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Game 67 Preview: Devils vs. Phoenix Coyotes

The New Jersey Devils take on the Phoenix Coyotes at the Rock tonight. Not much will change for the Devils. Gulitti has reported that the Brent Sutter has rolled out the same forward lines we saw against Calgary in practice yesterday. Yep, he's still tinkering.

Forwards: Pairse-Zajac-Langenbrunner; Rolston-Elias-Gionta; Shanahan-Zubrus-Clarkson; Rupp-Madden-Holik

Defensemen: Oduya-Martin; White-Mottau; Salvador-Havelid

Goaltenders: Brodeur, Weekes.

Expect this to be same lines tonight. Gulitti has confirmed that the same roster will be used tonight. Brodeur will attempt to win his 550th career game.

As far as the Coyotes are concerned, they might as well be called the Banana Peels for this game. Consider that the Devils have won their last 8 home games. A very impressive feat.

However, good things tend to come to an end. While Phoenix is just about eliminated from the playoffs per Mirtle's scheme (14-1-0? Not happening, Phoenix), they have certainly not given up on the season. OK, ignore that they are 1-3-1 in their last 5 for a moment. As the Devils were defeating Calgary on Wednesday, they were giving Detroit a battle! After Brian Rafalski took the lead on a power play strike just past halfway through the third period, Shane Doan responded with an equalizer a little under 2 minutes later! Phoenix lost to league's top team in overtime, 3-2. That's just it, though - they kept the game close, earned a point in the process, and gave Detroit a battle on their home ice. Who is to say they can't repeat that effort in New Jersey? After all, that one win in their last 5? 2-1 against Boston, a top team, on the road. Eep.

Plus, that loss to the Islanders was only two games ago. Further proof that even the teams out of the postseason can be dangerous. An opponent with nothing to lose is no one to sneeze at. Devils/Brent Sutter, please, Remember the Alamo Fishsticks!

Anyway, since I am writing this in advance, I don't know whether Phoenix will roll out the same roster as they did against Detroit. One thing I would imagine is that Ilya Byzgalov will be in between the pipes for Phoenix. With 40 saves against Detroit, and a save percentage about 90.8% in his last 5, which isn't awful. Thing is, he still lets in quite a few - even in this last 5 game period (16!). So the Devils offense should do what they did in the second period against Miikka Kiprusoff - shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. Eventually, they should crack Bryzgalov. Lots of other teams have done that, why not the Devils?

A great time for the Devils to do this thing they call scoring would be on the power play. In fact, special teams in general should be a strength for New Jersey. Phoenix has only killed 77.6% of man disadvantages this season. Should the Coyotes not be able to maintain discipline, the New Jersey power play units should make sure the Coyotes pay the price! By the numbers, teams have been doing just that all season.

On the flipside, the Coyotes struggle on the power play themselves with a putrid 14.4% effectivness rate - third worst in the league. The penalty killers were great against Calgary, they shouldn't have too much of a problem with Phoenix. That doesn't mean the Devils should, say, send up the Holikacopter to wreck the opponent. What it does mean that the Devils' shouldn't be overly worried about the opposition's power pay if they get called for a weak infraction or 4 (like against Calgary).

Moreover, in general, Phoenix doesn't score a whole lot. They are the second worst team in the league in scoring on average (2.45 goals/game); and their one big bright spot on the team has been Shane Doan. Outside of Doan, it's a lot of young guys (e.g. Peter Mueller) and role players (e.g. Steven Reinprecht) chipping in not a whole lot.

2008 - Shane Doan 67 25 31 56 0 60 9 0 2 1 189 13.2

That all said, I think the important thing that the Devils do not play down to their opponents. Again, they shoud remember that Islanders game - I don't think Sutter has at all, still. That means giving away little in the neutral zone, not getting caught behind on defense, and plenty of quality shots on net. In other words, the type of hockey you'd expect from a confident, yet an aware and aggressive team. I would also add that the Devils should look to avoid taking parts of periods off, like they did for much of the third period against Calgary. That will help ensure Phoenix stays on the right side - the losing side.

For the opposite side in this game, Five for Howling is your place to be. Odin will have his preview up later in the day, with five points for his team to win. An example of this can be found here. Remember, the effort has been there from Phoenix - this is not a "gimmie" of a game.