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Game 51 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Ottawa Senators

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The Time: 7:30 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV: MSG+2 (no HD); Radio: 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (34-15-1) at the Ottawa Senators (28-21-4)

The Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils got some revenge, a goal from a defenseman (Bryce Salvador), a power play goal that wasn't even a direct shot on goal (Zach Parise), and beat the New York Islanders 4-2. In my recap, I was pleased for the first and third period performances, but not the second period at all.

The Last Senators Game: The Ottawa Senators extended their winning streak to 6 with a close victory over their Northeast division rival Boston Bruins. It was tight, it was physical, but captain Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza scored the goals to put Ottawa up 2-1. Mark Parisi of Silver Seven has the whole recap of the action.

The Last Devils-Senators Game: The last time these two teams faced each other, it was at the Rock. The Senators had chances to score and blew them all, even six power plays. The Devils weren't necessarily good, but they were better than Ottawa. Also, Bryce Salvador scored a goal off of Brian Elliott that I can only describe as hilarious. Here's my recap of the game, which was Martin Brodeur's 1,030th of his career. Peter R of Silver Seven lamented the lack of finishing on all of Ottawa's chances in his recap of the game. The season series is currently at 3-0 NJ, tonight could be a series sweep for the Devils should they win in Ottawa.

The Goal: Play a solid 60 minutes. While it wasn't smooth, the Devils can feel good about their win on Saturday in Long Island. They finally got a power play goal. They finally scored more than 1 goal on a goaltender. They beat down a team who embarassed them earlier in the week. Yet, more can be done. Quite frankly, the second period the Devils played was atrocious. Sure, with Colin White's major penalty and game misconduct, I can see the Devils playing most of that one in their own end. But no shots on net. I repeat, no actual shots on net. The only one on the boxscore is there because Parise banked a pass of Freddy Meyer's skate and went in - goals are always credited with a shot on goal.

While the Devils got a big break against the Islanders, it is absolutely foolish to expect one against the blazing hot Ottawa Senators in their own building. This is a team that's been playing very well and have just had some excellent players - Daniel Alfredsson Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza - come back in the middle of it to extend the good times for the Sens. Confidence is high for the Senators as they look to cement their spot in the East. In my opinion, the Devils will need to play very smart and consistent hockey for all 60 minutes to beat such a team. Second periods like the one Devils fans saw on Saturday are unacceptable.

Read on for my further thoughts on tonight's game as well as some insight from Peter R, Mark Parisi, and Darren M of Silver Seven about the Senators themselves. One more thing, the Devils are hosting an online chat with Devils legend Ken Daneyko today at 2 PM on the official web site. Submit your questions in the chat, or by Twitter with the hashtag, #DaneykoChat (though you'll need to be in the chat to see if it's answered).

The Devils will get a big boost in the lineup as both Tom Gulitti and Colin Stephenson reported that Dainius Zubrus will be back in the lineup for the first time since mid-November. He's returning from a fractured kneecap. I'm not sure how well he'll play, but I wrote out my reasoning why he's a useful player for the team. His return gives the Devils options on how to set up their roster for tonight. Per Gulitti, Rod Pelley will not play tonight even though he is practicing. Head coach Jacques Lemaire would like to give him at least another day or so to recover. Therefore, I am guessing the Devils will go with this lineup:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Brian Rolston - Dainius Zubrus - Niclas Bergfors
Jay Pandolfo - Rob Niedermayer - Vladimir Zharkov
Patrick Davis - Dean McAmmond - Nick Palmieri

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

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

Yes, Martin Brodeur is starting tonight and Colin White has only been fined - not suspended - for his hit from behind on Sean Bergenheim according to this post by Tom Gulitti. Ben Walter was sent down on Sunday per Gulitti, so that frees up for Zubrus to be on the roster.

Now, Andrew Peters has played in two games against Ottawa this season so it's entirely within the realm of possibility that Lemaire throws in some "beef" on the fourth line. Something for Chris Neil and/or Jarkko Ruutu, I suppose. After all, once Pelley is good to go, one of Patrick Davis or Nick Palmieri will likely be sent down to Lowell anyway. I would guess it would be one of them (and if it were up to me, I'd make it Davis; Palmieri has shown more on the ice in my view). I don't think Peters will actually be in tonight, I'm just raising the possibility.

For tonight's game, the Devils will really need to put out a strong effort because Ottawa has these players healthy and already helping the team along during their current six game winning streak.


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - Daniel Alfredsson 42 14 26 40 5 14 2 1 3 0 100 14.0
2009 - Milan Michalek 46 17 6 23 -6 16 6 2 3 0 121 14.0
2009 - Mike Fisher 51 17 22 39 9 27 7 0 4 0 154 11.0
2009 - Jason Spezza 31 6 14 20 -4 8 4 0 2 0 86 7.0

Good luck, New Jersey Devils defense! Granted, they've done well enough (in the end) the last few times against Ottawa, but that doesn't make it any easier. Especially on the road. I wanted some more insight into the Senators, so I asked the bloggers of Silver Seven about what's going on with their team.

Question 1. The Ottawa Senators are the hottest team in the Eastern Conference (aside from Washington) with 6 straight wins, how have they been able to get on this streak and maintain it so far?

