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Game 5 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Colorado Avalanche

Want to see more of this? Sure, we all do.  Giving a similar effort tonight that they had on Wednesday would be the first step to doing that.  Pounding Colorado with shots would be the second. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
Want to see more of this? Sure, we all do. Giving a similar effort tonight that they had on Wednesday would be the first step to doing that. Pounding Colorado with shots would be the second. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
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The Time: 7 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+ 2; Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (1-2-1) vs. the Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0)

The Last Devils Game: No full roster of skaters? No problem. The Devils played their most complete game yet of this early season; and Ryan Miller was the main reason the game went into overtime at all.  And then Ilya Kovalchuk happened.  The Devils won their first game of the season 1-0 in OT.

The Last Avalanche Game:  The young roster of the Avalanche took on the older and rival Detroit Red Wings.   It wasn't pretty (especially the Colorado power play), but they hung in there and forced the game to go to a shootout. There, goaltender Peter Budaj and forward Brandon Yip became the heroes of the night.  The Avalanche won 5-4 via a shootout.

The Goal:  After a game like Wednesday's, the best thing the Devils can do is replicate their performance.  Surely if a team or a player has one good night, they can easily do it again, right?  Wrong.  That's why it should be their goal to maintain their focus and not get complacent.  The Devils should have every right to feel good about getting their first win.  Especially that they got it on the road, against a solid Buffalo team, and with a shutout.  Great.  But they're going to go up against a team that has no reason to be scared of anyone in Colorado.  They can't just slip back to old habits or lackadaisical play and expect to get that first home win.   I'm not demanding that the Devils just copy what they did on Wednesday; but that they keep up the effort. 

I have additional thoughts on tonight's game, including a wild guess at the lineup and five questions about the Avalanche answered by David Driscoll-Carignan of Mile High Hockey.   You can read all of that after the jump.

Now, I'm sure some Devils fans are still unpleased with the production from the offense. Or, rather, the lack thereof. No, it's not good when a hockey team has only scored 7 goals in 4 games.  However, I can't say that I'm terribly concerned given Wednesday's performances.   Unlike the prior three games where the Devils offense seems to only notably generate shots, the Devils attacked Buffalo throughout the game.  Even when Buffalo outshot the Devils in the second, the Devils still put up 11 on Miller and pinned them back several times.   The Devils can't do anything about a great goaltender being, well, great; or if an opposition defenseman makes a desperate play to make a stop. But they can control the puck with solid passing, quickly turning blocks or loose pucks on defense into rushes, and taking more shots.

In other words, what they did against in Buffalo is more than fine going forward. The goals will eventually come.  Again, it's all about maintaining the same level of effort.

What isn't eventual is the Devils having a full roster of skaters.  Yep, the Devils will have 18 skaters tonight.  The crocodile tears from outsiders can now cease (and instead complain about how the Devils have so many injuries or get distracted by some other shiny/fleshy object) crisis is over. After placing Brian Rolston on long term injured reserve, the Devils have called up Jacob Josefson and Tim Sestito along with Matthew Corrente. Corrente's call up is of particular note as he can replace the now-injured Mark Fraser, who will be out with a fractured right hand.  Personally, I think this is Corrente's time to make his mark - especially while Anton Volchenkov remains out.

That being said, I don't think any of the call ups will get big minutes.  Nor should they, since they are all so inexperienced and the roster spots they'll fill are not critical ones. Josefson will be playing in his first NHL game, Sestito has only 10 NHL games under his belt, and Corrente is the most experienced with 12.   In any case, here's my guess at the lineup:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Patrik Elias - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Dainius Zubrus - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Rod Pelley - Adam Mair - Tim Sestito

Andy Greene - Henrik Tallinder
Colin White - Matt Taormina
Alexander Urbom - Matthew Corrente

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

I'm guessing at Josefson playing center on the third line since the Devils did use that combination in preseason.  I could be wrong, though, he may center the fourth line (less minutes, weaker competition) or be moved to wing.  Personally, I'd like to see Zubrus remain as the center for that line as he's done so well so far. So I hope I'm wrong.  I'm not wrong on the goaltenders, though. Per Gulitti, Brodeur will be the starter tonight; Johan Hedberg may get to start on Saturday.  Fair enough.

