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Game 41 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Dallas Stars - 1/5/2010

The Time: 7 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV: MSG Plus (HD); Radio: 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (29-10-1) vs. the Dallas Stars (18-12-11)

The Last Devils Game: It wasn't pretty, it wasn't the defense's finest moment, but Martin Brodeur, Dean McAmmond, Patrik Elias, and (most of all) Jamie Langenbrunner shined enough to get out of Minnesota with a win. The Devils beat the Wild 5-3 and Langenbrunner scored his first career hat trick. I recapped the game here.

The Last Stars Game: The phrase after Dallas' 3-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks? According to Brandon Worley of Defending Big D: "Too little, too late." What previously worked for Dallas couldn't get the job done against the Canucks and so questions loom among the Stars as they set about the road. One positive: Loui Eriksson, still hot with the lone goal for Dallas - his fifth in his last three games.

The Last Devils-Stars Game: It was the last time Yann Danis got a start and it got ugly quickly as Dallas put up 3 in the first period. Not necessarily Danis' fault, but Brodeur came in relief to "spark" the team and it did. Until the Stars totally regained momentum and continued to pound the Devils for 2 more goals. Stephane Robidas had a huge night, the Devils never adjusted appropriately during the game, and so it was a 5-3 loss in Dallas for the Devils. I recapped the game back here; and for the Stars' perspective, Brandon Worley of Defending Big D saw the win as a pleasant surprise.

The Goal: Be a little more selfish with the puck, be a little smarter in passing the puck. Against the Wild, the Devils hurt themselves by trying to force outlet passes to rushing forwards through the neutral zone, only for the pass to miss, get deflected wide, or go right to a Wild forward. And when they did get the puck on offense - especially on an offensive rush - the forwards clearly showed the Wild that they would pass first. Sure, if the pass was good, it'd be a great chance at a goal. Yet, they didn't and in fact there were multiple 2-on-1s that were turned into offensive chances for the Wild; including the first goal of the game for the Wild, when Travis Zajac's pass was easily intercepted. I want to see the Devils simplify their passes out of their own zone and in moving the puck on offense so they maintain possession. At the same time, when they get a chance on an odd-man rush or an open opportunity, I'd like to see a shot. On a power play, sure, I get constant moving of the puck; but not in general play.

Check out Defending Big D later today for your Stars' information. Tonight, the 2000 Stanley Cup Championship team will be honored. Per Gulitti, Claude Lemieux, Randy McKay, Larry Robinson, Steve Kelly, Ken Sutton, and Jacques Caron are expected to be there. Along with the other 2000 Cup-winning Devils already on the team (and Dano). Remember: Devils are 2-0 on nights where they honor former championship teams this season. Read on for my further thoughts about today's game.

The other main task for the Devils is to avoid a lull. This is a bit weird for a team that hasn't lost two games in a row since mid-November; but the performances of the last two games weren't what you would call "solid." The defense hasn't stepped up positionally, the movement of the puck in a transition offense has been inconsistent at best, and while the power play scored twice against Minnesota, they did give up a shorthanded goal and were miserable against Chicago. Good teams don't stand for this sort of play. According to Tom Gulitti, Jacques Lemaire isn't standing for this.

"You can’t get excited about this," he said. "Every team has a down at a certain point. It would be great if our down is we win the game and we don’t play well. What do you say about Pittsburgh (which has lost five in a row) and the top teams? You’ve got have to some adversity at a time, not only hockey-wise. Just the group itself might get some adversity. They don’t feel good. They have certain problems and get a little tired here and there. You’re going to have that. I haven’t seen a team go a whole year without any problems, any down. But as long as you can control them or try to control them so they’re not huge, they don’t last too long. This is what we’re trying to do."

Still, Lemaire wasn’t overly pleased with the way the team practiced this morning.