Mark Parisi: The team was riding a 5-game losing streak before this win streak, and that was the result of two primary factors: injuries to key players and sub par goaltending. As a result, they were in a fragile state and early or untimely goals would take them out of the game. It's no coincidence that their current winning streak overlaps with the return of players like Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, and Jason Spezza, as well as significantly steadier play by their goalies. They are a confident team right now, and their play is reflecting it.

Question 2. Jason Spezza came back from injury against Boston and scored the game winning goal in a close game. Not a bad return, but how do you think he will fit in on a roster that's already playing as well as they are?

Darren M: He fits in nicely because coach Cory Clouston was smart enough to not ruin the chemistry that developed while he was away. Clouston has kept the [Mike] Foligno-Fisher-Alfredsson and [Ryan] Shannon-Regin- [Alexei] Kovalev lines together, while Spezza joins Milan Michalek (who also just returned from injury) and Jonathan Cheechoo. I'm a big fan of these lines, as it spreads the offensive depth in ways that Ottawa hasn't seen in years.

Question 3. Peter Regin is not a well-known name out of Ottawa (is he within Ottawa?), but it appears that he's starting to fit in as a secondary scorer with 2 goals and 3 assists in his last 3 games. What can Devils fans expect from him tonight?


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - Peter Regin 47 8 11 19 8 10 1 0 0 0 83 9.6

DM: Regin is a highly intelligent two-way player who has finally been placed in a position to succeed. He and Kovalev work well together, as they both have great vision. Devils fans can expect some great stickhandling and lots of takeaways, but if the Devils' use their bodies he shouldn't be much of a threat -- his performance suffers when play gets physical.

Peter R: Before Regin came to North America last season, he wasn't really well-known even in Ottawa. He had a pretty good AHL rookie season, though, and this year his training camp was outstanding. He slowed down, but now he's steadily improving his consistency and confidence, and that shows in his play. What he's got to work on now is keeping from overconfidence; he can get too high on himself, and when that happens, he tries plays that might work in the AHL, but just won't fly in the big leagues.

Question 4. I'll be blunt: the Ottawa Senators have the worst power play conversion rate in the league at 15.3%. What's wrong with the power play and can it be fixed?

DM: The power play completely died because both Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, two of Ottawa's power play stalwarts in the past few years, were injured at the same time (along with leading scorer Milan Michalek). In their absence, the power play was awful. However, since their return it has started to look very dangerous -- in fact, two games ago they scored three against the Blues with the man advantage.

PR: The problem with the powerplay for much of the season has been predictability, and opponents have seized on that by forcing the Senators to make mistakes. Erik Karlsson's increasing confidence, the return of Filip Kuba to the lineup, and Alex Kovalev's ability to pass through the penalty killer's box has opened up more space for the Senators, and that needs to continue for the powerplay to continue putting up points.

Question 5. Tonight will be the final regular season game between both teams, with the Devils winning the prior 3 games. How do you think the Senators will approach tonight's game? Will they avoid the season series sweep?

MP: I don't think it's any secret that Ottawa is going to approach this game from a defensive mindset. Their system is based on patience and working to create turnovers, and I think that's the best way to approach a team like New Jersey. I think we're going to see a lot of Ottawa players in the neutral zone and a stronger than usual forecheck -- but only when the opportunity arises. Ottawa typically sends two players but I think they might only send one for this game. I think New Jersey is going to win this, since I consider the Senators more likely to make a costly mistake that blows the game open.

PR: It will likely be a defensive game between two teams with similar styles, but I think the Senators' play recently should give them the advantage. If Brian Elliott (who will likely start, meaning we will continue to be starved of a Brodeur-Brodeur showdown) can play as well as he has the last few games, the Senators' aggressive forecheck and ever-tenacious back-pressure gives Ottawa what they'll need to get the two points.


GP MIN W L GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Brian Elliott 30 1620 14 11 72 2.67 744 672 .903 2

Big thanks to Mark, Darren, and Peter of Silver Seven for providing such detailed responses. OK, so the Brian Elliott statline won't really "wow" anybody. However, as this post at Silver Seven notes, Elliott was named the NHL's First Star of the Week for the last week for a ridiculous 4-0-0 record and a save percentage of 95.6%. He's enjoying a great run of games along with the team.

Ultimately, the common thread I see here is that A) the Senators have gotten better as they have become healthier, which makes me wonder what will the Devils be like when they get all their injured players back; and B) despite the last six wins, both Mark and Peter feel this will be a defensive game. Mark even goes as far as to say the Senators will hold back on the forecheck to prevent the Devils breakout from burning them and that they'll lose tonight. That's rather curious In my opinion, based on the responses from all three bloggers, I'm thinking this will be a very difficult road game for New Jersey. The Devils are still emerging from a slump and the Senators are like a raging inferno, that would favor Ottawa all things being equal, right? Is Salvador going to score another blooper that I don't know about yet? Surely, Ottawa should have all of this momentum to keep making good things happen, right?

Then again, all good things must come to an end. Maybe the Devils will start something of their own and pull out a victory tonight. That's not impossible, but they'll need a complete, full-game effort to do just that.

Please join Steve and me in the comments tonight. Steve will have the GameThread up later today. In the meantime, please leave your thoughts, concerns, questions, and news updates about today's game in the comments. Go Devils!