While the New Jersey Devils entered the Christmas break in the midst of one of their best stretches of the season, they know there's still plenty of room for improvement.
Their recent efforts against the Carolina Hurricanes, in contrast, haven't left much to be desired.
Seeking a sixth win in seven games overall, the visiting Devils look for a sixth consecutive victory over the Hurricanes on Monday night.
New Jersey (19-14-1) has climbed its way into a seventh-place tie in the Eastern Conference thanks to a 5-1-0 record over its last six games. The Devils have tallied 3.6 goals per game during that run, more than a goal higher than their season average.
It hasn't all been smooth sailing for coach Peter DeBoer's team, though. After scoring three second-period goals Friday, New Jersey surrendered three in the third before ultimately defeating Washington 4-3 in a shootout.
"We make it interesting on ourselves," DeBoer said. "Obviously not the way we wanted to play the third period. We did a lot of good things and got the win. Thankfully, we've got 40-plus games to clean up some little things."
The Devils have to like their chances of doing just that with a matchup against the Hurricanes (11-19-6). New Jersey has taken nine of 11 in this series, including five in a row while holding Carolina to nine goals.
The Hurricanes, tied for the fewest points in the East, are hoping Friday's 2-1 overtime victory over Ottawa will help spark a surge. Tuomo Ruutu scored the game-winner - his fifth goal in eight games - and Cam Ward made 22 saves.
"(Friday) is the most complete game we've played, and I think it can be a model for us going forward," defenseman Jay Harrison said.
It was just the Hurricanes' second win in eight home games, and their first in seven games overall this season that went past regulation.
"We haven't been too successful in overtimes," Ruutu said. "Sometimes you gotta go 65 minutes, and that's what we did (Friday). We have to keep going and remember how hard we worked."
Carolina, though, is likely to be without reigning Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner for a seventh consecutive contest due to a concussion. Skinner leads the team with 24 points.
Defenseman Joni Pitkanen has been held out the last seven games with the same injury and is also uncertain to play.
The absences of Skinner and Pitkanen could make things easier on Martin Brodeur if he gets the start. The all-time leader in wins and shutouts made 22 saves Friday, not allowing more than three goals for an eighth straight start.
He's 13-3-1 with a 1.89 goals-against average and four shutouts over his last 18 starts in this series. Brodeur turned away 25 shots in a 3-2 win over Carolina on Nov. 8.
Red-hot Ilya Kovalchuk also may be looking forward to visiting the RBC Center, where he has 19 goals and 22 assists in his last 26 games. He posted his fourth multipoint effort in five games Friday, and the winger has seven goals and nine assists in his last 13 games.
Ward has been in net for both meetings this season - losses in New Jersey - and is 1-7-1 in his last nine matchups with the Devils.
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