What can go wrong has gone wrong for the once-proud Devils, and the Red Wings were just the latest team to take advantage.
"I don't think I've seen that before," veteran Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said of Brodeur being beaten on the first two shots. "It was a tough break on the first one, Holmstrom tipped it. The other, Cleary came down the wing. It was a tough start for them, but a great start for us after playing last night."
The Red Wings beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 at home on Friday night.
The losing streak is the Devils' longest since a six-game slide (0-5-1) late in the 2008-09 season. It also marks the first time they have lost five straight in regulation since November 2000, when they lost six in a row, a season in which they went to the Stanley Cup finals.
"It's definitely a situation that is hard," Brodeur said. "It's hard on our fans. It's hard on the players. It's hard on the coaches and the organization when you have to go through this."
The only ones who had it easy were the Red Wings.
Playing in only his sixth game, Chris Osgood had 33 saves in posting his 399th career win. His bid for his first shutout since November 2009 ended in the opening minute of the third period when Patrik Elias scored on a power play.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock said Brodeur was a little unlucky at the start.
"It takes the wind right out of you, especially when you are a team battling for your life and trying to get going," Babcock said.
The Devils' poor start (8-19-2) has put the future of rookie coach John MacLean in jeopardy. New Jersey has reached the playoffs in 13 straight seasons.
"You never run out of time," MacLean said when asked if his team's chances were all but gone. "It's going to be hard, but there is still time."
Detroit (19-6-3) owns the best record in the Western Conference. The Red Wings made the Devils and Brodeur look inept in the opening 102 seconds.
Holmstrom scored his second goal in two games and ninth of the season 28 seconds in. Brad Stuart kept the puck and chipped a pass to Datsyuk. His 45-foot wrist shot was deflected by Holmstrom off the post and into the net.
The frustrated fans sarcastically cheered the next time the puck was played by Brodeur, who returned to action on Friday after missing nine games because of a bruised elbow.
The sarcasm from the sellout crowd of 17,625 turned to boos when Cleary took a cross-ice pass from Todd Bertuzzi and beat Brodeur with a shot from the left circle at 1:42 for his 13th goal.
"It's the same thing, we're playing from behind again," Devils forward David Clarkson said. "The first two shifts we made little mistakes and it cost us. It's been the same thing for a while. I don't know. It's hard to keep talking about it because you don't know what we can do, what we have to do. I believe we had the leadership to get through this."
The Devils had chances to get back in the game in the first period. Lidstrom swept a couple of power-play shots by Travis Zajac away from the net after Osgood made the initial save. Osgood stopped hard shots by Brian Rolston and Jason Arnott.
Zetterberg stretched the lead to three goals at 11:37 of the second. Datsyuk stole the puck from defenseman Anton Volchenkov along the boards and fed Zetterberg. Brodeur, who finished with 19 saves, stopped the initial shot, but Zetterberg put in the rebound after it ticked off Holmstrom.
Elias scored in the opening minute of the third period. Datsyuk then scored while all alone against Brodeur after being set up by Zetterberg.
After being stopped by Osgood on two good second-period chances, Clarkson got the best of Jonathan Ericsson in a fight. ... The Red Wings are 2-1 against Eastern Conference teams. ... The Red Wings are 8-3-1 on the road. ... Datsyuk's three-point game pushed his team-high point total to 36 (11 goals, 25 assists).