NEWARK, N.J. -- Seemingly every player superstition has been tried, the coaching manual nearly exhausted.
So far, nothing has helped the Devils get a win. They've lost nine consecutive games (0-5-4) heading into tonight's contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre, a slide that's dropped them six points out of a playoff spot with only seven games remaining.
Devils coach Pete DeBoer hasn't given up, though.
Near the end of Sunday's practice, the coaches moved the nets to the edge of the centre-ice circle and set up a mini game of three-on-three.
"We did a little goal-scoring game at the end, tried to loosen it up," DeBoer said. "The confidence mindset is critical right now."
The Devils will play again tonight without right-wing Ilya Kovalchuk, who will miss his 10th game in a row with a right-shoulder injury. Kovalchuk didn't practise with the team Sunday but skated on his own instead, and DeBoer said he's still "moving in a positive direction, but not good enough to play."
The Devils haven't won since Kovalchuk was injured on March 23 and the goals have slowed to a trickle. In Friday's 2-0 loss to Ottawa, they were shut out despite outshooting the Senators 33-11.
After that game, DeBoer said the coaches had to start to "think outside the box" to help the players, because their effort has been good enough to win.
"That little game at the end was kind of fun, a little different," goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "Maybe they'll find the scoring touch. They scored a lot of goals in a short period of time, so it was good."
Keeping the players' moods upbeat hasn't been easy, but after approaching it differently during his three seasons coaching the Florida Panthers, DeBoer believes that's the best strategy.
"I went through some tough situations in Florida at this time of year and I learned that it's counterproductive to do anything but show up and be as positive and upbeat as possible," he said.
Sure, DeBoer considered going into the locker-room and yelling at the players. Considering the frustration everyone is feeling, it would have been understandable.
"All those things come into your mind," he said. "There have been times during the streak where we, as a staff, have kind of barked to not fall into the trap of feeling sorry for ourselves, and I think the guys have been good about not doing that."
Brodeur has seen plenty of coaches' tantrums over his 19 seasons with the Devils, but doesn't think it would have been appropriate during this slump.
"There was never a time in these 10 games that they could be mad at us. That's why it's so hard," Brodeur said. "Because usually you get in a funk and somebody goes crazy and you get the Pat Burns or (Brent Sutter). There's no reason... Yes, we are frustrated about the situation, but we're just trying to stay as positive as we can."
-- The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)