The Devils took off for Anaheim this afternoon to begin what might be their most difficult road trip – in terms of competition – of the season.

After practicing in Anaheim Tuesday, the Devils will face the Ducks Wednesday night, then play in Los Angeles Thursday night and San Jose Saturday night. Anaheim (15-5-2) enters tonight’s game in Pittsburgh tied for the league lead with 32 points.

San Jose (13-3-5) is one point behind Anaheim in the Pacific Division and Los Angeles, which beat the Devils, 2-0, on Friday at Prudential Center, is only three points behind the Ducks at 14-6-1.

“We’re playing three great teams,” defenseman Andy Greene said. “We just saw L.A. a few days ago and Anaheim and San Jose are great teams. So, it’s going to be a great test for us to see where our game is right now. We need to go out there and get some points.”

The Devils have struggled on the road, going 3-6-3, but they’ve been a bit better since going 0-5-2 in their first seven away from Prudential Center.

“The road hasn’t been kind to us yet this year. We have to fix that and no bigger challenge than to go into the three buildings we’re going into.

Anaheim is 8-0-0 at home, San Jose is 5-1-2 and Los Angeles is 7-3-0.

DeBoer said the team is in “a much better place” now, though, than it was for its four-game trip to Western Canada – Edmonton (4-3 shootout loss), Vancouver (3-2 overtime loss), Calgary (3-2 loss) and Winnipeg (3-0 loss) – earlier this season.

“And we’re going to need it to be,” DeBoer said. “Our team game is going to get tested by these three clubs. The good news is we’ve found a way, I think, to rise to the occasion against good teams this year and we’re going to need to do that again.”

The Devils have been playing better in recent weeks and are 4-1-1 in their last six games. They seem to have found their game at Prudential Center, where they are 4-2-2, and against Eastern Conference teams (6-4-2), but they are only 1-4-3 against teams from the West.
“It’s going to be a challenge to the guys,” goaltender Martin Brodeur said. “We’re not used to the traveling, but especially where our game is at, you’d like to keep it rolling around here and do what you’re accustomed to. Now, it’s going to be a little new seeing two teams that we haven’t played against and one we just faced not long ago. It will be interesting. It’s a good challenge for the guys.”

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Whether defenseman Jon Merrill was going to go on the trip apparently was super top secret information for the Devils. Although Merrill, obviously, would have had to pack for the trip if he was going, DeBoer and Devils GM Lou Lamoriello both claimed the decision hadn’t been made yet (all signs pointed to him going).

Merrill said he was ready to go, but claimed he hadn’t been told yet.

“It’s not up to me,” he said. “It’s up to the coaching staff and Lou.”

Merrill practiced with the team today for the first time since sustaining a concussion on Nov. 3 in Minnesota. He skated on his own Friday and then skated with the scratches and goaltender Martin Brodeur Saturday morning, so today was another step forward.

“It’s great to get out there with the guys,” Merrill said. “I felt good. It’s definitely better to get out with the whole team. It feels good.”

Merrill said he’s confident that the concussion is behind him and he feels good now. It’s more a matter conditioning now because he didn’t skate for a week and a half.

“It’s getting there,” Merrill said. “Obviously, it takes a couple of days, but I feel good.”

“He looked good today,” DeBoer said of Merrill. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”