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Sunday's 7-3 loss to the Rangers might have felt like more than a loss, but it wasn't.

Sure, the Devils lost a chance to pull even with the Rangers in the standings, but losing those two points doesn't yet spell disaster.

In the coming weeks, the Devils will need to address what is a hole at first line left wing. Whether it's moving someone like Dainius Zubrus back to the first line and sliding someone Steve Bernier onto the line with Patrik Elias, the lack of another scorer on that top line is an issue that the Devils will have to tackle.

As of Monday morning, the Devils are just one point out of third place, behind the Flyers (56 points) and Blue Jackets (56 points). With Columbus playing Carolina, (55 points) that game means that the Devils will be two points out when they take the ice on Tuesday at St. Louis if Carolina wins, or three points out if Columbus wins.

As for the wild card, they currently sit just two points behind Detroit (57 points).

So, as bad as Sunday's loss was, the playoffs are still right there for the taking.

[sny-box]Tuesday, January 28th - at St. Louis

Thursday, January 30th - at Dallas

Friday, January 31st - at Nashville

Monday, February 3rd - vs. Avalanche

Friday, February 7th - vs. Oilers

Saturday, February 8th - at Capitals[/sny-box]

Looking at these six games, there are certainly no gimmes. A road trip that starts with St. Louis is no easy task. As much as you can expect the Devils to try to raise their play in their first game after the outdoor game, St. Louis is home and will certainly remember the 7-1 defeat they suffered on a snowy night in Newark. The Blues are one of the best teams in the league and they'll be more than ready for that game.

After that, Dallas will be no easy pickings either. The Stars are on the fringe of the playoff picture and need every possible point to stay alive. Expect Dallas to be very formidable in their own building.

Nashville has their issues scoring, but they're still hanging on (just barely) in the Western Conference playoff picture. If I had to rank these games in terms of difficulty, Nashville is a game that the Devils should win.

After that, the Devils move back home for two games, taking on the Avalanche and Oilers. The Devils stuck with the Avs out in Colorado and though the Avs are a speedy team, if the Devils are able to control the tempo in their own building, they can come away with a win. The Oilers have had their struggles, but as the Devils remember, this team can score goals.

They'll finish off their pre-Olympic schedule with a trip to Washington. It's a divisional game and the Caps are still right in the thick of it. This is one that the Devils will need to win.

Realistically, anything under six points would probably put the Devils in troubled water coming out of the break. Seven or eight points might have them right where they are now, within a game or so of cracking the top eight. The Devils took a regulation loss on Sunday and too many more of those will make it substantially tougher to find a road to the playoffs. As we've said before, if they're going to lose, it has to at least be a one-point loss.

Three regulation losses in the next six would be tough. At some point, the Devils need to start gaining points in chunks. A win one, lose one stretch will eventually lead to them losing ground.

Eight points would be a strong number of points to come away with. That's a number that would keep them right in the mix. It certainly won't be easy, with four of the next six on the road, but this team did well to get themselves back into the playoff picture.  At the very least, they keep themselves in the postseason conversation going into the Olympic break.

In terms of the goaltending split, I expect that Cory Schneider will get at least the next two starts, barring an injury or sub-par game. Schneider's numbers have been excellent lately and he has to be given the chance to take the reins at some point. Martin Brodeur will get some starts before the break, but a 4-2 Schneider split seems completely feasible. With the Devils needing every available point, from this point out, it would be the responsible choice to put the best netminder in the net every night that gives the team the best chance to win. That being said, you can't ice Brodeur and expect him to have to step up if Schneider goes down with an injury.

These next two weeks will tell a lot about this team, starting with a tall task in St. Louis in the wake of the Devils' worst defeat of the season.

Tags: Olympics, NHL, Analysis, Playoffs, Schedule, Hockey, New Jersey Devils
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