NEWARK, N.J. -- To a man, the New Jersey Devils do not believe that they are as bad as their 4-10-2 record indicates.
"It is frustrating," said legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur, who hopes to return to action Friday vs. Edmonton after missing a week with a bruised elbow. "We feel we're a lot better than what we're showing. It's tough when you look at some of the stats we're producing. You almost say, 'Wow, is that really us? This is not happening.' But wins will solve everything and when you win, everything balances out."
The frustration reached a boiling point Wednesday night, when $100 million player Ilya Kovalchuk fanned on a shot in the shootout, leaving the Devils still winless at home with a 5-4 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
After practice Thursday, Kovalchuk, who has scored only three goals in 16 games, tried to shed a positive light on his poor start and the team's precarious situation.
"If I were a fan, I would be upset," said Kovalchuk, who heard a chorus of boos after he flubbed the shootout attempt. "I would want the best players to make the big plays. I didn't come through with that. It was my fault. But it's all history. Today, the sun came up and it was a new day. We have to get a win at home, because it's embarrassing."
Kovalchuk said that he has never experienced an extended slump such as this, and vowed that his lucrative and lengthy contract has nothing to do with his poor play.
"I've had so many opportunities, and I'm not getting the job done," Kovalchuk said. "I just have to be myself and do what I do best."
First-year coach John MacLean doesn't want the high-priced forward to take the blame.
"It's not just one guy," MacLean said. "Everyone wants to focus on him, but it's the whole team. He needs the support of his team to get through this. He's trying and his teammates sympathize with him. I think the fans feed on our frustration. We're all going through a tough time and have to battle through it."
MacLean refuses to believe that the Devils are indeed what they are -- a bottom-rung squad with a sub-par record.
"The record right now says what we are," MacLean said. "But I believe we have the talent to turn it around and get it going in the right direction. We have to have the fire inside to want to compete."
Midway through the second period Wednesday, MacLean called a timeout and gave his team a tongue-lashing filled with expletives. It worked for a while, as the Devils quickly regained a lead, but then squandered it twice in the third period and lost in the shootout.
"I think it worked then, but it won't work every night," MacLean said of his tirade.
At least there is help on the way. Brodeur seemed to be leaning toward a return to action after practicing at full tilt Thursday.
"I still have the pain, but I was able to do what I want out there," said Brodeur, who suffered the bruised right elbow Nov. 3 when he was hit by a shot from Chicago's Patrick Kane. "Today was the first time I used the elbow in a week and it was good enough to be out there. I got hit with some shots, maybe five or so, and it was fine. I'll see how I feel in the morning. I definitely would like to play. If I feel the way I did today, I'll play. But if I get in the same exact spot without padding, then you'll definitely see a grown man cry."
Veteran forward Brian Rolston also declared himself fit for action after missing a month due to sports hernia surgery.
"I'm excited to be back, because it's been tough watching this team when we're struggling like this," said Rolston, who last saw action Oct. 9. "We have to be able to put it together. We have enough veteran players in here to get out of this. Sure, there's frustration and no one wants to be in this position. No one thought we would be where we are now. But we can get out of this as a team."
Forward Patrik Elias, the franchise's all-time leading scorer, agreed.
"No one expected this," Elias said. "We've never been in this situation before. But it's life. Things happen. We're going to bounce back. We've played better the last few games. We're a much better team than the record shows. We can't think this is the end with 66 games left. We're in this together and we have to get better."
Defenseman Colin White and forward Jamie Langenbrunner were held out of practice as a precaution. Langenbrunner went hard into the boards with his head during Wednesday's game, but returned to action. "Jamie was a little stiff," MacLean said. "We'll evaluate him in the morning." ... Defenseman Anssi Salmela, who is recovering from a torn ACL suffered while playing for Team Finland in June, practiced for the first time Thursday and is about a month ahead of schedule.