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Game 42 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Tampa Bay Lightning - 1/8/2010

The Time: 7 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (30-10-1) vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning (16-16-10)

The Last Devils Game:  To quote the Special One, "Fantastic."  The Devils looked good to start, dominated the second period to make it 4-0, and cruised to a victory and Martin Brodeur's 106th career shutout.  As I said on Tuesday, it was domination.

The Last Lightning Game:  Ironically, it was Tampa Bay's opponents who struck with a shock.  The Buffalo Sabres scored 3 goals in the first 2:11 of the game on 4 shots.  While the Lightning battled back to answer those two of those three goals in the first, the Sabres crashed down early on the power play in the second to secure the lead and the result never became in doubt for Buffalo.  The Sabres won 5-3 and Cassie McClellan of Raw Charge pointed out who exactly on the Lightning had a good night (note: it wasn't Mike Smith or the defense).

The Last Devils-Lightning Game:  It wasn't pretty.  It wasn't sharp.  It wasn't consistent.  It wasn't even very accurate.  And that was just the Devils' offense.  Coming off a decisive loss to Vancouver, the Devils managed to put some effort together to beat the Lightning.  Jamie Langenbrunner tipped an Andy Greene shot late enough to secure a win.  Then, I said it wasn't a great win but it was good that they got a win.   On the Lightning side, Cassie of Raw Charge expressed disappointment with the coaching staff along with the loss.

The Unusual Quick Crowd Note:  I noticed an addition to the pre-game announcements, a statement about how all in attendance are required to maintain reasonable conduct including visual behavior.  In the Dallas game, a stupid fan in a Rangers Avery jersey decided to draw attention to himself after a needless "Rangers Suck" (Reminder: The Devils don't play the Rangers every night!) chant.  Being that the fan was right by Section 223, the crowd started booing, yelling obscene things, and other such negativity while the Devils were, well, outplaying the Stars on the rink.  Granted, it did lead to an incredibly loud "Let's Go Devils!" chant; but I think Devils management weren't at all pleased with that.   I can't speak to that fan, but for those of you who do to the games, don't get suckered by jerks like that guy.  Fans should be supporting the Devils, the guys on the ice; let the moron in the stands be exactly that: a moron.  Giving him/her attention or yelling terrible things is simply moronic.

The Goal:   Keep up the good work against Tampa Bay.   I know it's easy to say, but it's incredibly difficult to do.  The Devils did all the right things against Dallas and got a deserved result.  The only thing I would really want to see is more shots hitting the net when they had the lead as the accuracy dipped in the third period; but that's a minor complaint given how well the team did.    I'm not saying the Devils will be able or should try to shutout Tampa Bay.  The other three games against them this season were all close games. After all, two shootouts and a tip-in within the last minute of the game got the wins for New Jersey in this season series.  However, if the Devils can come out there with a high workrate, consistent and smooth puck movement, and stay relatively disciplined; then I don't see why the Devils can't come away with a decisive win (and a season series sweep) against a struggling Lightning team.

For the Tampa Bay perspective, check out Raw Charge later.  For my further thoughts on tonight's game, please read on.


Now, the Devils called up Matthew Corrente and Vladimir Zharkov today after last night's 3-2 Lowell win over Hartford at the Rock.  They were only sent down to play in that game, which is good for Corrente as he actually got to play and good for Zharkov so he can play in a scoring role.  With Bryce Salvador looking good upon return, I think Corrente will get scratched again; but I'm not sure what Lemaire will do with Zharkov.  According to Tom Gulitti's report yesterday, he practiced with Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner; but that's only because Travis Zajac was late with X-rays to his finger (negative, he should be good to go for tonight).  

So does Zharkov play?  Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Rod Pelley, and Zharkov looked together against Dallas.  But maybe Lemaire would like to see how Ilkka Pikkarainen would do, and who would he sit in that case?  Probably Zharkov since none of these guys can play center except for Pelley.  Practice wasn't clear; but I wouldn't be surprised to see the same fourth line as seen on Tuesday.  Leblond is still coming off a long period of time without playing, so it makes sense to reward his good game on Tuesday with another game. Given that Zharkov has been getting power play time to supplement his fourth line minutes, I see no reason to sit him.

One thing seems apparent: Martin Brodeur is likely to play.  Normally, I don't bring up Brodeur's workload often because he has shown over and over and over and over again that he can handle it.  But he's faced at least 28 shots per game in his last 4 games and has had to make some huge saves.   Important for the team, yes, but that's a lot of work in a short amount of time.  I think agame off couldn't hurt. Since there's no way he's not playing in Montreal tomorrow, I would like to see Yann Danis to get this start.   That said, as reported yesterday by Rich Chere, Jacques Lemaire said he doesn't plan to rest anyone prior to the Olympic break:

Lemaire was asked if he planned to give Brodeur a little more rest in the coming weeks since he will likely play a lot at the Olympics and won't get that time off.

