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Game 10 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Buffalo Sabres - 10/28/2009

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Media Coverage:  MSG+2 for the TV, 660 AM WFAN for the radio

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (6-3-0) vs. the Buffalo Sabres (6-1-1)

The Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils went on the road and had all the answers as they snapped Pittsburgh's hot streak to keep their own road winning streak alive. The Devils won 4-1, though they suffered significant injuries to Jay Pandolfo and Paul Martin.

The Last Sabres Game: The Buffalo Sabres got a last-minute equalizer to get at least a point in Tampa Bay, and then they took it in the shootout to earn the second point, 3-2. The win is the Sabres' third straight on the road this season. David Oleksy of Die by the Blade broke down the stats of the game here.

The Goal: Don't panic.  The Devils are without their top defenseman and a useful checking forward for the first time this season and their opponent is the surprisingly deep and stingy Buffalo Sabres.  I've highlighted how big of a deal it is to just replace their workload, much less their performance, on Monday.  And as such, there's likely going to be a significant adjustment.   Based on this post by Gulitti from Monday, the Devils appear to have the right attitude about the situation.  The players know that these injuries cannot be allowed to wreck their season.  Yet, it's another thing to go out on the ice and prove it - especially against a difficult opponent who can roll 3 lines of danger.  If things go awry, while feeling the loss of Martin and Pandolfo, it is critical that the Devils do not panic.

Read on for guesses at lines, Lemaire revealing some of his game plan in advance of tonight's game, and a few questions with David Oleksy of Die by the Blade - which is what you should check out for Buffalo's perspective of tonight's game.

First, here is my guess at the lines.  Mike Mottau and Colin White will play.  Players will be shifted around, and the fourth line and third defensive pairing could be a gametime decision:

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

Johnny Oduya - Bryce Salvador
Colin White - Mike Mottau
Cory Murphy Mark Fraser - Andy Greene

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

Devils head coach Jacques Lemaire has told Gulitti the following about the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday.  In a way, this may be the best summary out there about the Sabres.

"We’ve got big teams to play and this is one of the teams that plays the best," Lemaire said. "What they’re trying to do, when they don’t step over the line, they’re great. And when they do [step over the line], they’re only good.


"Their defensemen are very involved and sometimes they will overdo it and then they just become good," Lemaire said. "But when they are sharp and do it at the right time, they’re great. And it seems like that have controlled pretty well. They have a good power play, good penalty kill, good five on five, three very well balanced lines, three lines that can score…They’ve got good players on every line and they’re well coached too. [Sabres coach Lindy Ruff] knows the business. He’s been there for a long time."


"Now, you need every line on your team to play well," Lemaire said. "When you play Crosby and Malkin together, you need one line to play well, to play extremely well and then you have a chance to win. With that line is neutralized, that top line with Crosby and Malkin, you have a chance to win. But, here, you need the three lines to be good to have a chance to win. One [line] will be good and then you’ll pay the price."

As a result of how Lemaire views the Sabres, Dainius Zubrus will center Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner for match-up purposes.   While Lemaire has stated that Yann Danis might get a start soon (via Chere), I don't think it'll be tonight as the Devils would like to have the best goaltender possible against this Sabres team.  Given that Buffalo has given up a mere 16 goals this season, the game very well could come down to a goaltender's duel. In that case, Brodeur is the right choice.  Lastly, at forward, I think Matt Halischuk will at least start in Pandolfo's spot  in the line up.  He'll likely be shifted up or down a line based on his play and how both teams match-up during the game.  

I think Cory Murphy will get the nod tonight as he does have more experience than Mark Fraser, he can play 16-17 minutes, and he was working on the top power play unit on Tuesday by Gulitti.  The latter is a tell that he'll be getting minutes for tonight's game, in my opinion.  I think the only way Fraser is in tonight's game is if Lemaire wants to shorten the fourth line and dress 7 defensemen. Which is entirely possible, given how infrequent that line has been all season.  UPDATE: Shows you what I knew last night, Fraser will start and Murphy will be scratched per Gulitti's report this morning.  With respect to who takes the top pairing spot now, Johnny Oduya was lined up with Bryce Salvador in practice on Tuesday per Gulitti.  Given that Oduya has averaged the second most minutes on the team, I think it's a sensible decision.

Going back to the Sabres, this team is an even-strength machine. They lead the league with a remarkable 2.25 for/against ratio in even strength situations.  Following behind them in second is Washington, whose ratio is only 1.69.  The Sabres lead the league in average shots on net per game with 37.1 and they have given up only 28.7 on average with a goals against per game average of 2.  The scoring has come from many Sabres as opposed to a few: Derek Roy (7A), Clark MacArthur (4G, 2A), Thomas Vanek (4G), Tyler Meyers (2G, 3A), and many more have contributed.  

