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Game 34 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Atlanta Thrashers - 12/19/2009

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcasting Info: TV: MSG; Radio: 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (24-8-1) @ the Atlanta Thrashers (18-12-3)

The Last Devils Game: It was better than Wednesday, but still not a complete effort by the New Jersey Devils. But they did well enough to beat Ottawa 4-2, a game that featured sweet goals by Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Rolston, and Jay Pandolfo - as well as one absolutely funny and flukey goal by Bryce SalvadorIn my recap, I also used a cookie metaphor.  Today, I still stand amazed that the Devils are technically in first in the East thanks to having played less games than Pittsburgh.

The Last Thrashers Game: Bill Tiller at the AJC likened the last Atlanta game to a thrilling roller coaster - one with many ups and downs.  Ondrej Pavelec was bombarded with 47 shots and had to be big. Even then, Dallas and Atlanta both put 5 on each other in regulation with plenty coming off special teams (including a SHG for each side).   Rich Peverley continues his fantastic season by scoring his second goal in overtime for Atlanta to win 6-5. 

The Last Devils-Thrashers Game:  The first 40 minutes seemed to go well enough for the Devils.  They bossed the Thrashers around in the first, and the two teams scored in the second to be tied.  Then Atlanta took the Devils to school in the third. They scored 2 goals in the first 6 minutes in the third period and the Devils could only answer one of those back.  Even then, Zach Parise's goal later on became a consolation, as Chris Thornburn ensured the win with a shorthanded goal. Steve took care of the recap for the game here at ILWT.

The Goal: Keep the fire burning and make those shots count.  The Devils came out with good energy against Ottawa, even if their performance was inconsistent through the game.  I'd like to see the Devils keep that up.  Atlanta is prone to giving up a ton of shots and if the Devils can stay fresh, then they'll have their chances as well.  Above all, I'd like to see the fire raging from Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. The dynamic duo has gone cold on the scoresheet in recent games.  If either can pick up their game, it can give the Devils the extra boost they need to get through the second half of this back-to-back.  Atlanta does give up a lot of shots, but they have the fire power to outscore anyone I think the Devils will have to be especially efficient with their scoring chances tonight to get a result.  Either that, or deny Atlanta anything on defense - but with guys like Ilya Kovalchuk, Rich Peverley, and Maxim Afinogenov, that's asking a lot out of any defense.  Perhaps too much.

Now, Colin Stephenson and Tom Gulitti aren't in Atlanta just yet due to flight issues relevant to the incoming SNOWPOCALYPSE (soon to hit New Jersey).  So there isn't much news out now about the Devils.  I would think they'll keep the same lineup, there's no reason at all to bench a forward for Andrew Peters or Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond.  Yet, I really wonder if Jacques Lemaire will keep Parise and Zajac together.  After Thursday's practice where he split the two up, they played entirely together on Friday night.  Per Gulitti, Lemaire had this explanation as to why:

"I heard some comments that Zach said that made me go back to play him with Travis," Lemaire said. "He said sometimes it’s good to play with other guys and when you come back you really work hard, so things gel together. So, I decided to start with them (together) and I was pleased with the way they worked."

Fair enough.  While Lemaire may have been happy with how they played; I think it was obvious that they could have done more.  A non-slumping Parise scores on that breakaway he had in the first period.  Still, I think a change for a part of a game would do well if only to shake the two of them up.  The only other big lineup question is who starts in net tonight?  Martin Brodeur actually had a busy night with 29 shots against and Jonathan Cheechoo's knee knocking his head.  I think now is a perfect night for Yann Danis to spell Brodeur. That said, here's my wild guess at the Devils' lineup:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Brian Rolston - Patrik Elias - Vladimir Zharkov
  Jay Pandolfo - Rob Niedermayer - Nicklas Bergfors
Rod Pelley - Dean McAmmond - Ilkka Pikkarainen

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

Yann Danis
Martin Brodeur

I'm guessing Lemaire keeps Parise and Zajac together despite what I think.  Whoever starts in net, Danis or Brodeur, will not have an easy night. While Atlanta may not put up many shots on net per game on average (28.4, tied with Florida for 24th), they put quite a few of those shots home as they average 3.12 goals per game (3rd in the league).  The top five scorers for Atlanta are impressive players.

2009 - Ilya Kovalchuk 27 19 16 35 -5 41 8 0 1 0 91 20.9
2009 - Rich Peverley 33 12 21 33 5 24 6 1 6 0 67 17.9
2009 - Maxim Afinogenov 33 12 18 30 -2 24 3 0 1 0 75 16.0
2009 - Nik Antropov 33 6 21 27 6 10 2 0 1 0 45 13.3
2009 - Tobias Enstrom 33 3 22 25 10 12 1 0 0 0 47 6.4

And behind them aren't bad either, including Slava Kozlov, Colby Armstrong, rookie Evander Kane, and Pavel Kubina bringing the bombs from the point.  The Thrashers are a fairly solid offensive team and Ondrej Pavelec has looked good in replacing the injured Kari Lehtonen.  So much so, I wonder whether Lehtonen will stay a Thrasher.

2009 - Ondrej Pavelec 21 1169 9 8 62 3.18 701 639 .912 2

Either way, per this post by Chris Vivlamore at the AJC, the Thrashers will start Pavelec; scratch Bryan Little, Anssi Salmela, and Mark Popovic; and coul roll out these four lines from this morning's practice:


Amazingly, the Thrashers have been winning games despite being so heavily outshot. The Falconer at Bird Watchers Anonymous looked the shot deficit issue and found that the Thrashers concede more shots on average in regulation wins than they do in losses.  Not only that, but the differential between shots for and against is higher - meaning the Thrashers get out-shot more - in their wins as opposed to their losses. 

Again, this goes back to efficency.  If the Devils get a few breakaways or odd man rushes like they did against Ottawa, they have to finish those plays.  Given Atlanta's top scorers (the amazing Kovalchuk, the impressive Peverley, and the resurgent Afinogenov) and their 3.12 goals per game average stat, the Thrashers will make the Devils pay for any errors be it by their defense, by a bad line change, or even just by the Devils not being able to score. 

I'll put up the GameThread later. If you're in the NY/NJ area, there's a good chance you won't be going too far with the aforementioned SNOWPOCALYPSE so join me in the comments tonight. Leave your thoughts about tonight's game in the comments in advance.  For the other side, check out Bird Watchers Anonymous, where you don't need to be necessarily anonymous if you so choose.  Go Devils!