After winning five of six, the New Jersey Devils have dropped back-to-back games to two of the Eastern Conference's best teams.
A home contest against the scuffling Buffalo Sabres may help them head into the All-Star break on a positive note.
The Devils look to extend the Sabres' franchise-record road losing streak to 13 games Tuesday night in each team's final contest before the break.
New Jersey (26-19-2) has lost its last two games by identical 4-1 scores at home to Northeast Division-leading Boston and Atlantic heavyweight Philadelphia. The Devils led the Bruins 1-0 after two periods Thursday before allowing three goals in the first eight minutes of the third. Against the Flyers on Saturday, New Jersey allowed two power-play goals in a home game for the first time this season.
"It's all about competing about top teams and we didn't fare too well against top teams in our conference," goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "Now we're challenging ourselves to gain ground on the teams that are close to us, or below us. We got to win these games at least if we can't beat the teams on top."
Buffalo (19-24-5) is one of the teams on the bottom, due largely to its futility away from home. The Sabres have been outscored 50-17 during a 12-game road skid - all in regulation - since beating Nashville 3-2 on Dec. 3. As Tuesday's contest is their sixth consecutive road game, they've also dropped five in a row including a 4-2 defeat Saturday at St. Louis,
"We just have to get some confidence back," goalie Ryan Miller told the Sabres' official website. "I think that's the big thing. No matter how good we play, you're almost waiting for the other shoe to drop. Hockey is mistakes and bounces. They go your way too. You just have to put the work in."
Miller has started 10 of the games during the road losing streak, posting an 0-9-0 record and a 3.88 goals-against average in those outings. He has a 5.02 GAA in his last three starts - all losses.
Buffalo's offensive players are also struggling. Thomas Vanek, the team leader with 19 goals, is in the midst of a season-high eight-game goal-scoring drought and hasn't recorded a point in his last six road games.
The Sabres have lost the first two meetings of their season series with the Devils, including a 3-1 defeat at the Prudential Center on Dec. 28.
Petr Sykora scored twice and Brodeur made 22 saves in that game, while Miller stopped 20 shots.
Brodeur has been between the pipes for both games against the Sabres this season and is 9-2-2 with a 1.49 GAA and two shutouts in 13 starts against them since 2007-08.
Although New Jersey is coming off back-to-back defeats, left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky appears to have made a seamless transition to his new team. Acquired Friday in a trade with Carolina, Ponikarovsky scored on his only shot Saturday.
"It was good to make an impact right away with my new teammates, but unfortunately, we didn't get a win,'' said Ponikarovsky, who had seven goals and eight assists in 49 games for the Hurricanes. "Everything happened so fast, me coming here, but I'm glad for it and I want to continue to help."
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