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Game 23 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Boston Bruins - 11/27/2009

The Time: 12 PM EST

The Broadcasting Info: MSG on the TV, 660 AM WFAN on the radio

The Matchup:  The New Jersey Devils (15-6-1) @ the Boston Bruins (12-8-4)

The Last Devils Game: The Ottawa Senators won their last four games coming into the Rock and played a tightly checked game.  A great opportunity from a bad bounce and a deflection by Patrik Elias were enough for the Devils to best the Senators.  The Devils won 3-1, which ended a winless streak of their own.  My recap of the game is available here.

The Last Bruins Game: The Bruins took on the Minnesota Wild and basically had to grind out a result. While the Wild outshot the B's, Tuukka Rask made big saves to keep the game tied at one.  The Bruins eventually got the W in the shootout.  The win marks the fourth straight for Boston and places them at the top of the Northeast Division. Stanley Cup of Chowder recapped the game as such here.

The Last Devils-Bruins Game:  This game was also in Boston and close, but generally sloppy and I felt the Bruins were better in terms of possession.  The Devils eventually broke through Tim Thomas with shots that trickled through him and two Devils (David Clarkson, Dainius Zubrus) that knocked it into the net.  Yann Danis made his first start and did quite well in the 2-1 victory.  The downside to the win was that Johnny Oduya was injured during the game.

The Goal: Forecheck for success.  The Devils are an interesting team at forward in that all 12 forwards aren't shy about going into the boards to get the puck.  From Zach Parise to Brian Rolston to Patrik Elias to Tim Sestito, the Devils will go after the puck if they feel they have a shot at that. Given that in the last Devils-Bruins game, the Bruins were able to control and move the puck better, leading to more possession on their side, a solid forecheck could disrupt that.   With the Devils on the road and coming off a win, it would be best if they can establish some pressure on their forecheck and set the tempo that way in getting off a good start.   I think it'll build momentum and throw the Bruins off their game more than a little bit.   This is what I would like to see, outside of another victory over a hot Boston team - didn't the Devils just play a Northeastern Division team that won 4 straight and was leading the division?

Read on for further thoughts, a guess at the lineup, and some insight into the Bruins thanks to Stanley Cup of Chowder.

Now, on Wednesday night, some Devils had some good nights. Patrik Elias got his first goal of the season and according to this Tom Gulitti's postgame post, he's feeling better after the recovery.   Though, I'm not so agreeable with the notion of moving him to center permanently, given that he won 4 out of 13 faceoffs against Ottawa.  But that's an argument for another time.   I didn't think Zach Parise had such a great night, but still managed 4 shots on net and an assist.   Nicklas Bergfors scored a goal and got 3 shots on net. Per this postgame post by Rich Chere, Jacques Lemaire was pleased but he's not fully satisfied yet - citing long shifts as something to work on.   I guess he wants Bergfors to come off the ice faster, fair enough.

But overall, the Devils could stand to shoot more. They only got 21 through to Brian Elliott and were blocked 11 times.   Boston's pretty good at allowing shots, only letting up an average of 28.9 per game so far this season.  Given that Rask has been playing well this season, the Devils will have to take more chances at shooting rather than setting up great plays unless Boston's D is just asleep.  As mentioned prior to the jump, a good forecheck could go a long way at pressuring the defense and allow the Devils to go forward more often on the attack.

2009 - Tuukka Rask 10 619 7 2 22 2.13 289 267 .924 1

With respect to the lineup, I'd expect the same with a possible change for starting goaltender.  At time of this writing (Thursday evening), it's not at all certain who will start for the Devils given that they play their next two games back-to-back.  It could be Martin Brodeur.  After all, the Bruins have played better than the Islanders and so playing the superior goaltender may be the better option.  On the other hand, Yann Danis has come into Boston before, played well, and got the win.  He'll know what to expect out of Boston's attack. 

