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Game 10 Preview: New Jersey Devils at San Jose Sharks

The Time: 10:30 PM EDT

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (2-6-1) at the San Jose Sharks (3-3-1)

The Last Devils Game: Martin Brodeur brought his A-game and the rest of the Devils, well, they were Bs and D-minuses against the New York RangersThe Devils lose their first game of their road trip 3-1 to Our Hated Rivals.

The Last Sharks Game: The Calgary Flames hosted the Sharks and were just relentless.  San Jose had no answer for the home team, much less any of the four goals they scored.  The Sharks lost 4-0 and Mr. Plank has the recap at Fear the Fin.

The Goal: Yesterday, I wrote many, many, many words about what could be the root issues with this hockey team playing so poorly.   Near the end, I stressed that I don't expect them to be addressed and/or solved overnight but I do want to see improvement.  So here's what I want to see - and not hear from the players: I want to see a team communicating with each other on the ice and making more appropriate decisions to pass the puck.  I want to see a team that keeps it's focus in their own zone and doesn't freeze when a Shark gets the puck in a one-on-one situation. I want to see a team that doesn't just take their lumps in the second period and doesn't wait until the third period to turn up the intensity if needed. 

I want improvement.  If the Devils can manage that, then their chances of winning tonight would multiply.

After the jump, I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game, a guess at the lineup, and a few questions about the Sharks answered by Megalodon of Battle of California. 

Just as a reporting note, you may want to visit Rich Chere's blog more often this week.  Tom Gulitti's not traveling with the team out to the west coast, though he'll be in Chicago next Tuesday.  As far as I can tell, Chere apparently is in California with the team.   That's how he has these quotes from the players during Tuesday's practice about the importance of the road trip.  Here are three, one each from the team's important players, and the captain:

"I don’t know if it’s make or break, but as a team it’s an important road trip," goalie Martin Brodeur said today. "Getting points is important. We have to find ways of getting on the board and getting some momentum.

And if they do not [get some wins], and return home 2-11-1?

"Then it’s panic time, I guess," Zach Parise said. "We can’t look at things like that. I know it’s a cliché but at this point we’ve got to win (Wedenesday night) to get on the right track."

"It’s not that early in the season anymore," captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "The first 10 games wasn’t the way we wanted to play. I think we realize the importance of this road trip."

Well, I would hope so.

To be fair, it's good to know the players recognize the situation they are in.  However, they need to play like it's important on the ice otherwise it's all just empty rhetoric.

Who will be out there? The same group of players we've seen on Sunday in Manhattan.  Anton Volchenkov is doing some light skating but he's definitely out for tonight's game and Friday's against Anaheim, per Chere. It seems a little weird that he's not ruled out for Saturday against LA too, but perhaps the Devils are optimistic he could be ready by then at the earliest.  After all, he's not on IR so he can be active when ready.   

It wouldn't surprise me if John MacLean changed the lines, so take this guess at the lineup with a grain of salt. As much as I argued for splitting up Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Dainius Zubrus yesterday, I doubt MacLean will actually do that.  It's arguable that since the unit has at least generated good puck possession since being put together, they should stay together.   I'm not walking back my suggestion, I'm just not holding my breath to see it in the starting lineup.   Maybe during the game, given how MacLean switched things up throughout Sunday's game.

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

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

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

This is what MacLean used in practice on Tuesday, according to Chere.  He tends to use the same lines to start the game, at least; so I'm totally looking forward to Kovalchuk being held back by a rookie center and a captain who has had the same poor start like most of the forwards.  Again.

The San Jose Sharks have been a strong team in the Western Conference in the last decade. There was only one season (2002-03) where they didn't finish with at least 95 points.   They boast an array of talented forwards in Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Joe Pavelski, and the Wizard of Awkward (source, warning: language, awkwardness), Patrick Marleau.  However, they haven't gotten off to a desirable start to their season either.  They haven't won a game at home yet.  Losses have involved some bad team defense (example).  They did just get shutout in a decisive fashion by Calgary in their last game, after dominating the Edmonton Oilers 6-1.  For some reason, this all seems familiar.