The Sabres, in short, will test the Devils' defense while giving the forwards a big challenge.   To learn more about the Sabres, I asked David Oleksy of Die by the Blade the following five questions:

Question #1. What impresses me most about the Sabres, on the surface, is that they currently lead the whole league in shots per game with 37.1. Why are the Sabres so prolific in shooting the puck?

DO: I think this is a direct result of the teams commitment to pressuring the puck.  They have had a ferocious forecheck this season and their offensive zone puck possession has been outstanding.  Because they are spending more time in the offensive zone they have had an increase in their shot totals.

Question #2. On the surface, the big flaw I notice the Buffalo Sabres has is their power play, which has a success rate of only 15.4% (26th in NHL). Given that the Sabres have been so amazin in even strength play with a 2.25 for/against ratio; is this really a big flaw?  If so, what do you think the Sabres need to do differently to bolster their power play?

DO: The power play is definitely a concern for the Sabres.  It has been overshadowed by the excellent even strength play but at some point the Sabres will need to get some production out of the power play.  They are missing the services of Jaro Spacek on the point and are having trouble finding a replacement.  The players and coaching staff are aware of the struggles and are committed to correcting it.  If the 5-on-5 play continues at the current pace the power play will eventually improve.

Question #3. Let's talk goalies.  With only 16 goals against this season, I have to imagine it can't be any better.  With a 6-0-0 start, 1.69 GAA, and .940 Sv%, is this the best you've seen Ryan Miller play at all?  What is he doing that's so successful?

DO: It’s all confidence.  Ryan Miller has proved time and time again that he has the tools to be an elite goalie in the NHL.  His biggest fault would be when he tries to do too much.  If he plays within himself and the defense continues to limit the opponents scoring chances, there is no reason that Miller couldn’t have the best season of his career.

Question #4. Despite a 6-1-1 record to start, only 16 goals given up, and being undefeated on the road, the Sabres are seemingly under the radar in the East.  When people think of top teams in the East, even this season (based on power rankings), it's been Pittsburgh, New York, and Washington instead of Buffalo.    Why do you think that is; and would you prefer that they remain under the radar?

DO: The Sabres have missed the playoffs two seasons in a row and they don’t have Danny Briere and Chris Drury.  They will remain under the radar until they give people a good reason to think otherwise.  I’m not sure how much difference it makes if they are under the radar.  It will give the team a rallying cry but beyond that the advantage seems minimal.

Question #5. Lastly, do you have a prediction for the Devils-Sabres game?

DO: I would love to say Sabres but there is something about playing the Devils that always gives me a bad feeling.  I will say Devils win 3-1.

Big thanks to David at Die by the Blade for the insight.  He reveals another aspect of the Sabres that the Devils will have to contend with - the forecheck.  Lemaire may want the Devils to sit back a bit more or have the defensemen make quick decisions on the breakout such that they don't get caught.   Of course, that's dependent on how aggressive Lindy Ruff wants his team on the forecheck.

Basically, if the Devils can figure out their special teams ahead of Buffalo (and more often), then that could very well decide the game. But that's a big if given that Ryan Miller has been sensational so far this season, and that the Sabres' forecheck hasn't just been active, but also effective.   I'm reminded of the fact that the Devils put up 3-4 goals on Marc-Andre Fleury and Henrik Lundqvist each, but that doesn't make beating Miller any easier.   

Again, to deal with all of this - the matchups, the forechecking, the Sabres' spread-out offense, Ryan Miller - the Devils must not panic.  If they can remain calm and get control of the game from the start, then that would be the best situation for the Devils.  Succeeding on special teams would help dramatically. But above all: don't panic.

Please leave all your comments, questions, concerns, and thoughts about tonight's game here prior to the GameThread brought to you by Steve.  I'll be back in my seat in Section 1, Row 16, Seat 5.  If you're going, consider getting there early and getting a Mystery Puck for $25.  You could get an autographed puck by Zach Parise or by Ilkka Pikkarainen.  That's what makes it a mystery.  It's also UNICEF night, so consider a donation if you're so inclined.  It's also a college night, so if you're college student, go to the game - it'll be cheap(er).  Lastly, you can even show up in a costume (seriously) for a contest; and win tickets to a Miley Cyrus concert or a suite to a Devils game-to-be-named-later.  Check out the Devils' page about it for rules.

Even if you're taking part in none of it, hope for the best, follow New Jersey in tonight's game by whatever means you can (legally) use.  Go Devils!