Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien may think his Northeast Division-leading club is "ordinary," but he's hoping the return of a pair of key players will change his mind.
With Brad Marchand and Rich Peverley expected back on the ice, the Bruins will try to continue their success against Ilya Kovalchuk and the surging New Jersey Devils on Thursday night at Prudential Center.
Julien isn't happy that Boston (29-13-1) has dropped two of the first three on its four-game road trip, including a 5-3 loss Tuesday at Tampa Bay.
"Our compete level isn't there," Julien said. "We're no better and no worse than any other team when we don't compete. We become a very ordinary team, and that's what we are right now."
Getting Marchand and Peverley back can't hurt.
"You look at what they do," Julien told the team's official website. "Pevs is a power play - penalty kill guy, Marsh can be both as well and they're guys that play lots of minutes.
"You need those guys."
Marchand, tied for second on the Bruins with 16 goals, is returning from a five-game suspension for a Jan. 7 hit on Vancouver's Sami Salo. He was hot just before his ban, with seven goals and six assists in his last 10 games.
Peverley, who has 22 assists, has missed two games tending to a personal matter.
Unlike Boston, New Jersey (26-17-2) enters this contest surging with five wins in the last six games including three straight. The Devils are looking to match their season-high four-game winning streak from Dec. 12-17.
Kovalchuk has been the driving force behind the current run, with seven goals and three assists in the last six contests. He scored twice in Tuesday's 5-1 home victory over Winnipeg to complete a home-and-home sweep.
"There are only a few guys in the league that can carry a team like that," Devils center Dainius Zubrus said. "Kovy is playing as good as I've ever seen him play."
Kovalchuk leads New Jersey with 19 goals, and his 40 points are second to Patrik Elias' 44. That's a strong improvement for the Russian after he had 31 goals and 60 points in 2010-11, his first full season with the Devils. That was also his worst production since his 2001-02 rookie season with Atlanta.
"I'm just a little more relaxed lately," Kovalchuk said. "I'm just doing what I have to do. I'm supposed to produce. Each team has guys who have to score."
Kovalchuk hasn't scored much recently against the Bruins, with one goal on 21 shots and a minus-7 rating in his last eight games versus Boston.
Elias, who has four goals and six assists in his last six games overall, hasn't been any better in this series lately. He has one goal, one assist and a minus-9 rating in his last 11 matchups with the Bruins.
Their struggles partially explain why the Bruins have won six of the last seven meetings with the Devils, including both matchups this season. They won for the third time in four tries in Newark on Jan. 4, when Patrice Bergeron scored two goals in a 6-1 victory.
Bergeron has four goals and four assists in seven games since, despite being held without a point Tuesday.
Nathan Horton also scored in the Jan. 4 win, sparking an eight-game stretch that has seen him score seven of his 16 goals on the season.