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Game 25 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Vancouver Canucks - 12/2/2009

The Time: 7 PM EST

The Broadcasting Info: MSG+ for the TV; 660 AM WFAN for the radio

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (17-6-1) vs. the Vancouver Canucks (14-12-0)

The Last Devils Game: Think of a snowball at the top of the mountain.  Think of something - say a Richard Park slapshot - causing said snowball to start rolling.  Think of the New York Islanders being in the way of that snowball. The Devils grew to dominate the game and blow out the Islanders 6-1 at the Rock, the biggest win of the season so far and their third straight win.

The Last Canucks Game:  The Vancouver Canucks drew the league leaders, the San Jose Sharks, on the second half of a back-to-back set.  It didn't end well.  The Canucks kept it close until Manny Malhotra broke the deadlock late in the third period; and so the Canucks went onto lost 4-2.  Sean Zanberg of Nucks Misconduct recapped the game, describing it as a "snoozfest" and the GM Place crowd as "lifeless."

The Goal: Discipline.  Vancouver is a team that will make anyone pay for taking dumb calls. Sure, they didn't show that off against the San Jose Sharks. But they have the third best power play success rate at 24.3%, just behind Anaheim (24.5%) and Columbus (24.8%).  While the Devils are disciplined in terms of penalties (9.6 PIM/G is third best in the league), I'm also referring to being disciplined on defense. The Canucks in general are a high scoring team, averaging 3 goals a game - the ninth highest average in the league.   While Devils fans can be confident in new U.S. citizen Martin Brodeur between the pipes, leaving him out to dry or having him bombarded with high quality shots could lead to disaster against Vancouver.

For a Vancouver perspective on tonight's game, Nucks Misconduct is a good place to check on.  Read on for my thoughts on tonight's game.

The big story in the run up to tonight's game is that New Jersey Devils are getting healthier.  Rob Niedermayer, Jay Pandolfo, and Johnny Oduya all returned to practice earlier in the week.   Per Tom Gulitti's reports, Oduya returned to practice on Tuesday whereas Niedermayer and Pandolfo came back on Monday.  While a return to games hasn't been set in stone outside of Oduya not playing, Jacques Lemaire hopes to have Niedermayer back in the lineup for tonight's game against Vancouver.  Actually, Gulitti reported that Lemaire thinks both Niedermayer and Pandolfo could be ready for Vancouver, but both players' comments suggest otherwise. 

Of course, it's not all good news. No, apparently, Jamie Langenbrunner "tweaked" something and didn't practice on Tuesday.  According to Gulitti, it's apparently something with his back - something that has long been suspected as a back injury.   Now, he's presumably played with that nagging issue so far and he's done pretty well regardless.

2009 - Jamie Langenbrunner 24 5 17 22 8 6 1 1 1 0 68 7.4

It's not clear whether that will mean he can't play against the Canucks.  After all, Langenbrunner had this to say to Gulitti:

"I’ll see how I feel when I wake up in the morning," he said. "I didn’t think it was going to be an issue today, so. I would assume that I’ll be bettter tomorrow., I worked with [team massage therapist] Tommy [Plasko] today and I feel better. 


"I practiced yesterday and felt fine and felt fine all days yesterday," he said. "I woke up this morning and I didn’t feel so good and I wasn’t able to loosen up like I wanted to."

I think Chere summed it all best in his headline: Niedermayer and Pandolfo are probable, Langenbrunner is questionable, and Oduya is out.   With respect to the roster size, the Devils can activate one of Niedermayer and Pandolfo without making any moves.  Should Langenbrunner just get scratched and the Devils want both Pandolfo and Niedermayer active, someone has to go to Lowell.  Most likely Vladimir Zharkov to start, as he can go freely between New Jersey and Lowell without waivers.   So keep an eye on Chere and Gulitti during the day. If the Devils make a roster move, you can bet on both Niedermayer and Pandolfo returning.

As far as my guess for the lineup, I'm going to assume that those moves do happen and that Langenbrunner is good to go.  I really hope he is, the Devils really can't afford more injuries to their top 6 forwards.

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Niclas Bergfors
Brian Rolston - Patrik Elias - Jamie Langenbrunner
  Jay Pandolfo - Rob Niedermayer - Dean McAmmond
 Andrew Peters - Rod Pelley - Matt Halischuk

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

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

If only Niedermayer is activated, expect Dean McAmmond to slide to that left wing position and either Zharkov, Ilkka Pikkarainen, or Eckford would be scratched.  Likewise, if Pandolfo is only activated, McAmmond would likely center that third line and play with Halischuk on his right wing.  Should Langenbrunner not play, I'd guess Zharkov would be back in the lineup in some way.  Of course, these are all guesses and I will most likely be wrong in some way.

