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Game 8 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Buffalo Sabres

The Time: 7 PM EDT

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (2-4-1) vs. the Buffalo Sabres (2-5-1) - Season Series: 1-0-0 to NJ.

It's Hockey Fights Cancer Night at the Rock: And there will be multiple ways to contribute.  The Devils player's wives & girlfriends will collect cash donations at the door; proceeds from the purchases of any Hockey Fights Cancer merchandise from the Devils Den will be donated; you can purchase a Mystery Puck for $20 (1 per person, cash only, supplies are limited), which will go to charity as you get a puck signed by a random Devil.  On top of this, the Devils (in partnership with the NHL) will contribute $10,000 to the Newark Beth-Israel Medical Center Foundation.  So if you're going to the game, please know you have the opportunity to help out a bit.

The Last Devils Game:  Martin Brodeur played liked Martin Brodeur in Montreal.  Plus, the Devils didn't make a ton of errors in their own zone; and they finally - finally - got some breaks with their shooting. The Devils won 3-0 over Les Habs, Tom has the recap of that game here.

The Last Sabres Game: The Ottawa Senators visited the HSBC Arena and came out with two points in a close game. The Sabres responded to Ottawa's first two goals within a few minutes of each other; but Daniel Alfredsson's second period strike was the eventual game winner.  Buffalo shelled Brian Elliott in the third period with 20 shots on net; but he got them all as Ottawa iced the game to win 4-2. Check out Die by the Blade for any Sabres coverage.

The Last Devils-Sabres Game:  Ryan Miller was brilliant, Martin Brodeur was sharp as well, and the then-shorthanded Devils bombed away at the Sabres until Ilya Kovalchuk became the overtime hero on a one-timer. It was the Devils' first win of the season, and it was good.  Here's my recap of that game.

The Goal:  Tonight is the last home game of this month. After this, the Devils will play their next 6 games on the road, returning November 5 to host Our Hated Rivals. Just for the home fans alone, the Devils really need to do what they can to get a win tonight.   What worked against Buffalo early in their last game and against Montreal on Thursday was an aggressive approach to the game.  The Devils held their positions in their own zone, they struck when the opportunity presented itself, and they battled hard in the offensive end for shots.  While not so many were generated at Montreal, the Devils pounded most of Buffalo's blueline and shelled Miller in their last game. I would recommend a similar approach again if only to test Buffalo's defense.  If they can crack them again, then the goals will follow.

I have more thoughts on tonight's game including a caution regarding Johan Hedberg, a question about a certain winger, and a guess at the lineup.

First and foremost, the big change in the lineup tonight will be in net.  On Friday, it was reported by both Tom Gulitti and Rich Chere that Johan Hedberg will get his first regular season start as a Devil tonight.  If you wanted to see him start, then make the plans to watch tonight's game because you're getting just that.  Let me offer this caution to both the team and the fans. 

First, to the fans: He is a backup.  Having him in net will not make the rest of the team play any harder or more sound in their own zone.  The Devils displayed in both of their wins that they can be responsible and limit their gaffes. Brodeur was in net for both them.  The Devils need to play smart, but whoever is in net won't influence that -  nor should it as winning hockey teams limit their mistakes anyway. Keep that in mind when you watch tonight's game.

Now, for the players:  I really hope that you still remember last week's game against Boston.  All four goals against were the result of defensive zone errors and bad decisions.  I'm sure the coaches banged that point home.  Nobody honestly expects Hedberg to be as good, he isn't, but he will still need a similar effort in the defensive zone.  It's totally understandable to feel good after a win, but recall that it's not a 3-0 win if it wasn't for the hard work around Brodeur.  Straying from that will only throw the goaltender - be it Brodeur or Hedberg - into the fire.  So help out Hedberg by maintaining that level of effort.

That being said, here's my guess at the lines:

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

Johan Hedberg
Martin Brodeur

One of the things I noticed when watching Thursday's game was that the Devils gave up on the Elias-Josefson-Kovalchuk line later in the game as it wasn't generating much positive.  That was a smart move by John MacLean to make a change.  If a line isn't working out, then a change is justifiable.  

