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Game 59: Devils @ Tampa Bay

The last game for the Devils didn't go so well. Chere says it was a let down. I say it was just a bad game. Regardless, it's still another one in the loss column. I think they will do a bit better tonight. Tampa Bay, unlike Florida, really isn't competing for the playoffs. The last time the Devils went to Tampa Bay, it ended with a beautiful 7-3 winning score. The game was the Dainius Zubrus show, as he scored four goals.

Much has changed since then. The Devils have rocketed up to the top of the Atlantic Division. The Lightning have...well, they still aren't a very good hockey team. They are sitting just above Atlanta and the Islanders in the Eastern Conference, with a 19-27-11 record (49 points). According to Gulitti, it seems that Kevin Weekes will get the start for New Jersey, the recently called up Anssi Salmela will likely play, and Brendan Shanahan will likely return. However, Paul Martin will likely not play in Tampa. I would guess that if all of these "likely" events come true, then Andy Greene and Jay Pandolfo will be scratched.

As one takes a look at the Lightning, I think it'll be clear that the Devils should be able to play well enough - and that's the goal for tonight, to play well - to beat the Lightning.

Not unlike the Ottawa Senators, the offense appears to be front loaded with Vincent Lecavalier (who may or may not be traded or whatever) and Martin St. Louis.

2008 - Martin St. Louis 57 20 34 54 6 8 6 2 1 1 182 11.0

2008 - Vincent Lecavalier 57 25 27 52 -1 42 8 1 5 0 228 11.0

The duo are doing quite well but Tampa Bay is just not getting consistent scoring from anyone else. OK, Ryan Malone has 19 goals, which is really good. But he still sits with only 31 points. Steven Stamkos had a big night just recently with a hat trick (a 5-3 loss to Chicago) and the official site has a nice feature on the rookie. But that's still only 10 goals and 15 assists for the #1 overall pick of 2008. Overall, the Lightning have averaged 2.51 goals scored per game, putting them in the bottom third of the league (tied with Minnesota). Lecavalier and St. Louis can't do it all themselves.

The team is also literally hurt. Goaltender Mike Smith is on injured reserve for post-concussion syndrome. Olaf Kolzig is also on the IR, leaving the goaltenders to be Karri Ramo and Mike McKenna. Not exactly a tandem to throw your trust into, really. The big defenseman addition, Andrei Meszaros is also on the IR, as well as Jamie Heward. And the Lightning's defense is definitely poorer for it, as the team has ballooned to allowing an average of 32.4 shots against per game. (That's the fourth worst average in the league, but it's pretty bad on it's own!)

So to recap: the team doesn't get enough scoring outside of Lecavalier and St. Louis, their goaltenders - who aren't that great - generally face a lot of shots on average. Oh, and they are 2-3 in their last 5 games, losing their last two to Washington and Chicago. I think this is a good of an opponent as any for the Devils to rebound after a bad loss.

I'm not underestimating Tampa Bay; I'm just saying that this team isn't playing well - they haven't all season - and the Devils should take every advantage tonight. Clearly, to me, the keys will be to try and keep St. Louis and Lecavalier quiet (I know easier said than done) while at the same time making life miserable for McKenna (or Kamo?). Basically, if the Devils do the opposite on each end of the ice from what they did against Florida, then they should be good to go. It doesn't have to be Dainius Zubrus dropping 4 in front of Tampa Bay again; but the team should make a point of it to keep the offensive plays simple and apply the proper finishing when necessary. Especially on the power play.

Since it's an away game, I'll throw up the GameThread later. In the meantime, feel free to discuss the game in advance in the comments.

P.S. According to Chere, the team is looking forward to see Pat Burns. Wish him best in his current fight with lung cancer.