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Game 7 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Montreal Canadiens

The Time:  7:30 PM EDT

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (1-4-1) at the Montreal Canadiens (3-1-1)

The Last Devils Game:  Shots not going in the net and mistakes by skaters in the defensive zone both contributed heavily to the Devils losing their fourth home game of the season to the Boston Bruins, 4-1.

The Last Canadiens Game: The score may have been close, but the Canadiens pounded the Ottawa Senators on shots with a 40-19 lead.  The Canadiens win 4-3 and Kevin van Steendelaar at Habs Eyes on the Prize noted the win in this open thread.

The Goal:  Of course, everyone involved in the Devils organization as well as the fans wants a win. You know what would be a great way to get started on getting back on the proverbial good foot?  A lead.  The Devils haven't had a lead in any of the four games last week except for scoring first in Boston which didn't even last a few minutes. They also scored the first goal in the game in the 1-0 overtime win over Buffalo, but since that won the game that doesn't really count either.   While the Devils started the season at 0-1-1 when scoring first and getting a lead; it definitely wouldn't hurt for the Devils to strike first and manage to maintain said lead. The team sorely needs to score goals and by getting that first one, then they can work on adding to it instead of getting further frustrated in a hole.   If the Devils can achieve that, then I think it would go a long way to getting that important second win of the season.

After the jump, I have further thoughts on tonight's game, a guess at the lineup, and a few answers to some questions about Montreal by Kevin van Steendelaar of Habs Eyes on the Prize.

(Please note that this preview was entirely written by John Fischer, I merely am posting for him)

In the four day break between games, three important developments occurred.  The first is that the Devils actually had some practices.  When you start 1-4-1, struggling on the power play (2 for 17), and have lost games due to mental errors on the ice, it's clear that some drills are necessary.   Hopefully it'll lead to a sharper performance from everyone involved.  The second was a lineup change. The Devils sent Alexander Urbom down to Albany and replaced him with Olivier Magnan-Grenier.   Per Gulitti, the move was made to give Urbom, who was on the third pairing in New Jersey, an opportunity to play more minutes - something he can get at the AHL level.  So the Devils will remain playing a defense with three inexperienced players, but Magnan-Grenier has at least played more pro hockey than Urbom.   He should be able to handle limited minutes until Anton Volchenkov comes back - which won't be tonight, as reported on Thursday by Tom Gulitti.

The third, and more important occurrence, was that the Devils made changes among the lineup.  On Saturday, John MacLean's decision to play Ilya Kovalchuk with Jacob Josefson and David Clarkson on a line blew up in the team's face; and the Elias-Arnott-Langenbrunner unit looked real dumb in their own zone.  On Monday, as reported here by Tom Gulitti, MacLean made some big switches.  He moved Kovalchuk and Josefson to play with Patrik Elias; Clarkson down to play with Adam Mair and Tim Sestito; and Rod Pelley steps in on the wing with Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner.   Based on how he's performed in terms of Corsi, I think Elias could be a good winger opposite Kovalchuk if only because he won't be held back by Arnott and Langenbrunner.  On that same basis,  I agree with the splitting up of Andy Greene and Henrik Tallinder.

Given that it's Montreal, you can bet that Martin Brodeur will be starting.  So the Devils lineup should reflect what it has been in practice:

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

Colin White - Matt Taormina
Andy Greene - Olivier Magnan-Grenier
Henrik Tallinder - Matthew Corrente

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

One more thing, if you haven't yet, check out this FanPost by ILWT user richer44.  Both Lou Lamoriello and John MacLean have stated in this past week that if the Devils continue to generate chances, then they'll get the scoring that's been lacking.  In the post, richer44 goes on to show why they are right.  It's got the proper perspective and should certainly calm down any fans who are overly concerned about the Devils' lack of scoring.

Moving on to tonight's opponents, the Montreal Canadiens have a long and storied tradition which leads to a long and storied practice of putting a lot of pressure on the team to do well.   With great success comes great expectations.  So far, from where I sit, Montreal has had a good start to their season.    OK, their power play isn't anything to cheer (1-for-17, 5.9%, worst in the NHL); but their penalty kill is strong (90%, 7th in NHL) and a good 5-on-5 F/A value (1.33, 9th in NHL) falls in line with the good starting record.   Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri are two of the most potent forwards on Montreal, and they've been productive early with 5 and 4 points respectively.

I had a few questions about the team and Kevin van Steendelaar of Habs Eyes on the Prize was more than happy to answer them with detail and insight. 

Question 1: One of the hot issues surrounding Montreal early in the season has been the goaltending. Carey Price has played in all 5 games and the numbers indicate he's done well. How confident are you in Price going forward?

2010 - Carey Price 5 303 3 1 13 2.57 152 139 .914 0

Kevin van Steendelaar: Carey Price is already proving that he is a more mature and confident player than he was last season. He seems well focused and is not letting a bad goal get to him like he did last year.

