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Canadiens netminder Carey Price couldn't prevent Travis Zajac from scoring in a 5-2 loss to the Devils on Wednesday night. ((Bill Kostroun/Associated Press))

Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price has some work to do if he hopes to impress the hometown crowd in Sunday's NHL all-star game (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 6 p.m. ET).

Price, selected as one of the starters in fan voting for the NHL's mid-season showcase, was nicked for four goals on 33 shots in a 5-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Wednesday night.

It marked Price's first start since he suffered an ankle injury on Dec. 30.

"They're a playoff team and they're always around the net, looking for deflections and rebounds," Price said of the Devils.

Price returned to the lineup Tuesday night at Atlanta, but the Canadiens stuck with backup netminder Jaroslav Halak until he yielded three goals on 14 shots.

Price replaced Halak in the second period, and stopped nine of the 10 shots he faced in the 4-2 loss.

"We wanted to make a statement in these last two games before the all-star break, but we just didn't play well enough," Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau said. "We played better in the last 30 minutes last night, but tonight we didn't have enough soldiers."

Canadiens captain Saku Koivu returned to the lineup following a 17-game absence with a sprained ankle.

"Saku gave us a spark, but there weren't enough guys working out there," Carbonneau said.

'They don't seem to get rattled' 

Paul Martin, Johnny Oduya and Zach Parise had one goal and one assist apiece as the Devils (29-15-3) extended their winning streak to five games, equalling a season high and putting them atop the Atlantic Division.

"It is a credit to the players, staying with it and being strong," Devils head coach Brent Sutter said. "Being mentally strong allows you to handle adversity on the ice.

"We have dealt with adversity in the right way. Guys in that room have been through a lot and they don't seem to get rattled."

Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias, with a short-handed empty-netter with 55 seconds remaining, scored the other goals in support of Scott Clemmensen, who made 26 saves in the win.

Clemmensen improved to 19-9-1 in place of future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur, sidelined since Nov. 1 with a torn biceps.

"I don't feel like I have to win games by myself," Clemmensen said. "I don't think the team feels they have to work harder to compensate for me, either.

"The team has confidence in me. I feel if I just play strong, I can let them do the rest."

'We struggled for 60 minutes'

Rookie Matt D'Agostini had a goal and an assist with Josh Gorges also scoring for the Canadiens (27-13-6), who enter the all-star break with just four losses in their last 14 games (11-3-1).

Even so, Montreal is a horrendous 1-10-1-1 in its last 13 trips to New Jersey.

"Tonight, we struggled for 60 minutes, but that is the way the Devils play," Carbonneau said. "They make you work hard, they make you push yourself.

"Give them credit, that is the way they play [and] we have seen this for the last 15 years. We didn't have enough people respond."

Martin opened the scoring 11:52 into the contest, beating Price between the pads on a breakaway, and Zajac buried the rebound of a Parise shot to make it 2-0 at 6:18 of the second period. 

Gorges replied with his second goal of the season at 13:36, but Oduya scored on a slapshot to put the Devils ahead 3-1 with 1:40 left in the period.

Parise was credited with his sixth goal in seven games on a shot that banked in off a defenceman early in the third period, but D'Agostini answered back with a power-play goal that trimmed it to 4-2 with 12:14 left.

Rookie Max Pacioretty was initially awarded the goal, but the official scorer later credited D'Agostini with his eighth.

With files from the Canadian Press