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Game 38 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Pittsburgh Penguins - 12/30/2009

The Time: 7 PM EST

The Broadcasting Info: TV: MSG+, Radio: 1130 AM WBBR

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (27-9-1) vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins (26-13-1)

The Last Devils Game: It wasn't the sharpest of games, but it was an improvement over Saturday's loss in DC.  The Devils hosted the Atlanta Thrashers and Zach Parise dazzled the Rock for two goals.  The Devils went on to win 3-2, here is my recap of that game.

The Last Penguins Game:  Normally when someone (usually The Maven, Stan Fischler) talks about how the three goal lead is the worst lead in hockey, it's not worth paying any mind.  It's a substantial lead with plenty of room for error. Not the case in Buffalo. Pittsburgh jumped out to a three goal lead only to suffer the Sabres answering back all three goals and tacking on a power play goal game winner from Jason Pominville.  The Pens have lost 3 of their last 4 and Hooks Orpik at PensBurgh is understandably not happy with how last night turned out.

The Last Devils-Penguins Game: Do I need to remind you of this game? It happened last Monday.  Also, the Devils shutout the Penguins 4-0, and Martin Brodeur earned his 104th career shutout, breaking the all time NHL record.  It is a game that no Devil fan should easily forget.  Here is my recap of the memorable game; for the other side, Hooks Orpik did the recap over at PensBurgh.

The Goal: Maintain focus while passing.  The biggest gripe I had with the last Devils game was that the forwards made far too many passes that the Atlanta defense was able to pick off or make a stop after the pass. The ideas made sense, but the execution wasn't always there.  The Devils were fortunate to not have too many of those passes turn into goals against; but it's not a good habit to have.  Yes, an offensively charged team like Atlanta didn't make them pay, but who is to say Pittsburgh won't?  Sure, the Devils beat them 4-1, 4-1, and 4-0 at the Igloo this season; but that means nothing with respect to this specific game.  If the puck control is that loose by New Jersey, it should be expected that Pittsburgh will take advantage.   Keep in mind, they put 35 shots on net despite how well New Jersey played in the last game between both teams.

Please check out PensBurgh for the Penguins' side of tonight's game. Read on for further thoughts on tonight's game.

Now, this is a bit odd as it's been a little more than a week and a half since these two teams played.  What can I say about Pittsburgh?  That they're still a top team in the Eastern Conference and for good reason?  The Penguins still take a significant amount penalties (14.6 PIM/game, 177 minors); their power play is still remarkably ineffective (15.4%, worst in the NHL); and they are strong in even strength play?  That Marc-Andre Fleury is still a top goaltender? That Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are still among the top 3 hockey players in the world right now? That their defense is far better than you may think it is: 27.9 shots against per game average is tied for fifth in the league and just behind New Jersey's 27.4 shots against per game average?

They are a high quality opponent coming off a game in Buffalo last night.  I would not expect them to be tired, if anything I'd expect them to be quite ready for this game.  They haven't come close to beating New Jersey all season, much less actually beating them. They'll want revenge tonight and that alone is reason enough to expect them to come out with a high level of intensity.  New Jersey has seen such intensity before from Pittsburgh; while they matched well against it in their last game with the Penguins, they cannot let it overwhelm them for long stretches of time.  Then they would be just asking to lose.

As for the Devils, it appears that Matthew Corrente will likely get back into the New Jersey lineup for the moment.  He was called up on an emergency basis due to Bryce Salvador's "lower body injury," per this report from Tom Gulitti.  Since Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond has been placed on IR, the Devils have the space for Salvador to play if the injury is minor.  I doubt that it would be, otherwise there would be no need to have called up Corrente. All the same, per Gulitti, his current status is "unknown."   While I hope Salvador will not be out for a long time, I would expect Corrente to step in given the current situation. 

Where does Corrente play?  Well, that will remain to be seen but were I to guess, I'd have him paired with Mark Fraser. Fraser gets limited ice time as-is and Corrente can be limited along with him.  I would also guess that since the pairing of Johnny Oduya and Colin White has looked good so far, Mike Mottau could be paired with Andy Greene.  That is a wild guess, yes, but it shouldn't be a guess that Greene, Mottau, Oduya, and White will play the vast majority of minutes against Pittsburgh.

With respect to the rest of the lineup, I'd expect Vladimir Zharkov back in on the fourth line.  Lemaire was considering it in practice yesterday, per Gulitti.  With Dainius Zubrus getting closer and closer to recovery, Zharkov's time in New Jersey could be running out (remember: Zharkov doesn't have to clear waivers to be sent down).  While the fourth line isn't ideal, it's better than not playing at all.  His hustle and offensive skills could mesh well with David Clarkson's skill set, and I'd like to see that.  He'd also make the fourth line that much more viable if only because he won't get into any fights with designated goons and get a ridiculous game misconduct for not tying down his jersey.

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

Andy Greene - Mike Mottau
Johnny Oduya - Colin White
  Matthew Corrente - Mark Fraser

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

Of course, I fully stand to be proven wrong - this lineup really is just a guess, as usual.

All the same, the Devils will need to give a committed, 60 minute effort against a team that makes opponents pay for not giving committed, 60 minute efforts.  The Devils were able to do it in their last trip to the Igloo, hopefully they can do it at the Rock for the final Devils' home game of 2009.   Steve will be at work, so I'll be putting up the GameThread in advance.  I'll try to comment from my usual seat (Sec. 1, Row 16, Seat 5); but enjoy the game all the same.  Please leave all your thoughts, questions, concerns, and news updates about tonight's game in the comments.  Go Devils!