The New Jersey Devils played pretty well last night at Buffalo and now they get to go home for their next 4 games. Well, they were going to go home for their next 4 games regardless of the results. But now they will go there with their heads held high and a spring in their step as they go and get ready for the Ottawa Senators.
One player who may not be is Bryce Salvador. He did well against Buffalo, with a goal (off a funky deflection) and 16:13 of icetime before leaving the game early. According to Gulitti and Chere, Salvador has the dreaded, "upper body injury." You think that those only happen in the playoffs, but sometimes they sneak up on you in December. Anyway, it can't be that serious because in both reports Brent Sutter said that Salvador is a game day decision. If Salvador doesn't go, expect the return of Andy Greene (who, of course, says he's ready) from injury. Personally, I think it would be best if Salvador was healthy and did play. But if he doesn't, I expect Colin White to take those extra minutes; Mike Mottau to step up in the pairings, and see what Greene can do in limited minutes with Jay Leach. One thing is for sure, Sheldon Brookbank has to be on the outs in the Devils organization to not even be considered for a game when a defender is injured.
Let's consider the opponents. The Senators were once among the elite in the East. Now they are just in the East. They are 11-13-5, sitting in last in the Northeast Division, and 1-3-1 in their last 5. Their official page touts this preview wherein we learn that Alex Auld will start in net, who is enjoying a good season in net regardless of results, and that head coach Craig Hartsburg has split up the "big three."
|2008 - Alex Auld||20||1223||9||7||4||1||45||2.21||559||514||.919||0|
The Big Three:
|2008 - Daniel Alfredsson||28||8||18||26||7||8||3||0||0||0||80||10.0|
|2008 - Dany Heatley||29||14||14||28||0||44||7||0||2||0||92||15.2|
|2008 - Jason Spezza||29||12||10||22||3||22||3||1||3||0||88||13.6|
It's great that their official site has this, and it's funny to think that the Senators are going to try and be physical against New Jersey. While the Devils haven't piled on the hits this season, they certainly aren't soft given their tendency to battle along the boards on offense and general willingness to throw a big check from Patrik Elias and Zach Parise to regular bulldozers Mike Rupp and Bobby Holik. Even Jamie Langenbrunner has thrown some pain bombs as of late. My point is that I don't think this plan is going to go too well for the Senators. Neither does SENShobo, a Senators blogger who tries to make sense of a team gone wrong (and is continually baffled by Antoine Vermette not taking faceoffs).
Would aggressive, hard-working hockey work for Ottawa? Yes, it could. But I'd make a point of it to move the puck around quickly with short passes, ultimately ending up on the stick of one of your Big Three. The Devils defense shouldn't leave players wide open down low, but these guys need to be watched as they are the water carriers for the Senators' offense. It would also help if the Devils didn't try to match the proposed work ethic by Ottawa's head coach. Though I would find that to be highly unlikely, what with the team coming off of a solid performance coming home in preparation of a holiday homestand.
As far as what I think the Devils need to do, doing what they did against Buffalo should work again. The Sabres and Senators have similar shot for (30.6 and 30.2 per game) and shot against (28.5 and 28.4) averages; but the Senators have been much better at keeping pucks out of the net while being poorer at puttiing them in than Buffalo. An aggressive forecheck should put the onus on the Senators' defense and Auld to have great nights and with team's current form, that could throw them off. Coming hand in hand with the forecheck should be the simple instruction of putting pucks on net. The Devils kept it simple, put shots on Miller, capitalized early, and began to create more chances with increased confidence, which led to more goals. No reason why the same can't happen to Auld.
In any case, the weather may be sloppy outside, but hopefully the Devils will keep it pleasant for the fans on the ice. As always, feel free to leave comments before, during, and after the game. Just keep it clean, keep it relevant, and keep it Jersey.