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With losses in 10 of 14, Devils struggling on eve of Olympic break

NEWARK, N.J. - Jacques Lemaire didn't want to describe his 20-minute, on-ice discussion with the New Jersey Devils as a pep talk.

It was just a coach stating the obvious at practice on Wednesday to a team that has lost four of its last five games and 10 of 14. There was no shouting. No wild arm gestures. Maybe a couple of taps on the ice with his stick.

"Most of it was about winning battles, competing for pucks, being harder on pucks, working on the power play," forward Zach Parise said. "Just things when you are going on stretches like this, what's causing it. There are just areas of our games to sharpen up."

If you've watched the Devils in the past week or so, there are inexplicable periods where the team makes a couple of costly mistakes.

In a 3-2 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia on Monday night, the Devils squandered a 2-0 lead in the final two minutes of the second period.

Against the Rangers in New York on Saturday night, New Jersey gave up three goals in a three-minute span in the second period in a 3-1 loss.

The string of four losses in five games started with the Kings scoring twice in the final 1:46 in a 3-2 win a little more than a week ago.

"It's just like being brain dead for a little bit, and we are paying the price for it," goaltender Martin Brodeur said.

With three games left before the Olympic break, the Devils have seen their lead in the Atlantic Division dwindle to two points over the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have played one more game than New Jersey.

The Devils have led the division since Dec. 18.

"We are looking for wins, definitely,' Lemaire said. "It's obvious that we're not playing our best hockey. We are not consistent. We're having very good periods, and average periods, and we just have to be more consistent."

Lemaire spent a lot of time on Wednesday having his team work on the power play. New Jersey was 1 of 7 with the extra man on Monday night and they will be facing the Flyers again on Wednesday at the Prudential Center.

Patrik Elias, who returned to the Devils lineup two games ago after sitting out 10 games with a concussion, said no one was panicking. He felt the team had plenty of chances to score on Monday and just didn't find the net.

"We talked about it," Elias said. "We have to tighten up in certain areas and be a little more desperate out there. When you go through a stretch like this, he (Lemaire) wants to make sure we go back to basics and tweak a couple of things. Sometimes when you go through a stretch like this, you try to do a little too much and you get out of position."

The one thing that has changed in the recent run is the Devils have lost a little confidence. When bad things happen, their play gets tentative and opponents have taken advantage.

"We're a good group of players and we know we can get out of this," defenceman Andy Greene said. "Everyone goes through these ups and downs during the year and maybe ours is a little longer now. We just have to be prepared."

Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner felt Lemaire's approach was positive.

"When you're involved in it, sometimes you lose sight of it a little bit," Langenbrunner said. "You're so wrapped up in it. You're trying to work your way out of it. You're maybe sometimes trying to do too much. That definitely can be a little bit of the case right now."

The Devils will be without defenceman Anssi Salmela for Wednesday's game. He suffered an apparent concussion when hit in the second period by Flyers forward Jeff Carter a split second after scoring a goal to put New Jersey ahead 2-0.

Salmela did not practice Tuesday and Lemaire said there was no way he would play Wednesday.

Lemaire didn't get the feeling that Carter was trying to hurt Salmela.

"The league looks at every incident and if there's anything they'll take care of," Lemaire said.



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