NEWARK (AP) — The New Jersey Devils aren’t used to being considered among the NHL’s worst teams. The Edmonton Oilers know all too well what that’s like.
Coming off a stunning gaffe by their highest-paid superstar, the Devils look to end the worst home start in franchise history when they face the Oilers on Friday night in a matchup of the league’s bottom two clubs.
New Jersey (4-10-2) has been a force in the Eastern Conference for much of the last 20 seasons, winning three Stanley Cups and nine division titles. Signing Ilya Kovalchuk – who had at least 41 goals each of the last six seasons – to a landmark 15-year, $100 million deal appeared to ensure that success would continue.
Not quite. The Devils are surprisingly tied with Edmonton (4-8-2) for the fewest points in the league, and still in search of their first home victory.
Kovalchuk isn’t helping much, either. He has three goals and five assists this season, including a goal and two assists at the Prudential Center, where the Devils are 0-5-2.
Kovalchuk was in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons Wednesday when he lost control of the puck on the decisive shootout attempt in a 5-4 home loss to Buffalo.
“If I were a fan, I would be upset,” said Kovalchuk, who was booed after his flub. “I would want the best players to make the big plays. I didn’t come through with that. It was my fault. But it’s all history. Today, the sun came up and it was a new day. We have to get a win at home, because it’s embarrassing.
“I’ve had so many opportunities, and I’m not getting the job done. I just have to be myself and do what I do best.”
First-year coach John MacLean doesn’t want the blame to fall solely on Kovalchuk, who has a goal and assist in nine career games versus Edmonton.
“Everyone wants to focus on him, but it’s the whole team. We’re all going through a tough time and have to battle through it,” MacLean said.
Perhaps getting Martin Brodeur back after missing four games with a bruised elbow can help begin turning things around. The four-time Vezina Trophy winner is 0-3-1 with a 3.32 goals-against average at home, but 3-1-0 with a 1.47 GAA in his last four meetings with Edmonton.
“It is frustrating,” Brodeur said of the Devils’ struggles. “We feel we’re a lot better than what we’re showing. It’s tough when you look at some of the stats we’re producing. You almost say, ‘Wow, is that really us? This is not happening.'”
Facing the Oilers would appear to give the Devils a good chance to get that elusive first home win, but they have been outscored 4-1 while losing the last two meetings.
That seems to be the Oilers’ lone bright spot in recent years. Edmonton hasn’t reached the playoffs in four seasons, had a league-low 62 points in 2009-10 and is 4-24-4 on the road since Dec. 23.
The Oilers’ last two games show things aren’t going to change for the better anytime soon. After opening a five-game road trip with a 2-1 win over defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago on Sunday, the Oilers have been outscored 13-3 in losses to Carolina and Detroit.
The Oilers gave up the first five goals in Thursday’s 6-2 defeat to the Red Wings. Nikolai Khabibulin dropped to 4-8-1 with a 3.64 GAA this season, however, he’s 8-3-3 with a 1.99 GAA in 14 career starts against the Devils.
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