Via Mr. Plank of Fear the Fin, David Pollack of Working the Corners reported the Sharks spent their most recent practice solely at 5-on-5 hockey to work on their performance.  If you were hoping to see the team that got torched by the Flames, then I'm afraid your hopes may have been misplaced.  It's not clear who will be starting tonight for the Sharks, that will likely become public information closer to gametime.

In any case, I've had a number of questions about tonight's opponent.  Megalodon of Battle of California - the looser site for all your Sharks/Kings/Ducks smack-talk - was kind enough to answer them for this preview.

Question 1: One issue about the San Jose Sharks that I’m sure you’re growing weary of is their goaltending situation. Antti Niemi was brought in with expectations to be main guy; yet has put up numbers that can be best described as "putrid." Devils fans are all too familiar with a goaltender’s numbers plummeting because the guys in front of him have faltered; has that been the story with San Jose as well? Or is it just Niemi has been really that miserable?

2010 - Antti Niemi 4 187 1 3 14 4.49 96 82 .854 0

Megalodon: Niemi gives up a lot of rebounds and has a slow glove. On a team with a strong defensive commitment these shortcomings aren't that big of a deal, but on the offense-focused Sharks he's a poor fit. Niittymaki is the better goalie for the Sharks as they are right now.

2010 - Antero Niittymaki 4 233 2 0 7 1.80 103 96 .932 0

Question 2: One of the Sharks that really made a name for himself last season was Joe Pavelski, what with his offensive skills and his goal scoring ways. While he’s tied for the team lead in points, how has he done on the ice aside from his production?

2010 - Joe Pavelski 7 3 4 7 -5 2 3 0 1 28 10.7

M: Pavelski is a great all around player. You rarely see him making the defensive errors that plague a lot of the other Sharks forwards, and he has great hockey sense. When he gets hot he is a dominant force on the ice, and I think a lot of the Sharks success will hinge on him being able to be a legitimate scoring threat on a second line.

Question 3: The Devils and Sharks don’t play each other often in the regular season, so it’s hard to get a feel on what they are about outside of continuing to be a strong team during the season. What are the team’s tactical tendencies (e.g. forechecking, defensive coverage, special teams approach, etc.) that head coach Todd McLellan has implemented so far this season?

M: Ever since Todd McLellan took over, the Sharks have been an offense-first team. They shoot a LOT and play with four forwards on the powerplay. Sometimes this strategy works, like in the recent 6-1 win over Edmonton. Other times it backfires and the team gives up a bunch of bad goals. You never know what you are going to get! It would be exciting if it weren't so infuriating.

Question 4: One of the team stats that just looks splendid for San Jose is their power play. They’ve converted on 31.4% of their opportunities and scored 11 PPGs, the second best conversion rate and PP goal total in the league. What makes their power play so effective?

M: What makes the San Jose power play effective? Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Dan Boyle and Joe Pavelski. If this team WASN'T in the top five in power play goals scored I'd be shocked.

Question 5: Lastly, rather than ask a prediction, I’d like to know what you think will happen with the Sharks in the rest of the regular season? Will they storm back up to take their rightful place atop the Pacific or is just challenging for a better spot good satisfactory this season?

M: I think the Sharks will go through some rough patches this season, but I expect them to win the Pacific. There is too much talent on this team to predict anything less.

Big thanks to Megalodon of Battle of California for responding to these questions for the preview.   For more comprehensive coverage of the Sharks, please visit Fear the Fin as well.

Needless to say, improved discipline would help a lot tonight.  Yes, the refs hosed the Devils on a few calls, but most of the 7 minors they did take on Sunday were legit.  New Jersey, notably Jamie Langenbrunner, would be wise to avoid asking the PK to play a sixth of the game against Thornton, Marleau, Heatley, Pavelski, Setoguchi, Boyle, &c.

All the same, let us hope that the Devils will finally put together something for a win.  What that is, well, it's up to them and based on what's happening on the ice.  Just as a heads up, I will not be doing the recap for this one. Matt will be taking care of your recap needs on this late night.  In advance of the Gamethread, please talk about tonight's game in the comments.  Remember to link to any news, so we all know you're not making anything up.   Let's go (and get that third win) Devils!