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The New Jersey Devils were hardly competitive in a home loss to the Detroit Red Wings last month.
Having vastly improved at both ends of the ice since then, the Devils could give the Red Wings more of a challenge Wednesday night as they attempt to snap an eight-game slide at Joe Louis Arena.
Martin Brodeur gave up goals on the first two shots he faced Dec. 11 and New Jersey went on to lose 4-1 to Detroit. That defeat was part of a 2-15-0 stretch for the Devils, which led to the firing of rookie coach John MacLean Dec. 23 and the hiring of Jacques Lemaire.
Lemaire, who led New Jersey past Detroit in the 1995 Stanley Cup finals, has guided the Devils (16-29-3) to a turnaround.
They have gone 6-0-1 in their last seven while outscoring opponents 28-13. In the previous 20 games, the Devils were outscored 65-29.
“It’s a good feeling in here,” center Jason Arnott said. “It certainly is a lot more fun winning than losing. I think Jacques has had a big part in that, turning us around.”
Brodeur has helped key the resurgence with a 1.77 goals-against average over his last seven appearances. The NHL’s all-time leader in wins and shutouts was benched for three straight games earlier this month after starting 5-18-1 with a 3.15 GAA.
He made 24 saves in a 5-2 win over Florida on Sunday. Arnott scored twice and Ilya Kovalchuk had a goal and two assists.
Kovalchuk, who has endured a mostly disappointing season, has four goals and four assists during the last seven games.
Brian Rolston has recorded three goals and seven assists in that span, while Patrik Elias has five goals and four assists.
While the Devils have finally found their groove, the injury-plagued Red Wings (29-13-6) have struggled to stop opponents during a 2-3-1 stretch.
Detroit has allowed 24 goals in those six contests. Top goaltender Jimmy Howard, hampered by a bruised right knee, has a 5.24 GAA over his last four starts and gave up three unanswered goals in a 4-1 loss to Chicago on Saturday.
“He’s been making saves, but we have to be able to help him with rebounds,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said.
The Red Wings can’t turn to backup Chris Osgood because he’s recovering from hernia surgery, and their attempts to sign former San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov were thwarted when the New York Islanders claimed him off waivers Saturday.
Detroit is also without forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom and Mike Modano and defenseman Brad Stuart.
“We can’t make excuses about who’s in and out of the lineup,” Howard said.
The Wings, though, have gone 6-0-1 in their last seven meetings with the Devils, giving up 12 goals in those games. Detroit has outscored New Jersey 31-15 during its eight consecutive home wins in the series.
New Jersey, however, has gone 3-0-1 on the road following 11 straight defeats there.
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