An excellent example of that was in their last game against Ottawa. The Senators scored two goals on their first two shots of the second period. Last season, we would expect Price to collapse after that. Instead he came right back, and made a huge glove save on a Sens two-on-one that gave th Canadiens the chance to get back in the game, and ultimately win it.

He will have his bad games along the way, and will hear it from the Bell Centre faithful. But booing a Habs goalie on a bad day is nothing new. Just ask Ken Dryden or Patrick Roy.

Overall I think the Canadiens fans will realize why the team kept him, and opted to trade Jaroslav Halak

Question 2: Moving outside of the crease and onto the blueline, the Canadiens have allowed an average of 30.4 shots against per game in this early season. While that's not bad relative to the league, how do you think Jacques Martin will stack up the defense against a New Jersey team that has been piling on the shots (34 shots per game average) and will be hungry for a win? Who will the Devils see a lot of on Montreal's back end?

KvS: The shots against have dipped in the last two games, thanks to the return of veteran Roman Hamrlik. Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek, Hal Gill and Josh Gorges make up the top pairings, with Spacek possibly showing signs he's slowed down in one-on-one situations.

With these four on the top-two, it will give rookie P.K. Subban the time to learn his defensive game at the NHL level and not be up against the opposition's top lines every night. Subban can be a dynamic puck-moving rear guard, with a blistering point shot, but high risk-high reward decisions will frustrate fans, and coach Jacques Martin. With him on the third pairning, hopefully it becomes a less risk/high reward for the Canadiens.

The teams defense can only get better once Andrei Markov returns from injury. That will also bolster the Canadiens fledgling power play.

Question 3: Devils fans are very familiar with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, and most know how productive and amazing Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri are. But I'm interested in the underrated players. Who among the Montreal forwards should Devils fans look out for on the ice tonight that they may not be familiar with?

KvS: Right now the guy the opposition needs to watch for is Andrei Kostitsyn. He's off to a good start alongside, Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri, and has really turned it around this season. Jacques Martin joked that it was because he is in a contract year, but acknowledged that his work ethic and conditioning is much better than last season.

Not only does he have one of the best shots on the team, according to his teammates, he can also be a physical presence in the corners and when going to the net.

With little brother Sergei not there to distract him, I'd expect a strong season from him if he can continue this pace.

After that, it does thin a bit. The Canadiens are having difficulty finding a winger to work with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. Benoit Pouliot has been ineffective thus far, but it is still early in the season to give full judgment on him right now. They tried Travis Moen in the last two games, and Tom Pyatt was practicing with Gomez and Gionta during Tuesday and Wednesday practice.

Lars Eller will be that guy on the second line in time, but he found himself benched late in the last two games.

Question 4: Moving back to Gionta for a bit, it surprised me a little that he was chosen as the team captain in Montreal. How has he been received since getting the "C?" Do you think it has impacted his performances (for better or worse)?

2010 - Brian Gionta 5 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 18 0.0


KvS: Brian Gionta was THE choice for the Montreal Canadiens as team captain. This is a guy that brings his 5'7" frame every game and plays like he's 6'5"! He gives his all every shift and every game.

While some teams regard the captain as just a symbol these days, the Canadiens take the tradition of the captaincy more seriously (1994-99 the exception) and Gionta is the guy best to fit that role.  And yes, he says he will work on his French!

Markov was thought to be a choice for captain, but with him in a contract year, the Canadiens probably didn't want to be back in the same boat they were after Saku Koivu departed.

Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, Gill and Gorges also are a strong contingent of leaders for the Canadiens and Gionta is on record saying that leadership committee system will continue from last season.

Question 5: Here's a big picture question: Based on what you've seen so far, what do you think the theme of the 2010-11 season will be for the Montreal Canadiens?

KvS: Good question, but I think the theme will be to stay healthy.  Last season the injury ward included Markov (twice), Cammalleri, Gionta, Cammalleri and Pouliot, and the Habs defensive corps was a walk-in clinic early last season.  It was one of those situations where one player came back, and another got hurt. With a virtually blown up team, it made it difficult for the new guys, and the existing player to gel with each other.

Big thanks to Kevin of Habs Eyes on the Prize for his answers.  Clearly, Montreal is strong among it's top forwards, so it'll be important for the Devils' depth lines to out-do Montreal's throughout the game to get an advantage.   As much as we may hope for the Devils to finally face a goaltender who isn't hot or good, Carey Price does not figure to be that man on paper.   It'll be a good challenge for New Jersey, which should make a win even that more uplifting. 

Tonight, Tom will take care of the recap duties. Still, in advance of the Gamethread, please feel free to discuss tonight's game in the comments.  Talk about what you want to see, who you want to do well, how you think the Devils should approach the Canadiens, and post any news updates with links relevant to tonight's game.  Thanks for reading.  Go Devils!