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Devils relying on return of Paul Martin, arrival of Martin Skoula

TORONTO - The NHL's winningest goaltender isn't the only Martin the New Jersey Devils are counting on in their pursuit of an Atlantic Division title.

Paul Martin finally returned to the Devils' blue-line this week after missing 59 games with a fractured forearm that took much longer than expected to heal.

He scored a goal in New Jersey's 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday and had a golden opportunity to do the same against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night, but couldn't find the open net during a late power play.

"I'd like to say someone got a piece of it, but I'm pretty sure I just missed," said Martin, whose team dropped a 2-1 shootout decision to the Leafs. "I think I got excited too early, but I should have buried that."

Jacques Lemaire agreed, though the Devils coach is still happy to have the mobile Martin back on his blue-line.

"He's a guy that has a lot of talent and can move the puck well, can skate with it," Lemaire said. "He missed that open net there at the end, he could have won the game for us, but it happens."

Martin, who was originally picked to be part of Team USA's Olympic squad but had to miss the event because of his injury, said he's still getting re-adjusted to the pace of the NHL.

"It's been a long time, so I'd say the speed of the game, the timing with all the guys," said Martin when asked to identify the toughest part of picking his game back up. "But it's coming back quicker than I thought. We've still got a little ways to go, but I'm starting to feel better."

Martin, one of the more prominent defencemen eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer, spent some of Thursday's game paired with Martin Skoula, who came to New Jersey at the trade deadline via the Leafs. Toronto briefly held Skoula's rights in advance of this year's deadline after acquiring him in the deal that also saw the Leafs acquire Luca Caputi while shipping Alexei Ponikarovsky in Pittsburgh.

Skoula's time as a Leaf lasted less than 24 hours as Toronto sent the 30-year-old to New Jersey for a fifth-round pick in this June's draft.

"Since he's been with us, he's been good," said Lemaire, who also coached Skoula with the Minnesota Wild. "He's steady, good defensively, moves the puck well, gives it quick, makes a good first pass, so we're pleased with his performance."

The Devils trail Pittsburgh by just one point for the Atlantic lead and another body who will help them in that chase is David Clarkson, who scored the team's only regulation goal versus Toronto.

The gritty Clarkson missed 36 games with a broken leg, but began playing again after the Olympic break. His presence has at least slightly buoyed a New Jersey team that had just two wins in eight pre-Olympic contests, but is now 5-3-1 since play resumed.

"He's a guy that's good around the net, he's strong on his skates and he's got a long stick, he's got a quick release," Lemaire said. "He goes in front of the net all the time, so that's why he's getting the odd goal."


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