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Game 7 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Carolina Hurricanes - 10/17/2009

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

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

Last Devils Game: The Devils come off a three-game road trip where they took all the points, had a great first period, and then faded away and beat on special teams to lose 4-2.  Steve Lepore recapped the game well, so check that out if you haven't.  According to this post-game report by Tom Gulitti, Jacques Lemaire wasn't happy with the loss - which should surprise no one at all.

Last Carolina Game: The Hurricanes went down 2-0 at home to Pittsburgh, came back in the third period to tie it up, and (unlike the Devils at Washington) lost in the shootout.  Bob Harwood at Canes Country has recapped the game as such.

An Alternate Take: Bob Harwood has a preview up about tonight's game from Carolina's perspective.  It's entitled "Crossroads" and for them it really is.  Carolina has yet to win on the road this season, they lost their last 2 games, and their last full period of hockey was their best one all season.  Will they rise or will they flop?  I shouldn't have to tell you which I would prefer seeing.  Like what I did for Bird Watchers Anonymous two days ago, I answered a few questions which are also in his preview.

The Goal: WIN.  That may seem obvious, but the goal tonight should be to win at any cost. 7-6 in a shootout, a 3-0 shutout, a 2-1 OT win, a 4-2 win, whatever.  The Devils have got off to their second worst start at home in franchise history by dropping their first 3 home games.  And the Devils have somehow been able to do this in very different ways: getting routed and outplayed all game, not being able to get an equalizer despite the effort, and - most recently - a third period meltdown.   I don't need to see either or a brand new way of losing tonight.  Going 0-4 at home is awful, not to mention killing all the of confidence built up in the 3 road games prior.

Read on for a guess at lines, other thoughts about the game, and some questions about the Canes answered by Bob Harwood of Canes Country.

A Guess At Lines:   Truth be told, I really only want to see changes on the fourth line (read: No more Andrew Peters) and to see Andy Greene in for Cory Murphy.  Not that those changes would have led to a win last night, but because I feel there are better players to slot into the lineup.   Fortunately, per this post by Tom Gulitti, I will get what I want.  Greene, Leblond, and Halischuk are all in; and Martin Brodeur will start.  So the lineup will most likely be:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Nicklas Bergfors - Dainius Zubrus - David Clarkson
Jay Pandolfo - Rob Niedermayer - Brian Rolston
  Matt Halischuk - Rod Pelley - Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond

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

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

Now, I have absolutely no problem with Martin Brodeur starting tonight.  This is a must-win game at home, in my opinion.  As well as Yann Danis looked in preseason, this is a situation where you start the players who give your team the best chance at success.  No one can honestly say Danis would give the Devils a better chance to win tonight over Martin Brodeur.   Besides, the Devils don't play their next game until Thursday at the World's Most Overrated Arena.  No one will be tired for that one, much less Brodeur.

I've just watched last night's game on recording and I really can't add much else to what Steve had to say about that game in particular.  Except maybe some additional "ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGHS" with respect to some of the decisions by the Devils.  Let me bring to light that the Devils took another too many men on the ice call.  Seriously. This is a boneheaded call to take and to take so many of them so early in the season is a real problem.  It's gotten so bad, Gulitti has an entire post about the subject and even inquired Lemaire about this pressing problem.  It's quite insightful as the issue lies mainly with the defensemen getting on and off.  Regardless, I want to see no early changes. 

But discipline is a larger issue. The Devils escaped with handing Washington 5 power play chances with excellent work on the PK and by Brodeur.  Last night, the Thrashers got only 3 - but they were avoidable calls: the aforementioned too many men on the ice call, a lazy slash by Mike Mottau, and a lazy trip by Colin White.  The Thrashers did well to make those power plays work.  Ideally, a player should only be taking a penalty if he has no choice.  While being shorthanded 25 times this season isn't much (tied for 16th in the league), it could and should be a smaller number.  Yet, the Devils apparently like taking a gun and firing it at their own feet.

And that problem is compounded when the Devils don't build on an amazing 15 shot first period where they looked great (only Ondrej Pavelec looked better) or do much with 6 power play chances. Tonight, the Devils need to give a more consistent effort on the attack and make the most of these chances. There isn't much more to say about that.  Changing the lines or the PP units won't be as effective without the right execution.  Otherwise, we could be seeing the very same thing tonight from Cam Ward, Eric Staal, and company. 

Speaking of, I was able to ask Bob Harwood of Canes Country a few questions about the Carolina Hurricanes to provide further insight on tonight's opponent:

Question #1. The Hurricanes are doing poorly across the board in team stats.  A 2.33 goals for game average; a 3.17 goals against game average, a 78.3% PK success rate, a power play success rate of 11.8%, and conceding an average of 33.8 shots per game.  What in the world is going wrong in Carolina to start the season?  Is it just a slow start, or are some/all of these related to a deeper issue within the team?

Bob: Hopefully, it's just a slow start.  There are few new players on defense who are trying to get used to matching up together.  The Canes number one defenseman, (as far as average time on ice) Joni Pitkanen has missed all season so far except for two periods.  He may or may not play against the Devils, he is questionable.  His absence has been missed primarily because he is the best passer on the team and set up man.

As far as the powerplay goes, that might be an all season problem.  The Canes struggled in the postseason last year, (10%) and the success rate has not improved yet this season. 

Question #2. Which line or player do you think will give the Devils most problems in tonight's game?

Bob: I'm going to make a guess that Chad LaRose will break out and score his first goal Saturday night.  He has been shut out so far and is due.  Plus, he has had success in the past against the Devils and Brodeur.

Question #3. Let's talk goalies.  Cam Ward has been worked hard already and his skill really isn't in doubt.  That said, how reliant will Carolina have to be on Ward to have a chance tonight?  Will he have to stand on his head, or is the rest of the team currently able to make up the difference if Ward has an average (or worse) not?

Bob: Ward has had to hold the fort in all but one game (7-2 win over Florida), and I doubt this game will be any different.   The defense is still shaky at times and the offense has been inconsistent. 

Question #4. Tuomo Ruutu is at least enjoying a nice start to the season. In 6 games he has a goal, 3 assists, 24 shots on net, and only one minor penalty.  Do you think he'll be an impact player tonight?  Over the course of the season, do you see Ruutu as an impact player?

Bob: Yes, Ruutu can be impact player either on the scoresheet or in other ways.  Often times he will make a jarring hit which will jump start the team.  He's a skilled player who can score, but you better keep your head up while he is on the ice.   He should make some type of impact tonight.

Question #5. Lastly, how about a prediction for tonight's game?

Bob: Now that Jersey lost to Atlanta Friday night, I think they will be fired up for this one.  Devils 3 Canes 2 in a close game.

That's a prediction I can get behind!  Because, hey, this is a must-win home game in my opinion.

What Bob said about Cam Ward is particularly of note considering that the Devils couldn't finish against a goalie that didn't give up much in terms of holes last night. The Devils may have to fire away - and more than just one period - to find them in Ward tonight.  With the issues on defense that Carolina has, the opportunities could very well be there. But will the Devils be ready enough to take them for themselves?  If they want to succeed, they'll pretty much have to. Big thanks to Bob Harwood at Canes Country for taking the time to respond.

Please leave all your comments, questions, concerns, and thoughts about tonight's game here prior to the GameThread.  I'll be at my usual seat for this one (Sec. 1, Row 16, Seat 5), likely screaming "Death or Glory" (the phrase, not the song) at some point in the game.   Go Devils!