Either way, it'll be up to the top two forward lines to crack a pretty good Vancouver defense (28.7 shots against per game average, 11th in the league) and Roberto Luongo, the other high-profile goaltending candidate for Team Canada.

2009 - Roberto Luongo 20 1124 10 9 48 2.56 531 483 .910 1

OK, they aren't great numbers, but he's very talented all the same.  When he's on, he's frightfully Brodeurian in how difficult he is to beat.  Sure, Brodeur and Lemaire says this game

Moreover, the Canucks don't have a big pairing to lead their defense.  Kevin Bieksa (22:10), Willie Mitchell (22:04), Christian Ehrhoff (21:44), and Alexander Edler (21:31) have very similar time on ice averages, which suggests to me that Alain Vigenault doesn't like to have one pairing or one line carry a heavy workload.  Looking at Behind the Net's even strength numbers notes that Willie Mitchell, far and away, faces the highest quality of competition. So I assume he's the "#1" on the blueline.  That said, none of these four really stick out in shots against/60 differential when they are on and off the ice. The biggest positive is Edler with 1.1 less shots per 60. But all of Vancouver's defensemen have a shots against/60 of 27 or less when they are on the ice, which speaks to an overall good effort by the blueline.  

Either way, the Devils forwards probably won't have a weak defensive pairing they can pounce on unless one of those four defensemen is having a bad night.  On the flipside, Vancouver may need those four defensemen to have equally good nights due to the Devils' top 6.  I think it's fair to say that Zach Parise and Travis Zajac will be big players on offense for the Devils, but I would pay additional attention to how Patrik Elias and Brian Rolston play tonight.  Both enjoyed 4 point games against the Islanders and showed some real good chemistry between each other.  If they can showcase some of that again, it won't be just useful (if not important) for tonight's game but further evidence that it wasn't some flash-in-the-pan, everything-just-clicked moment.   Hopefully, they'll get some points and command attention.

With respect to offense, as mentioned prior to the jump, the Canucks power play is something I think the Devils should avoid as much as possible.  Tempting the third best power play in the league is never a smart idea.  Leading the forwards for Vancouver is Henrik Sedin and his 14 goals and 14 assists; with playmaking Ryan Kesler following close behind in points with 5 goals and 19 assists.  The production, like New Jersey, is shared throughout much of the rest of the line up - namely by Mikael Samuelsson, Mason Raymond, and Alexandre Burrows.  Actually, Vancouver's defensemen show up high on the scoring list as well: Ehrhoff has 17 points (tied with Raymond for fourth most on the team), Edler has 16 (tied with Burrows for sixth most on the team), and Bieksa has 11 points. So the attack seemingly can start at the point, or at least the defensemen usually has a hand in Vancouver's offensive successes.

Essentially, on paper, this is a pretty solid Vancouver team in my view.  I'm not sure why they are 14-12-0 and stuck behind a 5 teams in the Western Conference (Prior to Tuesday's games, 5th place LA: 32 points. 10th place Columbus: 30 points).  Perhaps they aren't very good on the road?  A road record of 4-8-0, 29 road goals scored against 40 road goals given up indicates that, yes, they aren't good on the road.  What does that mean for tonight? Who knows.

All of this speaks back to Devils needing to show discipline on the ice.  They can't just float through tonight's game and hope Vancouver will do the same.  They can't take stupid calls or make dumb errors and hope Vancouver won't take advantage.   Ideally, the Devils would perform as well as they did on Saturday against the Islanders.  I don't think the Devils will explode for 6 goals or dominate in possession by the the third period the way they did. I don't think Vancouver will break down like that, especially after keeping their last game close until the end, despite not looking so good overall.  They'll at least want to give a better effort after that game.  Maintaining a solid defensive game in their own end while striking ahead and staying out of the box will take discipline.  I think if the Devils do that, then they got a good chance on stretching their winning streak to 4 games.

Steve will have the GameThread up later today.  Check out Nucks Misconduct to learn more about tonight's opponent.  Please feel free to share your thoughts on today's game, today's latest news relevant to tonight's game, and discuss the opposition in the comments.   Go Devils!