Though the Detroit Red Wings and the New Jersey Devils have taken different paths so far this season, they arrive at Saturday's Prudential Center matinee with nearly identical records while trying to stay out of the basement of their respective division.
The Red Wings (8-9-2) did not win their first game until Oct. 20, but have seven wins in the last nine games. The Devils (8-8-1) won each of their first four games before dropping nine of 11, though they enter play Saturday having won two straight.
As a result, the Devils are tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for last place in the Metropolitan Division and the Red Wings are one point ahead of the Florida Panthers in the Atlantic Division.
"I told the players that if our game improves then our results will improve," Devils coach John Hynes said. "That's where our focus has to be."
Despite recent injuries to centers Nico Hischier and Brian Boyle, the Devils showed a more complete commitment to doing all that it takes to win in the NHL in their last two games after a hideous road trip in which they won only once in seven games.
First, the Devils topped the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 on Tuesday night, with Taylor Hall scoring twice and adding two assists. The Devils followed with an impressive 3-0 road win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday as Blake Coleman scored a goal and finished with three points, goaltender Keith Kinkaid posted his third shutout, tying him for the league lead.
"We know exactly where we are in the standings, and it's frustrating to see yourself there," Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy told nj.com. "But it's what we've deserved so far. In order for us to get back into this thing, we've got to play consistently good hockey. We've done that the last couple of games."
Hischier, who missed the last two games with an upper-body injury, practiced Friday, but he remains questionable for Saturday's game. And while Boyle remains on injured reserve with an upper-body injury of his own, defenseman Sami Vatanen is also questionable to play against the Red Wings because of an unspecified injury that knocked him out of Thursday's game in the second period.
The Red Wings stumbled Thursday night, losing 2-1 to the Senators in Ottawa to end a four-game winning streak. Yet they've rebounded from a terrible start this season and scored 29 goals in their last seven victories while playing much better defensively.
One of their recent wins was a 4-3 victory over the Devils on Nov. 1 in Detroit, part of that miserable road trip for New Jersey.
"I think if you ask the guys from Jersey, they probably think they didn't have their best game in our building," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill told reporters on Friday. "They felt like they weren't skating that game ... and I felt we played very good. So (this time) I'm expecting to get Jersey when they're at their best -- really hounding you with their forward pressure, really on top of you all night."
Rookie Michael Rasmussen was one of Detroit's goal scorers in that game. He also scored the only goal in Thursday's loss, and has four goals in his last eight games.
"I think he's going to score lots of goals in this league because he knows how to go to the net," Blashill said of the 19-year-old Rasmussen.
Last season, the Devils and Red Wings split games played in New Jersey, though the Devils did take the overall season series 2-1. Hall had four points in two games and Hischier had three goals in three games for the Devils.
"They've been a little up and down since we last played them, but they're at home so they'll try to have a fast start, get the crowd into the game," Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall told the team's website. "We want to do the exact opposite, take the crowd out of it and stay on top of them instead of the other way around."