"Today, again, we didn’t practice as well, so it’s been a few days," he said. "Now, do you push them harder? Myself, I think they need more rest than pushing because of the schedule. But if that doesn’t work, I won’t have any choice (other) than to push them."

Can I emphasize that Lemaire is far more candid about the team than Brent Sutter ever was and likely ever will be? Well, I just did with that leading, hypothetical question. Anyway. To this end, I'd also fully expect a more, well, energetic performance from the Devils tonight.

However, do not expect it from David Clarkson and Bryce Salvador. Per Gulitti, they will not play tonight. In terms of the lineup, I'd expect to see the same group from the Minnesota game. I'd like to see Jamie Langenbrunner to start on the top line with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. He was named the NHL's First Star of the Week with 5 goals and an assist last week. He really could be catching fire, and he was seen with the duo against the Wild during the game. Per Monday's practice (via Gulitti), he may still start on the third line but don't be surprised if he's moved up. Oh, I will also guess what was seen in practice will be the starting line up tonight.

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

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

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

On the Dallas side, I'm a little perplexed that they are 7-7-6 on the road this season. I thought they were a pretty good team in the last Devils-Stars game; and according to this post by Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the team is healthy. (h/t Defending Big D) Loui Eriksson is "the bomb," were I to use mid-90s slang. He's got 5 goals in his last 3 games, he was named the NHL's Third Star of the Week and he's been an excellent player for the Stars this season. But the Devils' defense can't focus solely on Eriksson. As one may expect, Brad Richards has been productive and leads the team in scoring; he'll be an important player to watch for when he's on the ice. One also shouldn't ignore James Neal or Mike Ribiero as they are talented scorers as well. Those three can do some serious damage if ignored. (Related Aside: No, I'm not considering the possibility of someone unexpected like Robidas having a spectacular night. You can't predict something like that, so I won't.)

2009 - Loui Eriksson 41 17 23 40 3 16 6 1 2 0 110 15.5
2009 - Brad Richards 39 11 37 48 -5 8 4 0 0 0 140 7.9
2009 - James Neal 37 18 16 34 2 35 2 1 2 0 101 17.8
2009 - Mike Ribeiro 41 10 23 33 -4 16 4 0 0 0 102 9.8

Yet, the big concern down in big D is the big C: consistency. Per Mike Heika, the team itself is unhappy with the constant up-and-down performances. (h/t Defending Big D) They know it won't take them to the playoffs and it's definitely not a good sign when the head coach, Marc Crawford, is singling out players for doing well - and essentially criticizing the rest of the team (at least that's my inference):

"That word 'determination' is thrown around a lot – and you see it in some players most of the time, guys like Loui Eriksson, Brenden Morrow, Jere Lehtinen," Crawford said. "But we need a few of our other guys to get it in larger doses."

It's tough to get a read but it's an interesting parallel with what Lemaire said about the team's recent performances. While Lemaire isn't happy with the Devils' last few games, Crawford isn't happy with how his team has performed at over the whole season. I don't have much to add to that, but it speaks to the expectations of a head coach.

Given that they lost to Vancouver, does that mean they team will come out guns sticks a-blazing and ready to out-work the Devils for 60 minutes? Can the Devils match their energy and make the appropriate adjustments to avoid a repeat of the last Devils-Stars game? Or will the team continue to struggle (4-4-2 in last 10, 7-7-6 on the road) and allow the Devils to do as they wish on their home ice? If so, can Marty Turco bail them out? Will the Devils even go into this game looking for revenge (I kind of hope so, but I am just a fan, not a hockey player)?

2009 - Marty Turco 30 1780 13 9 79 2.66 885 806 .911 2

I'll be at the Rock in my usual seat (Sec. 1, Row 16, Seat 5), attempting to comment during breaks in the action. Steve may be there for the GameThread, it's up in the air; but there will be a GameThread and I invite you all to comment just before game time. In the meantime, please share your thoughts, concerns, questions, and news updates in the comments to this post. Go Devils!