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Game 4 Preview: New Jersey Devils @ Florida Panthers - 10/10/2009

The Time: 7 PM EST Broadcasting Info: MSG for your TV, 660 AM WFAN for your radio

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (1-2-0) at the Florida Panthers (1-2-0)

Last Devils Game: The Devils went from great to poor to really poor to incredibly lucky to okay again to absolutely lethal in the shootout to win their first game of the 2009-10 regular season against Tampa Bay. Here's my recap of the game.

Last Panthers Game: The Carolina Hurricanes - who lost their first 2 games and won their first in a shootout - just pounded the Panthers over and over to a 7-2 win last night.  As DolPhanDave at Litter Box Cats said, it was a "disaster" of a game for Florida.

Now, given the situation Carolina was in prior to their game against Florida, the Devils will obviously attempt to repeat Carolina's efforts.  They are nearly in the same situation - the only big difference is that Florida will be at home.  Yes, the Devils open another arena for the 2009-10 season tonight.  The Panthers, despite being dominated the night before, will obviously be looking to rebound with a little help from their fans in the stand.   Besides, it's not like Tomas Vokoun will be totally tired - he only played 41:32 and let in 5 goals off of 26 shots. 

He'll be in net tonight for Florida, and according to DolPhanDave, he was 4-4-2 in back-to-back starts last season; with a record of 3-2-0 in that second game.  While Florida's defense can stop making mistakes and actually capitalize when they have the power play - Florida had 5 and scored on none of them against Carolina - Vokoun will have to be the difference maker tonight.

Opposite Vokoun will be Martin Brodeur.   As Tom Gulitti reported yesterday, Jacques Lemaire doesn't want to give Yann Danis a start until the team is playing better.  Fair enough.  It makes no sense to force Danis to come in cold and expect him to be massive in net.   In my opinion, that's a job more suited for Brodeur given the Devils' slow start to the season.   That is not to say there won't be any changes for the Devils.  Lemaire has switched up the wingers in practice yesterday per Gulitti:


Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Matt Halischuk - Dainius Zubrus - Nicklas Bergfors
Jay Pandolfo - Rob Niedermayer - Brian Rolston
Ilkka Pikkarainen - Rod Pelley - David Clarkson

Paul Martin - Johnny Oduya
Colin White-Mike Mottau
Bryce Salvador-Andy Greene

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

According to Gulitti's report, the moves were made to find some more offense behind the first line.  This makes Zubrus the center of the two rookies, which should be interesting in of itself.  Halischuk and Bergfors often played together in preseason and looked pretty good in doing so.  Rob Niedermayer's line just got an offensive boost as he gets Brian Rolston on the offwing.  I wonder how he'll do there.  The fourth line just got meaner with the addition of Clarkson, presumably to send the message to that line should be bringing some energy.  I wouldn't worry too much about Clarkson or Rolston not getting too many offensive chances as I expect both to be on the Devils' power play units.  Lastly, per Brian Rolston's quote to Gulitti, Lemaire often shifted his lines around in Minnesota to see what does and does not work.  Hopefully, it won't be as chaotic as Brent Sutter's constant shifts from 2007-08

Unless there are more changes made today, I would expect this to be New Jersey's lineup tonight.   So what are the keys for the Devils tonight?  First and foremost, the positioning on defense needs to be better.  After giving up 44 shots and nearly the game to Tampa Bay's offense, the overall defense has to be better from Martin all the way down to Salvador.  This means not conceding the slot, this means not standing around and only reacting after a pass or a shot is made, and this means not just waiting for the rebound to clear away.  I think the Devils defense needs to be more pro-active in stopping Florida's offense. 

While they lost 7-2 last night, I feel the Devils would be better off assuming Florida won't be a tired wreck - but a team completely pumped just to get past that loss and to do it in front of their home crowd.    Florida actually had a powerful second period of their own last night, outshooting Carolina 17-10.  Yet, they were down 3-0 going into that period and needed one heck of a period to make it a game for them. They didn't get it done. In the Devils' case on Thursday, despite being the better team by far at the end of the first, Tampa Bay only needed a goal to tie in the second and they worked their tails off to do it - pinning New Jersey back, and succeeded in that regard.   So I feel it is important that if the Devils get the chance early on to control the game (especially if they get a few power plays early), then they must pour it on Florida.  Pin them back, put some goals in, and force Florida to make a big comeback to make it a game again.  They can skate as hard as they want, but trying to comeback from 3-0 is difficult for any team. I don't think Florida will come back from 3-0 any different just by being at home, really.

If the Devils can't do that early on, which is very possible if Vokoun plays out of his mind, then at a minimum the Devils must be able to match Florida in terms of intensity.  Tampa Bay was able to get wave after wave of offensive pressure as the second period went on because the Devils couldn't keep the Lightning honest every shift to get back on defense.  It eventually became Tampa Bay moving the puck into the Devils zone, Brodeur making a save or two, and then the defense would move the puck out for the cycle to repeat.  This is not a cycle we want to see again from New Jersey.

Check with Gulitti and Chere later on today for more up-to-date information.  For the Florida perspective, Litter Box Cats is my suggestion for a place to get that perspective. Feel free to comment about your thoughts for tonight's game in advance of tonight's game and I will see you all later.  Go Devils!