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Game 3 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning - 10/8/2009

The Time: 7:30 PM EST  The Broadcasing Info: MSG+ (HD?) for TV, 660 AM WFAN for Radio

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (0-2-0) at the Tampa Bay Lightning (0-1-1)

Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils improved on their season opener performance, but it wasn't enough and lost to the New York Rangers 3-2.  

Last Lightning Game: The Tampa Bay Lightning kept it close, but lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in a shootout. At leas they earned a point.  A recap of this game is available at Raw Charge.

So the Devils get to be the opponent in Tampa Bay's home opener for Thursday night.  And this is a team that really is due for a win.  They lost at Atlanta 6-3, they lost to Carolina on Tuesday, and with both losses, the Lightning last won a regular season game on March 24, 2009.l  That's an 11 game non-winning streak.   In the recaps for both games, Cassie was unhappy with the team's mental toughness, stating that she thinks it's holding the team back.  Though, the close score against Carolina as well as what Cassie heard from the game seemed to indicate the team showing more aggression.

Let's put this in another perspective.  The Devils opponent is a team on a losing streak held over from last season, who will be opening up their arena for the first time this season, and coming off a game they could have won.  Yeah, this won't be easy for New Jersey.   I fully expect Tampa Bay to be a difficult opponent.  Read on for guesses at lines and thoughts about tonight's game.

Now, from Damien Cristodero via Raw Charge, the Lightning will have the same lineup of players from the Carolina game.  Some players could be shifted around (e.g. Stephane Villeaux up to Lecavalier's line; Steve Downie down to the fourth line); but it'll be the same group of players that earned the team's first point against Carolina on Tuesday. They'll likely be quite hungry for a win in front of their fans.

As for the Devils, the lineup could change depending on a morning skate/practice prior to the game.  However, the Devils practiced with this set of lines yesterday according to Tom Gulitti:

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

Paul Martin - Johnny Oduya
Colin White-Mike Mottau
Bryce Salvador-Cory Murphy

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

As you will see, the fourth line gets another change and for some, a welcome change with the subtraction of Andrew Peters.  Still, it's the same team that had an improved, but not good enough, performance against the Rangers on Monday.  In a way, it makes perfect sense to keep the same players.  Given concerns with breakouts, puck control, and chemistry, maybe all that is needed to fix those issues is time. Which, I think, is only really effective if the same players play with each other.

That said, it will behoove various individual Devils to step up their games.  Some examples: I do not want to see Mike Mottau be so careless with the puck or in his own zone.  I do not want Cory Murphy to be rendered useless on the blueline.  I do not want the defense to act as pylons for Vincent Lecavalier or Martin St. Louis or Steven Stamkos or even Steve Downie.  I do not want Brian Rolston/Nicklas Bergfors to be largely invisible except for missing shots.  I do not want the ZZ Pops unit to be pressured so much it effects their game to no avail.  I do not want to see whoever is playing on the power play to be so sloppy with the puck.   I do not want to see Martin Brodeur get rattled.  I do not want to see the ZZ Pops line be kept quiet.

One area of interest will be to see how the Devils offense approaches Tampa Bay's defense.  To start the season, the Lightning kept 3 extra defensemen leaving them with 9.  Well, they're technically now with 7 as Matt Smaby was sent down to the AHL for conditioning and Kurtis Foster is out per Damian Cristodero's reports. Even so, this is still a blueline that has rookie Victor Hedman lead the unit with an average of 25:31 of ice time.  I find this a bit surprising considering Mattias Ohlund and Andrej Meszaros are active (though they are getting at least 20 minutes a game on average).  You'd think the Lightning would want to ease him in, but that clearly isn't the case. 

Still, it's been successful in keeping the shots on Mike Smith low, they only allowed 28 against in both their games this season.  I think the Devils will have to work to change that stat.   The Devils offense has yet to really pile on a defense for more than a few shifts at a time against Philadelphia and the Rangers.  Moreso against the Rangers, due to the Devils' extra intensity and aggression in that game. I feel if they can bring some of the intensity they showed against the Rangers tonight and keep peppering Mike Smith with shots, they'll not just have that all important momentum in their favor, but they may be able to crack him.  Unlike Ray Emery (who continued an amazing preseason performance at the Rock) and Henrik Lundqvist (helped by a bunkering defense), Mike Smith can be quite prone to errors and his mistakes is New Jersey's gain.  The Devils should help him make errors by throwing as much rubber at him as possible.

Overall, I'd like the Devils to improve in all facets of their game with tonight's performance - something I feel they did against the Rangers.   That means better passes, better shots, better positioning, better discipline, and more consistent hustle.  Even if Tampa Bay strikes first, it'll be crucial for New Jersey to retain their focus and battle for their first win this season.  Honestly, with Florida (whom plays their first home against the Devils too) and Washington next on the road trip, the Devils really could use the win.  I don't think anyone wants to see either those two road games as "must-win" games.  I certainly don't.

Check on Gulitti and Chere for any breaking news prior to tonight's game.   If you want the Lightning's perspective, Raw Charge will get you up to speed.  Feel free to use this post to comment about what you want to see in tonight's game, who you want to perform well, and other thoughts you have about the game in advance of the GameThread.   Go Devils!