1-2 in 3 GP). He's been shifted to wing on Gomez' line.

The Devils could be without Alexander Mogilny for the third consecutive game due to a concussion suffered at Washington last Friday. Viktor Kozlov missed the Buffalo game with the flu, making his status uncertain.

One player who has struggled lately is Sergei Brylin. Brylin got off to a quick start with six goals in his first 10 games but has gone eight straight without one. The 31-year-old Moscow native always gives great effort. But with the well dry in terms of scoring, a goal from the Devils' unsung hero would be a welcome sight.

A forward who is going well is Jamie Langenbrunner. He's got a goal and three assists in the last four contests. Moved off the checking line, Langenbrunner has picked it up.

Grant Marshall has also given the team a boost with some surprising offense, notching at least a point the past three (2-3-5).

The team could also use more finishing from John Madden and Jay Pandolfo. The dynamic duo seem to create chances every game due to hard work. Maybe if one got a bounce, it could provide a lift.

While the focus is on the forwards to finish, the blueline must also contribute. Brian Rafalski has played steady D all season but the Devs could use some offense from the crafty ex-Wisconsin product. He's without a point in the last four and has just one goal on the season. Without a doubt, Rafalski is their number one defenseman and is relied on for offense. His skating is top notch and his passing can lead to odd-man rushes.

If the Devils are to win one of the next two games, their defense must get the job done. They can't afford any silly turnovers from Vlad Malakhov nor any undisciplined penalties because their next two opponents will make them pay.

One thing is certain. By the end of the weekend, the Devils should know where they stand against two of the East's elite.


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