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Devils need to find consistency to end playoff drought

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Either the New Jersey Devils find some consistency in the final 32 games of the regular season or they are going to miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year.

Coming out of the All-Star break, the Devils are seven points out of the last playoff spot in the very tight Eastern Conference.

How tight? Six points separate the eight teams trying to work their way into the final two playoff spots, now shared by Boston and Philadelphia with 56 points.

New Jersey's 49 points has it tied with Buffalo, Detroit and Carolina at the bottom of that group. The Devils and Red Wings are scheduled to play Tuesday night in Detroit

The Devils have a lot to fix.

As usual, they are not scoring goals. They are 28th in the NHL with 113. They are in the bottom third on defense, having given up 144 goals, and their special teams have struggled lately.

''I don't know if this is my strangest season, but it is my most inconsistent as a team,'' veteran defenseman and captain Andy Greene said Monday.

''We have had four-or-five game segments where we are playing real well and doing things great, and then, all the sudden, there are four or five games where we are not. Usually in most seasons, it's one game here or there that is out of whack.''

The next month might be make-or-break for coach John Hynes' team. Nine of the next 12 games are at the Prudential Center, where the Devils have lost six in a row after starting the season 7-0-2 in the building.

''We have to string some wins together now to make the conversation interesting,'' veteran forward Mike Cammalleri said. ''Our goal is to put the best hockey we can in a short time and see where that leaves us.''

This is also a strange month because the Devils play four games and then get their five-day midseason break.

''This is a month here if we can make some strides and some headway, then our objective is to have a good month and put ourselves in position to play some meaningful games in March,'' Hynes said.

What the Devils need is for their big players to step up.

In the offseason, the Devils acquired Taylor Hall from Edmonton to be their go-to guy on offense. He leads the team with 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists), but he needs to score more. So do Kyle Palmieri (11 goals) and Adam Henrique (12 goals). They each had 30 goals last season and are not close to matching it.

Goaltender Cory Schneider also is having an off year after an All-Star season last year. His goals-against average is 2.74, almost half a goal higher than a year ago.

''I had a good start and I have played better lately, but obviously there was a stretch where I was not playing as consistently as I normally do,'' Schneider said.

''That has been one of the hallmarks of my career, you pretty much know what you are going to get. There was a stretch I was giving up three or four goals a night and was not sure whether I was going to get the saves or not.''

Hynes has a list of things that he would like to see improve. It starts with consistency but also includes the gritty stuff of hockey: better forechecking, more time in the offensive zone, having a presence in front of the opposing goaltenders and limiting the big plays.

In a 5-2 loss to Washington in the final game before the break, the Devils gave up three unassisted goals, with two coming on turnovers in their end.

''We have a hard time outscoring mistakes,'' Hynes said. ''A lot of it gets exposed because we are in so many one-goal games. We don't have a big margin for error most every game we play.''