Devils

Devils Look To Shake Off Sluggish Start

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(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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SAN JOSE (AP) – The New Jersey Devils have high-priced talent and one of the best goaltenders in history. That hasn’t translated into them looking like an Eastern Conference contender yet.

The Devils look to move past a sluggish start Wednesday night as they continue a six-game road trip against the San Jose Sharks.

New Jersey (2-6-1) has lost four of five and has been outscored 30-15 on the season – the largest goal differential in the NHL – while converting 2 of 28 power-play opportunities.

Coach John MacLean benched $100 million forward Ilya Kovalchuk before a 6-1 loss to Buffalo on Friday for undisclosed reasons, a decision that confused some players given the team’s lack of offense. Kovalchuk returned Sunday and scored his third goal of the season, but New Jersey has the fewest goals in the conference.

Martin Brodeur has a solid 2.69 goals-against average, but he’s received little help offensively. The Devils have scored more than two goals twice this season, and both their wins were Brodeur shutouts.

“We’re a pretty talented team, but we’re missing something right now,” forward Zach Parise said. “At times, we are not playing together out there. The effort was there but not the result that we need.”

Parise and captain Jamie Langenbrunner need to increase their production for New Jersey to get on track. Parise has four points while Langenbrunner has yet to score a goal.

“You dig yourself into a hole the way we’ve been playing,” Langenbrunner said. “You have to claw your way out.”

San Jose appeared to be putting some early struggles behind it with back-to-back wins following a 1-2-1 start, but the Sharks couldn’t sustain the momentum Sunday night and lost 4-0 at Calgary.

San Jose (3-3-1), which had the fewest regulation home losses in the West last season, is winless in three games at HP Pavilion.

Antti Niemi gave up three goals on five shots and was pulled 8:36 into Sunday’s contest. Niemi, 1-3-0 with a 4.49 GAA, has been unable to match his level of play from last season’s playoffs, when he helped lead Chicago to the Stanley Cup.

“In the first period, there could have been two pucks on the ice and we wouldn’t have had either one of them,” coach Todd McLellan said. “We were that slow. We were pushed off pucks. We didn’t compete along the boards. We weren’t playing the way we were supposed to play as far as the system went. Very disappointing.”

Joe Pavelski has been held without a point in all four Sharks losses, while Joe Thornton’s minus-9 rating is a league worst.

“I want to see us start to win some battles,” McLellan said. “I want to see us not wait for power plays. I want to see us compete 5-on-5. I went to see us get the puck up quick. I want to see us get through the neutral zone quicker. I want to see an honest forecheck.”

The Devils have won the last three matchups with the Sharks. Brodeur has gone 6-1-0 with a 2.11 GAA in his last seven starts versus San Jose.

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