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Game 3 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Time: 4 PM EDT

The Broadcast:  Local TV - MSG+ (HD); Radio - 1130 AM WBBR

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (0-1-1) vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins (0-2-0)

The Last Devils Game: The first period in DC went OK. Then it just turned ugly for New Jersey by the end of the second, and so they packed it in for the third period. The Devils lost to the Capitals 7-2; and Tom has the recap of the whole mess.

The Last Penguins Game:  The Penguins came close to their first win in the third period by taking a 2-1 lead.  Yet, victory was so far as the Montreal Canadiens struck back with an equalizer and a go-ahead goal.  They went on to win 3-2. Read more about the agonizing loss at Pensburgh with this recap by Frank D.

The Goal: It's too general - and obvious - that both teams will be looking for their first win tonight.  For the Devils though, they just need to play smarter hockey for 60 minutes. This means keeping emotions in check when an opposition player inevitably mouths off or engages in some tomfoolery.  This means being aware of when penalties end as to not give the opposition a wide-open target for a scoring chance. This means picking up open men below the dots on defense. This means not forcing passes, and definitely not into coverage - regardless of what zone it's going into.   The Devils can't control a bad bounce or an unlucky break, but they can control these aspects that have undercut them in the first two games. 

For the Pittsburgh perspective, take a visit to Pensburgh.  I have additional thoughts about tonight's game, which will almost certainly have roster issues for the good guys.  You can read those after the jump.

Before continuing, I must remind the fans who read this site that the Devils outright lost their first two games last season, and needed a last-second equalizer to get a chance to win their first game.   Yes, it sucks the Devils lost in OT against Dallas and that they got routed by the Caps.  But the season's not over or any longer because of it.  It's still 82 games long regardless of results.  Penguins fans are hearing this too. This is the same sentiment Frank's preaching to Pens fans over at Pensburgh.  We're both right, yet something's going to give in tonight's game.  Someone's winning this evening. So while I wouldn't panic yet, it is an important game at this juncture of the season for both teams.

Therefore, the Devils' roster problems really make things more difficult for New Jersey. First, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond's belligerent idiocy near the end of the Capitals game earned him a 1 game suspension.  As Tom Gulitti reported, the suspension doesn't clear Leblond's salary from the cap.  So the Devils can't send him down to Albany  or Trenton where he belongs and replace him with an actual hockey player who may help the Devils win hockey games.   Already the 11 forwards are down to 10 for today's game.

Second, there are some injuries. Anton Volchenkov took a puck to the face in the first period of Saturday's game.  Per Gulitti, the shot broke his nose - but Volchenkov was glad he was wearing a visor. He says he may play today.  Brian Rolston was also diagnosed with a lower body injury in Saturday's game and didn't see action beyond the second period.  Rolston told Gulitti that he'll be fine on Saturday; but per Chere neither Rolston or Volchenkov practiced on Sunday.   The best case scenario is that both got the day to rest up and will play today. The worst case scenario is that they aren't able to play. That would leave the Devils with 9 forwards, 6 defensemen, and no space to call up any replacements for the third game in four days against a intra-divisional rival.

Yeah, the worst case scenario would really be bad.

In any case, I believe they are both gameday decisions now.  In this guess of the lineup, Volchenkov and Rolston are in italics, listed where they would be if they play.

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Patrik Elias - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Brian Rolston - Dainius Zubrus - David Clarkson
  Rod Pelley

Colin White - Matt Taormina
  Andy Greene - Henrik Tallinder
  Anton Volchenkov - Mark Fraser / Alexander Urbom

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

If Volchenkov's not playing, then I would expect Tallinder to play with Urbom and Greene to be paired with Fraser. That's what the Devils did in the second period against Washington, for what it's worth.  It's either that or pairing the two young defenders while keeping Tallinder with Greene.   Move Pelley up to Rolston's spot if Rolston is unable to play.  

Even if he does play, the top two lines are going to have to carry the offense against a bolstered Penguins defense. Make all the cracks you want about Marc-Andre Fleury, but he's going to put Saturday's fumbles behind him.  Expecting a goalie not named Vesa Toskala to allow a soft goal is just unrealistic - and not worth expecting. Helping in front of him, the Devils will see a lot of Paul Martin - an excellent positional defender who's very familiar with New Jersey.  He's been impressive early, and the Pens fans are aware of what he does on the ice.  It'll be a big challenge to break him down, along with Zybnek Michalek and Brooks Orpik.   I'm not sure how Dan Bylsma will set his guys up, but I suspect Kovalchuk and Parise will either see a lot of some combination of those three.  Hopefully, they'll succeed against them - and not in a fight.

While I'm not a fan of Matt Taormina (I think Colin White is carrying that pairing, but that could be a result of my own confirmation bias) or Mark Fraser's temper, the Devils have no choice but to use them until cap space is cleared.   My preferences aside, I would like the defense to be especially aware of the Pittsburgh offense.  OK, they haven't gotten things going just yet.   I don't want the Devils to give Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin the spark they need to lift the Penguins offense to where they were.  Yes, the wingers don't look impressive on paper but giving any player the gift a turnover or not covering them will give them the chance to be impressive on the ice.

By about 7 PM tonight, someone's leaving the Rock with a win.  Hopefully it'll be the Devils. Until then, please lnk to any news updates, share your feelings and expectations for this matinee, and leave your thoughts about today's game in the comments.  I'll be in my usual seat (Section 1, Row 16, Seat 5) for this one, so feel free to come say hello.  I don't normally bite.  Regardless, thanks for reading, and go Devils!