Moving onto the Colorado Avalanche.  The team was seen as a bit of a surprise last season for making the playoffs; but their young forwards all shot quite well and Craig Anderson proved that he was definitely a starter in this league.  Derek Zona had a more frank description of how the Avs succeeded in the season back in April; but no matter.  What happened in 2009-10 really doesn't have a bearing on tonight's game.  So to find out about the current group of Avs, I've asked a few questions about them to David Driscoll-Carignan of Mile High Hockey.

1) How is the Avalanche defense after the first few games? The blueline on paper doesn't seem too impressive, but who should Devils fans be aware on Colorado's defense?

David Driscoll-Carignan: One word to describe the Avs’ defense: shaky. So far, there’s been a lot of turnovers and way too many shots given up. Since this is the exact same unit that gave up a lot of turnovers and way too many shots last season, that really isn’t all that much of a surprise. On a positive note, when a blueliner gets control of the puck they usually will get the puck out and up really quickly, leading to a lot of offensive breaks in the other direction.

For a young team, most of the Avs’ defensemen should be familiar to Devils fans already. Two relative newcomers are Kyle Cumiskey (2 GP against NJ) and Ryan Wilson (1 GP against NJ). Cumiskey is small and lightning fast – we call him the Road Runner. Wilson is an unheralded player who had a solid rookie season last year; he’s a steady defenseman who is known for making some big open ice hits. Wilson isn’t a prolific fighter, but did tangle with Mark Fraser the last time these clubs met.

2) Craig Anderson really stepped into the spotlight for Colorado, proving to be more than just a backup for all of those years. How hopeful are Colorado fans are in repeating last season's performance? How necessary will it be for him to do that?

2010 - Craig Anderson 2 122 1 1 6 2.95 75 69 .920 0

DD-C: Anderson is the starting goalie we’ve been looking for since Patrick Roy retired. Avalanche fans have a lot of confidence him and fully expect him to repeat. And, yes, he probably will have to do so for the team to be successful.

3) The Avalanche have several young, promising and developing forwards on their roster; but I'd like to focus on Matt Duchene for a bit. The 2009 first rounder had a great rookie season and already has produced early. How do the Avalanche intend to use him this season (e.g. responsibilities, quality of competition); and what would be a reasonable set of expectations for the young player?

DD-C: Duchene will be the #2 center again behind Paul Stastny. It is clear that coach Joe Sacco has high expectations for Duchene – he moved him down to the 3rd line on Tuesday and said he wants more consistency out of him; this for a guy with 4 points in 3 games. Losing linemate Peter Mueller might hurt Duchene in the short term, but Duchene is the Avs’ most talented player and is very capable of leading them in scoring this year.

4) Continuing the theme of young, promising and developing forwards, which one of them should Devils fans pay a little more attention to when they are on the ice tonight?

DD-C: Ryan O’Reilly, David Jones and Brandon Yip have all had some big moments already this season. One guy that I’m high on that hasn’t had a great start is T.J. Galiardi. He was dropped from the 1st to the 4th line against Detroit, but I think he’s got a great blend of speed and stickhandling. On top of that, he can be a bit of a pest and get under the skin of opposing players. In my opinion, he’s the guy to watch.

5) Lastly, it's obvious that you would like to see Colorado leave the Rock with points. But what do you think will actually happen against the Devils?

DD-C: All 3 Avalanche games so far have been close; two went to overtime and the winner in the other was scored with just a few minutes to go. I predict the game will be close and the two teams at the opposite end of the salary cap spectrum will announce a trade right after the game. Half of that sentence may be a complete fabrication.

Big thanks to David Driscoll-Carginan for answering these questions.  Hopefully it has given you much insight into the Avs as it has for me.   Given how the Devils offense did against Buffalo, I relish the Colorado defense being shaky.  Though, I hope the Devils defense doesn't follow suit as the Avs did match Detroit goal-for-goal in their last game.  Anderson will be a problem regardless (assuming he starts for Colorado tonight), a save percentage of 92% this early is nothing to sneeze at.

Tonight's game is the first of a back-to-back set at the Rock, and the team's third home game of the month.  That's kind of notable as the Devils only have 5 home games this month; so getting a win tonight would be good not just for them but for the fans too.  I'll be in my usual seat (Sec. 1, Row 16, Seat 5) for this one, commenting at times during the game.   In the meantime, please leave your expectations, feelings, news updates (with links), and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thanks for reading. Go Devils!