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Game 27 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Detroit Red Wings, 12/5/2009

The Time: 7 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (18-7-1) vs. the Detroit Red Wings (13-10-4)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils somehow and someway pulled away with a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning despite a poor offensive effort from the home team. Jamie Langenbrunner's tip-in of Andy Greene's shot was the difference maker, and, hey, it's a win. I recapped the game just last night (or a few hours ago, really).

The Last Red Wings Game: The Detroit Red Wings hosted the then-worst-in-the-Western Conference Edmonton Oilers prior to traveling to the NJ metropolitan area. As further evidence that Detroit isn't having the best of seasons, the Oilers outplayed and outdid the Red Wings in their own building, going on to win 4-1. Joehass of Winging It in Motown summarized the loss as a poor one. I can't disagree, honestly.

The Goal: Show some aggressive offense. I want to see the Devils do the opposite of what they did against Tampa Bay. I want the Devils to press the issue. I want the Devils to not sit back or let Detroit dictate how the game will go should the Devils take the lead - in fact, I want the Devils to keep attacking until they build a sizeable lead. I want the Devils to continue battling for pucks and forechecking for more than a period. I want to see shots put on net, instead of missing because players want to try and pick out the far post on a shot. Not even the 1995 Stanley Cup Championship Devils team - who is being honored tonight - would have succeeded against Detroit with offensive performances like that. While the Red Wings aren't the powerful force that they have been for much of the last 15 years, I don't see how the Devils can beat these Red Wings if they put up an offensive performance like the one they gave to Tampa Bay.

Read on for further thoughts about the game.

First, there's the line up issue. Now, as reported by Rich Chere on Friday, Johnny Oduya and Jay Pandolfo should be in tonight's lineup. They were kept out of the Tampa Bay game, but Jacques Lemaire said they would be ready this weekend, so by logic, they're in:

"No one is coming back," Lemaire said. "It was either tonight or tomorrow night, so we figured tomorrow night. It's hard to play two games in two nights when you haven't played for a while. The games are so intense. They didn't have a lot of practices."

Now, before last night's game, the Devils would have had to send someone down to Lowell to make space on the roster for both Oduya and Pandolfo to be activated. However, it appears that Colin White is now questionable with "lower body soreness" as both reported by Chere and Gulitti. More information will come out later today, so keep checking Chere and Gulitti for updates on his status and if anyone is sent down. I really hope that it is not a significant injury, in that I hope he won't be out for a significant amount of time.

By the way, Matthew Corrente, Vladimir Zharkov, and Matt Halischuk can all be sent down to Lowell without going through waivers, so I would expect one of those three to be sent down. If it were up to me, I'd move Corrente down. Johnny Oduya can ease back into the lineup on the third pairing and start with limited minutes. Though White's injury may force Lemaire to keep Corrente and send down Zharkov or Halischuk instead. It also leads to this difficult choice. To replace White's minutes, Lemaire may either have to give Andy Greene (who played 30:11 last night and earned deserved praise from the head coach per Gulitti), Mike Mottau (27:21 last night), and Bryce Salvador (22:41 last night) even more minutes; or force Fraser, Corrente, and Oduya to play more minutes. The first option can lead to an already fatigued blueline absolutely gassed by the third period tonight; and the second could lead to some issues in the back that Detroit can exploit.

All the more reason for the Devils offense to step up, in my opinion. Jay Pandolfo won't necessarily do that, but he should be useful in spelling forwards on checking and PK duty. It's not certain who will be the goaltender, but I wouldn't fret if it's Martin Brodeur again. It's not like he was bombarded by the Tampa Bay Lightning, as he only faced 24 shots on Friday. I think he'll get the start and Danis can get starts next week. Of course, it's all a gameday decision. Which should make this guess at the lineup quite incorrect come gametime (I'm assuming White will be OK).

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

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

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

Now, in my view, Detroit has always been a powerhouse. Remember how I keep pointing out that the New Jersey Devils are the second best team across the last 15 seasons? Well, Detroit is the only franchise that can claim superiority. Both in the regular season and in the playoffs. So it's really shocking to me to see them at 13-10-4 and currently 11th in the Western Conference.

I look at the team stats and I'm further confused. The Red Wings are excellent at putting shots on net, as they average 34.2 per game (2nd most in NHL) and a decent power play at 21.1% (12nd in NHL); but they only put in an average of 2.72 goals per game (19th in NHL). The Red Wings have been solid in preventing shots hit the net, allowing only an average of 27.8 per game (6th in NHL); but they aren't so solid in goals against, allowing an average of 2.78 per game (14th in NHL) and awful on the penalty kill with a 76.9% rate of success (26th in the NHL). Is this the fault of the skaters, or the goaltenders? There doesn't seem to be a definitive #1 goaltender, as Jimmy Howard and Chris Osgood have been splitting time. Howard's got a statistical advantage which meant nothing to the Oilers.

2009 - Jimmy Howard 14 810 7 5 36 2.67 381 345 .906 0
2009 - Chris Osgood 15 829 6 5 38 2.75 369 331 .897 1

Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are leading the offense, but the points come from varied sources outside of those two forwards. Was losing Johan Franzen to injury that big of a deal? Perhaps? In fact, Detroit is pretty banged up right now and that could be a source for the muddled set of results they got going. While they'll get Jonathan Ercisson back tonight according to Ken Holland via Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press; they're still without Niklas Kronwall, Patrick Eaves, Brian Rafalski (questionable per Ansar Kahn at MLive), Valterri Fippula, and Jason Williams.

2009 - Henrik Zetterberg 27 10 17 27 0 6 1 0 4 0 106 9.4
2009 - Pavel Datsyuk 25 6 14 20 3 2 4 0 1 0 69 8.7

Of course, no one can discount a defense led by the brilliant Nicklas Lidstrom or an offense that still features Zetterberg and Datsyuk contributing regularly. At least, I wouldn't. But I'm still surprised that they haven't succeeded more. Not on the road (5-5-2) or overall (13-10-4). Old biases die hard, I suppose. That just makes this game more interesting than that the Devils will honor their 1995 Stanley Cup Championship winning team. Will we see the same Detroit team that thoroughly defeated New Jersey last season; the same Detroit team that has been successful all these years? Will we see the same Detroit team that got beaten decisively by Edmonton in their own building? Will we see a Detroit team somewhere in the middle of those extremes?

I truly do not know and the Devils don't even get the benefit of a full day to fully prepare for what to expect. In my opinion, I think the Devils should expect a difficult opponent regardless of their record (like, say, Vancouver) and should make a point of it to attack early and often. With a likely tired team, including two players returning to hockey after a long period of time after injury, the Devils won't likely benefit from chasing Detroit around. They need to set the tempo. Not just to be quick and constantly rushing forwards up ice, but should the Devils maintain the puck on offense, they can slow it down when necessary and take their time. Aggression isn't always about being intense, it's more about taking initiative and constantly attempting to take control of the puck, and by extension, the game.

I'll be at the game (Sec. 1, Row 16, Seat 5 as usual) and likely with a hoarse voice due to West Virginia coming to the Banks of the Raritan, a.k.a. the Birthplace of College Football to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Follow that at Protect R Turf and Bleed Scarlet if you support the Block R (like me). Either way, join us in the comments on the GameThread later in the day. If you want to learn more about Detroit, check out Winging it in Motown. If you have something to add - a thought, a question, a concern, some praise for the 1995 Stanley Cup Championship team, some news update from Gulitti/Chere/elsewhere - please share it with the rest of us in the comments. Go Devils!