"Nope. If everyone else would rest their players going into the Olympics, I might look at it," Lemaire said. "But I don't think they'll rest them. They're trying to win games."

You have to at least appreciate Lemaire's candor.  While some may complain that the regular season isn't so important, all plans must be made with the playoffs in mind; that doesn't compute with most successful teams.  As Martin Brodeur said via Chere "these are the dog days of the season," and not playing well now makes it a struggle later on.  Fair enough.  Of course when Chere asked Danis if he'll be playing, Danis said he didn't know.  Maybe I'll be wrong and Danis will get the start.  I'm doubtful given the comments by Lemaire. To me, I think the underlying message is "Marty's starting."  

And yes, fans of other teams, I'm talking about a guy who just put up 3 shutouts in his last 7 starts - 2 in his last 2 home games - getting yet another start. I would think the Lightning faithful would also want Danis in net, all things considered!

So I will guess that this will be tonight's lineup:

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

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

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

Given my guess at the lineup, I'd keep a close eye on Zajac.  He finally got a goal (and an assist) against Dallas, which has to be a big confidence boost for him.  Per this Gulitti post from yesterday, he recognized that he needs to shoot more.   With the goal and what he said on Thursday, let's see if he'll put a few more pucks on net when given the chance against Tampa Bay. Considering what happened with the Buffalo game and the fact that the Lightning average 31.2 shots against and 2.83 goals against per game, Zajac (and others) will have their opportunity to put some pucks on net.

2009 - Mike Smith 26 1511 9 11 75 2.98 780 705 .904 1
2009 - Antero Niittymaki 18 1048 7 5 43 2.46 530 487 .919 0

When I wrote this, it isn't clear who will be starting in net for Tampa Bay. Given Mike Smith's performance in Buffalo, I'd like to see Smith against New Jersey (and if so, bombs away with the shots, Devils!) and Antero Niittymaki go face his former teammates tomorrow night.  Of course, it wouldn't surprise me if they go with Niittymaki tonight.  Actually, given his recent history against the Devils, perhaps he should be the starter.  Niittymaki dressed up as a wall on Halloween and did very well in the last Devils-Lightning game.  Neither loss was his fault and he even has better numbers than Smith over the course of the season.

Speaking of numbers, believe it or not, but Dallas has scored more goals than Tampa Bay this season: 124 to 106. Why? Well, I think it's because Tampa Bay's scoring is top heavy.  Their top four scorers are some players you should know and be familiar with:

2009 - Martin St. Louis 42 10 36 46 -3 6 4 0 1 0 139 7.2
2009 - Steven Stamkos 42 21 19 40 -4 20 7 1 2 0 128 16.4
2009 - Vincent Lecavalier 42 10 29 39 2 34 1 0 0 0 153 6.5
2009 - Ryan Malone 42 19 17 36 8 44 6 0 7 0 115 16.5

That's pretty impressive.  I've been particularly impressed with Stamkos if only because he's having a better go of it as a sophmore than as of a rookie.  The Devils defense should be especially aware of these four (and maybe Alex Tanguay). Yet, these are the only Lightning players with more than 10 goals this season.  Fifth place is the agitating Steve Downie with 8. The Devils, in contrast, have 6 (Parise, Langenbrunner, Zajac, Bergfors, Elias, and Rolston).  Moreover, these are also the only Lightning players with over 100 shots on net, Andrej Meszaros is fifth 88 and only 3 goals and 5 assists to show for it.

My point is that if the Devils' defense can limit Malone-Stamkos-St. Louis as well as Lecavalier when he's out there, the game - in theory - becomes that much easier for New Jersey. Tampa Bay has this perception of being an offensive team but it's really mostly the production of these four.  There's not a lot of support behind them aside from Alex Tanguay's 22 points and whenever Downie decides to play hockey. That's clearly a lot easier said than done, and it's not to mean that the Devils can let up unless they want to see someone like Jeff Halpern blow them up for some goals.  It all goes back to what I said prior to the jump: if the Devils can provide the same work ethic and energy they had for Dallas, then they should be able to perform well against Tampa Bay.  Even on defense against a frighteningly good Lighting four-some up front.

Steve will have the GameThread up later today.  I'll be attempting to comment from my seat in Section 1, Row 16, Seat 5 at the Rock.  Please share your thoughts, questions, concerns, and any news updates in the comments to this post prior to the GameThread.  Thanks for reading and go Devils!