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Game 6 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Atlanta Thrashers - 10/16/2009

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (3-2-0) vs. the Atlanta Thrashers (2-1-0)

Last Devils Game: On Monday night, the Devils came from a 2-0 deficit to tie the Washington Capitals in regulation, and then earned the win in a shootout to sweep their 3-game road trip.  I recapped the game as such.

Last Atlanta Game: The Thrashers suffered their first loss of the season, losing to the Ottawa Senators 4-2.  The Falconer at Bird Watchers Anonymous recapped the game to a degree here.

An Alternate Take: The Falconer has already put up a preview of tonight's game from the Thrashers' perspective.  Given that the Thrashers have played all of 3 games, there's not much to really say.  Yet, I also suggest that you should check that out as I've answered some questions about the Devils for him. 

Read on for the rest of this preview for tonight's game - including a guess at lines, what I'd like to see the Devils do tonight, why the Thrashers won't be a pushover, and a Q&A with the Falconer of Bird Watchers Anonymous.  It's a massive preview, really.   Let me say upfront that I won't be at this game - choosing to get wet & freeze, support my alma mater as they play the Wannstaches Pitt Panthers in a big, Big East game in Piscataway. Steve will be taking care of setting up the GameThread as well as recapping tonight's game.  If you want an Atlanta-based perspective, there is only one place to meet with Thrashers knowledge and it's called Bird Watchers Anonymous.

A Guess at a Lineup:   Jacques Lemaire already came right out and said that Martin Brodeur will start tonight, as reported by both Gulitti and Chere.  As far as the rest of the line up goes, it could certainly change this before tonight's game.  But here's what he was running in practice on Thursday, per Gulitti's report:

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

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

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

If this holds true tonight, there will be no Peters, no Leblond, and no Murphy.  The only change in the lineup is Halischuk getting in the fourth line to replace Andrew Peters.  Within the lineup, Rolston may start at the third line after shifting to there in the third period against Washington as Clarkson will stay on the second line.  The defense stays the same.  

In terms of a goal with this lineup, I would hope the Devils build on the successful road trip and put out a strong effort tonight.  As a whole, the team should be more confident with three wins under their belt and coming from behind to get a positive result in DC on Monday.  Now it's time to transfer that confidence into a more complete performance.   That means sharper passes, improved finishing on the power play, and looking to force the opposition to take calls instead of the Devils doing something dumb.

Actually, let me emphasize that.  I don't want to come home later tonight and find out the Devils took a too-many-men call or conceded 4+ power plays to Atlanta for stupid calls.  The Devils escaped the Capitals with an excellent job by the penalty killing units and Brodeur.  It would not be wise to give Atlanta (or anyone else) that many or more opportunities.

Ideally, I'd like to see the Devils not only get the win over Atlanta, but also to win by more than one goal.  That would kill two "firsts" with one game - the first home win for the Devils and the first win where the Devils won by at least 2 goals.  It's hard to gauge what Atlanta will bring to the table outside of Ilya Kovalchuk being an offensive monster.  Seriously, 5 goals in 3 games - he and his linemates, Nik Antropov and Bryan Little, will give the Devils defense plenty of issues if they aren't careful. 

Now, based on past seasons, some may see this game as an easy win for New Jersey.  As reported by Gulitti on Thursday, Lemaire would be the first one to tell you otherwise.

"It’s amazing again, I’m telling you, how teams play similar (to each other)," Lemaire said. "You put them in all the same jersey—no numbers and no player’s names—and you won’t see the difference. It’s all intensity and hard work."

Lemaire said the difference in teams is in "the details."

"The intensity is everywhere and with the intensity you are going to get some mistakes," Lemaire said. "Then, you get the details…A lot of times the intensity and the aggressiveness on the puck covers up for a lot of these details that I’m talking about. That’s why there’s not a lot of difference overall in all of the teams."

I agree with him.  There aren't any doormats in the NHL, no guaranteed wins for anyone - not even Toronto.  The Devils did win their last 3, but two of them needed the shootout and one was a one-goal win decided in the third period.  There's no reason to believe that the Devils will walk over anyone at this point in the season.  Getting a win with a lead of more than one would be great in my view.  But any result certainly won't be easy. 

Especially against an Atlanta team who has had a lot of rest and time to prepare for tonight's game.  In fact, I asked The Falconer of Bird Watchers Anonymous a few questions about the Thrashers for some more insight about the team's play:

Question #1. While the Thrashers haven't played a lot of games, what appears to be their general style of play so far this season?

BWA: Coach John Anderson prefers an up tempo style with active defensemen. They like to work the puck down low and have a defensemen pinch to the back door side of the goalie. Or have the puck carrier curl inside the blueline and hit the trailing defensemen. This season the roster is much better suited to play that style.

Question #2.  Ilya Kovalchuk has 5 goals in 3 games already, how frightening is he?  Is it fair to say that him and his line (Nik Antropov and Bryan Little) are the biggest threat to the Devils?  If not, then who?

BWA: Kovalchuk has looked extremely motivated from day one of Training Camp. He desperately wants to be known as a big game player and is very determined to make the playoffs this season. The Thrashers 3rd line (Kane-Peverley-Armstrong) has been also been very effective in both ends. Rich Peverly continues to surprise me--some terrific hands on that player.

Question #3. Let's talk goaltenders.  Martin Brodeur will definitely play against Atlanta and his style is well known.  Ondrej Pavelec has been the man for Atlanta, what should Devils expect from him?

BWA: Pavelec is a giant reflex goalie. When he's on, he is capable of making some amazing stops, but when he is off he has a tendency to overplay pucks leaving the rest of the net open--so the Thrashers D must clean up rebounds around the net.

Question #4. The Thrashers' defense has conceded 34.7 shots on average; is this truly indicative of the team's defense in that they should be expected to give up a lot of shots, or is this an aberration due to the small number of games played?  Basically, should we expect the Devils to just bomb away on Pavelec?

BWA: Shots Against have always been a problem for this franchise. I'm a stats guy, but I do not feel that Atlanta was outplayed in the first two games (3rd game was not televised anywhere)--despite the shots. Seems to me that the team is giving up fewer really scary chances than in the past.

Question #5. How about a prediction for tonight's game? Keep in mind, you will win a No-Prize™ if you are right.

BWA: The Thrashers have had a surprising amount of success against Brodeur since the lockout. The Atlanta 2nd line is looking for their first goal. So I'm not expecting a NJ shutout. The Thrashers have been off for a long 6 days. Will Atlanta be energized or rusty after that layoff?  I'll go with Thrashers 4-3.

Big thanks to the Falconer for responding to my questions in short order.  He confirms my feeling about Kovalchuk; but he is right about that third line, as Peverley is enjoying a good start with 2 goals and 2 assists.  Rob Niedermayer-esque, really.  Interestingly enough, Falconer notes that John Anderson wants the defense to be active on offense but they need to be aware around their own net to clean up rebounds. Similar to what Lemaire wants the defensemen to do in New Jersey, come to think of it. Further evidence of Lemaire's quote about teams playing very similarly in the NHL.  Hmm...

I do have to disagree with his prediction, of course.  I won't get into predicting a score, but hopefully, the Devils prevail with any kind of win at the Rock.  Feel free to leave your comments about tonight's game here in advance of the GameThread.  Go Devils!