In terms of injuries, according to Rich Chere, Rob Niedermayer has actually went through his first full practice, but he didn't travel with the team up to Boston.  This is still good news.  The return of Niedermayer would strengthen the Devils at center and solidify the role on the third line.  With the number of injuries the Devils have, any sign of improvement has to be lauded.  Alas, it will not mean a thing for today's game.  As such, here is my guess at the Devils' lineup:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Niclas Bergfors
Brian Rolston - Patrik Elias - Jamie Langenbrunner
  Dean McAmmond - Tim Sestito - David Clarkson
 Andrew Peters - Matt Halischuk - Tyler Eckford

Andy Greene - Bryce Salvador
Colin White - Mike Mottau
  Mark Fraser - Matthew Corrente

Yann Danis
Martin Brodeur

As much I'd like to see Rod Pelley back into the fold, I'm growing more doubtful.  I also think Danis will get the start because, as mentioned earlier, he's won in this building before plus his start will mean Brodeur is fully rested for Saturday.  Of course, this is all just a guess, so don't be surprised if I'm dead wrong.

Now, let's discuss the Bruins.  I asked five questions to Stanley Cup of Chowder to get some insight into today's opponent:

Question #1.  The last time the Devils played the Bruins, the Devils won with a late goal.  Did anything stick out from that game that you feel the Bruins need to more of or avoid in tonight's game?

SC: The Bruins looked pretty sharp in the first game against the Devils, but surprisingly Yann Danis was able to shut them down. The one area that concerned me during that game was their inability to move the puck through New Jersey's aggressive forecheck late in the game.

Question #2. One of the big signings for the Bruins in this past summer was defenseman Derek Morris.  On paper, he looks to have been a good signing.  Are you pleased with how he has performed so far? Can he improve in any part of his game?

SC: I have been pleased with what Morris has brought to this team. He seems to be a good fit on the 1st pair with Chara.

Question #3. Let's talk goaltenders.  Tuukka Rask has a good goals against average of 2.13 (2nd best in NHL) and a save percentage of .924 (4th best in NHL) and now has more wins than Tim Thomas.  Is there a goaltender duel in the making in Boston?

SC: I think it is more of a duo than duel. Tim Thomas has never really been called on to be the definitive starting goaltender and he needs to have a backup that can give him some rest and share some of the workload between the pipes. Rask has proven this season that he is ready to play at the NHL level. The B's have done a great job of taking their time with Rask and not rushing his development. I think at some point in the next few years Rask will be an elite goalie in the NHL. Right now, I'm happy with him being a solid back-up/1A option with Tim Thomas.

Question #4. One of the more surprising team stats about the Bruins is their power play.  It ranks 26th in the league with a success rate of 14.5%.  Is the result of a fairly unproductive Bruins offense (2.29 goals per game average - 27th in the NHL) or is the lack of power play goals related to something else entirely?

SC: The Bruins were without playmaker Marc Savard for most of the season, but you can't really use that as an excuse. Every team is dealing with injuries right now. The power play has been struggling and I can't really put my finger on what it is that they are doing wrong. Whatever they do, it doesn't seem to work. I think it is a situation where they are struggling and they are starting to grip the stick too tight and are trying to make that extra pass. The power play did show some signs of life on Monday night against the Blues going 2 for 3, which hopefully was a step in the right direction.

Question #5. Lastly, do you have a prediction for this afternoon game?

SC: 3-2 Bruins in the shootout.

Big thanks to Stanley Cup of Chowder for his responses.  I wasn't aware of the Bruins actually getting power play success recently.  Sure, the power play percentage isn't so good but so was Nashville's and their power play actually got an important goal against New Jersey last Wednesday.  

Nevertheless, notice that Stanley Cup of Chowder cites the Devils' forecheck as a reason why the Bruins struggled late in their last game.  Again, a good forecheck even if it doesn't intercept passes or take the puck away can still be effective just by throwing off the opposition.  That's why I think it'll be important that the Devils make an effort to beat the Bruins today.

Steve will hit you up with the GameThread. Stay in on Black Friday and join the both of us by watching some New Jersey Devils hockey.  Feel free to discuss the game in advance in the comment. Go Devils!