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Game 20: Devils at Tampa Bay

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The New Jersey Devils begin a 5 game road trip and their first opponent are the Tampa Bay Lightning. Much has changed with the Lightning since November 5, where the Devils won 4-3 via the shootout. They have a new coach as they fired Barry Melrose on November 15 (TSN.ca), with Rick Tocchet as the interim head coach. TSN reported that Tocchet will institue a high-tempo game for the Lightning when he was promoted to interim head coach on the same day. Since his hiring, the Lightning lost two games in shootouts to Carolina and Florida; but they did win decisively 4-1 against Nashville on Friday. Given that the team put 52 on net against Florida and opened it up against Nashville; I'd say at least the offense is high-tempo based on numbers - but I can't confirm it as I didn't see those games. Nevertheless, they are building some momentum under Tocchet thanks to the Nashville win.

The Lightning will be unveiling some new looks tonight. According to their official website, the Lightning will debut their third jerseys. According to Lightning Strikes, the blog from Lightning beat writer Damien Cristodero, the Lightning will not have Mike Smith in net or Lucas Krajicek on defense. He reports that Olaf Kolzig will start for Tampa Bay. I don't know who will replace Krajicek, but Cristodero indicates it'll be either Jamie Heward or Andrew Hutchinson. Regardless, the Lightning are now appearing to be rolling at home, as tonight's game is their third of four straight home games. The Devils will be smart to do their best to limit Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, the big guns up front for Tampa Bay. I mean, check out these stat lines:


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Vincent Lecavalier 19 9 6 15 5 8 5 0 3 0 77 11.7


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Martin St. Louis 19 4 10 14 3 2 1 0 0 1 46 8.7

Not having John Madden today will definitely make it more of a challenge to slow down these two. Yesterday, I thought that with Madden having a sore foot and Mike Mottau being suspended, the Devils would move Sheldon Brookbank back to defense and call up a forward - maybe Nicklas Bergfors back for a few games. Tom Gulitti reports at Fire & Ice today that Jay Leach was called up from Lowell, meaning that Brookbank appears to be back at forward on the fourth line. So my guess was clearly off the mark yesterday. Anyway, the Devils are enjoying some excellent play from their top two lines of Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, and Brian Gionta; and Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Jamie Langenbrunner. The Devils need to not only repel the Lightning's big players; they need to continue their momentum and set up good plays on offense. A few less attempts throwing pucks through players may mean some fewer shots on net; but most of the last 13 goals the Devils scored in regulation (yes, 13 in the last 3 games!!!) came off of proper finishing of well set of plays. Some were tip-ins, yes; but mostly open shots right at the net. With the Lightning being without Krajicek and with a cold Olaf Kolzig in net, there's no reason we can't see goals like in the last 3 games continue for the Devils.

I'll be seeing this one on delay as I'll be out watching the NY Red Bulls compete for their first MLS Cup. It would be truly massive if they won it; but I'm just glad they made it. As always, keep it clean, keep it relevant, and keep it New Jersey in the comments.