Once again, this brings up the question on what to do with Ilya Kovalchuk, something Tom Gulitti raises here.  (I'd rather ask what's wrong with David Clarkson, but whatever.)  I can understand starting the same line just to see if it's a better matchup against Buffalo than it was against Montreal. If they do well, then great.  If it isn't working as desired, then I'd like to see ZIP re-united during the game.   In the first game against Buffalo, while their Corsi wasn't good, the Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk line outshot Buffalo and drove the proverbial offensive bus at even strength.  Snark at how the line couldn't score in regulation, but when it's 18-12 for Parise, 15-8 for Zajac, and 16-12 for Kovalchuk. It wasn't like they weren't trying - Miller was just that good that night and luck wasn't in favor of NJ.   Why not run the same line that got so much done against a blueline that really couldn't contain them?

Granted, I make that suggestion because I'd love to see that kind of offensive bombardment of shots tonight.  I'm not sure as of this writing whether Ryan Miller will start after playing Ottawa (it could be their backup Patrick Lalime); but luck may be changing for New Jersey.  After all, their three goals against Montreal included Parise angling the puck short-side to get over Carey Price; Jason Arnott's shot being deflected down by a Canadien's hand to put it in 5-hole; and Matt Taormina's shot somehow got through all those bodies and in.  I'm not dissing the skill, but those three goals demonstrated that luck is sometimes needed to light the lamp.  It'd be great if that would continue along with the Devils continuing to play smart in their own zone.

Buffalo is in a similar spot to New Jersey. Only two wins, none at home, and it's not like they are just lying down in games.  They lead the league in shots with 273 (Devils in 7th with 224), and only 18 of those are goals.  It's pretty bad (and unfortunate) for a team to be shooting 6.6%.  While I don't think they'll continue to shoot an average of 34.1 shots per game; I don't think they'll put up 185 goals (based on their current shot average extrapolated over 82 games with their shooting percentage) or less.  Like the Devils (still below 6%), they are due for some bounces going their way as well.  Hope that won't happen tonight in Newark.

One bright spot has been the play of Derek Roy, who's gotten off to a good start. The Devils contained him last Wednesday, but he remains as one of their most dangerous players.

2010-11  Derek Roy 8 5 2 7 3 6 1 0 1 21 23.8

While heavily influenced by a third period where they rolled over Ottawa 20-5 in shots, several Sabres put up excellent Corsi totals last night.  While they may not be scoring a whole lot, that's something they could build on for tonight's game.  Among them, I'd keep an eye on both Tim Connolly (3 G, 2 A)and Jochen Hecht (3 A).  See if they're together, and if so, hope the Devils can do a better job than Ottawa at keeping them back.

For further clarification, I've asked Zachary Zielonka of Die by the Blade a couple of questions about the team's current form:

Question 1: The Sabres have been struggling to start the season like the Devils.  What have been the main causes for their problems so far? Are there any signs that they are being fixed?

Zachary Zielonka: The Sabres have had far better efforts in games since the Sabres and Devils last met. The main problem with this team looks to be that they hadn't had enough time to really gel on defense and the offense needed some juggling to find the right line combinations. Even though the wins haven't been there, the team has played well and found the back of the net more often. The Sabres have played well on the road this season, so we as fans hope that this four game road trip can breathe some life back into this season.

Question 2: The last time these two teams played, the Devils contained the then-hot Derek Roy.  Which Sabre(s) will be the most dangerous on the ice going into tonight's game?

ZZ: Since the last time these two teams have met, a handful of players have found the scoring touch that was missing a week ago. Tim Connolly now has three goals, Thomas Vanek has found the back of the net once, and even Cody McCormick has a handful of goals. If the Sabres keep their game simple, the offense should find some chances and hopefully they can find the magic against Hedberg.

Thanks to Zach for responding. Regardless of who's starting for the Blue and Yellow, the Devils should expect a Buffalo team that badly needs wins like they do.  Only they're coming off a loss to Ottawa, where they knocked on the door repeatedly in the third only to never be answered.  They could be demoralized, but I'd hedge on them being more eager to get a result tonight.   Should the Devils remain smart in their own zone like they were on Thursday night, aggressive at Buffalo's blueline, and make the appropriate adjustments during the game, then that would give them the best chance to win.