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Game 16 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Buffalo Sabres

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (4-10-1) vs. the Buffalo Sabres (4-9-2)

The Last Devils Game: A 3-0 loss to Our Hated Rivals.  Honestly, the Devils didn't play as poorly as the score would suggest; but to say it was frustrating - especially the third period - would be an understatement.   My recap of yet another loss after a win can be found here.

The Last Sabres Game:  The lowly-as-the-Devils Sabres, get this, won a game.  Buffalo tied it up in Toronto in the final seconds and held on to win in the shootout. All while Ryan Miller was out with an injury and Jhonas Enroth, the third-string goalie, making big stops throughout the night.  Rafael Ladysz praised Enroth, faulted Tyler Myers, and recaps the 3-2 shootout win here at Die by the Blade.

The Last Devils-Sabres Game: This game got a lot of attention for John MacLean scratching Ilya Kovalchuk shortly before the game for being late to a team meeting.   But the story should have been about how bad the Devils played. To say the Devils laid an egg on the ice that night would be an insult to hens and eggs alike.   Buffalo took advantage of some bad goaltending by Johan Hedberg in his first start; some bad defending by, well, seemingly everyone in red; and once again one could have almost felt the anger and dissappointment from the Devils faithful at the Rock for paying money to see such a garbage effort.  The Sabres won 6-1 to tie up the season series.  Here's my recap of that nightmarish game.

The Goal:  Head coach John MacLean stated the very obvious to the press during Tuesday's practice. From Gulitti:

"Tomorrow is an important game," said Devils coach John MacLean, whose team lost 6-1 to Buffalo on Oct. 23 at Prudential Center. "We have to get a win and we have to get a win at home."

MacLean said he’s "not really looking at" whether there would be consquences if the Devils don’t win these next two games.

"I’m looking at us coming out and playing and winning tomorrow," he said. "I don’t want to speculate. It’s important for us to get a win at home. We haven’t won at home yet."

Well, duh.

I do have to agree. A win is a requirement for tonight.  Though, I feel the goal should be a different r-word: revenge. The Sabres have been just as poor as the Devils this season, and they straight up embarrassed the Devils. The Sabres stormed into the Devils' end at will; the puck movement was dire; the attack was easy for Ryan Miller and the defense in front of him to stop; and MacLean was clearly outcoached.   This isn't just a chance for the Devils to get that elusive first home win, it's their chance to make a statement to the Sabres and the rest of the league that things are going to be different.  I expect a New Jersey team to come out to play like they have something to prove.  I don't see them winning otherwise unless Buffalo sleeps through this one - and the likelihood that Lindy Ruff would allow that is slim to none.

I have a few more thoughts about tonight's game after the jump.  For Buffalo Sabres' coverage, check out Die by the Blade.

Tuesday's practice revealed quite a bit about what the Devils will do tonight.  First, Colin White came back and should be on the ice tonight after suffering from the flu, per this report from Tom Gulitti.   This is a big plus for the Devils since they're getting back their best defenseman this season (not really a backhanded compliment).  Should MacLean want to, he can lean on four experienced NHL defenseman tonight in White, Anton Volchenkov, Henrik Tallinder, and Andy Greene

Second, and not as fortunate, Martin Brodeur has not practiced since the injury.   The bruise hasn't healed and so word came out on Tuesday that Johan Hedberg would be starting tonight, per this report by Rich Chere.   Given that the Devils need wins in the worst way, having your top goaltender hurts that cause.  Still, I'm not terribly worried since Hedberg has been OK in the two previous games.  Yes, he gave up a total of 6 goals in those two games, but they weren't his fault.   I'm confident enough in him that he's not going to leave his 5-hole open on the first shot of the game by Buffalo like he did back on October 23.    If the Devils can not leave him out to dry and he keeps up the perfectly acceptable level of performance he has given, then I'm fine with Brodeur sitting this one out or being the back-up tonight (depending on how his elbow is during today's morning skate).

Besides, if you wanted Brodeur to not start as much, then hey, you're getting what you wanted.  Granted, you probably didn't hope it would be like this, but starts are starts.

Third, you won't see the following Devils tonight: Brad Mills, Patrick Davis, Alexander Urbom, and Jeff FrazeeThe Devils sent all four back down to Albany on Saturday according to Gulitti.  If Brodeur's elbow is still a problem, then  I can see Frazee called up as an emergency backup; but  Interestingly, Devils will debut another player this season: 2008 first round draft pick Mattias TedenbyPer Gulitti, Tedenby was called up on Monday and has been practicing as a right wing along with Patrik Elias and Jason Arnott. 

Utilizing Tedenby on an offensive line is the smart choice as that fits his skillset.  Though, I hope someone on the bench takes note of how the Buffalo defense targets him.  In preseason, he could be kept quiet by physical play; and Tom noted how he "disappeared" at times in the Albany games he's been in.   For his sake, let's hope he doesn't disappear by his own choice or by being checked out of the play by a Sabre.

You know, if MacLean and the Devils are listening and may be looking for additional options at forward, someone who can hang on a scoring line or a depth line, then let me tell you about this Russian in Albany. His name is Vladimir Zharkov, who's been in New Jersey before who can do the job and do it fairly well.   But seriously, it's mind boggling how he keeps getting passed over.  Yes, I know he didn't score any goals last season; so what? It's not like the other call ups have been blazing shots past keepers either.

Fourth, while Brian Rolston has been practicing, he's not expected to play tonight.   Of course, Rolston wants to, but MacLean is wary.  I'm fine with that, there's no need to rush him back into the lineup.  This is good news for Alexander Vasyunov According to Rich Chere, he's likely to play on the left side with David Clarkson and Dainius Zubrus (I assume this means Zubrus is at center?)  I'm not sure how he'll fit in with a grinder (Clarkson) and a guy who can be physical and finesse (Zubrus), two players who also tend to cycle down low. If it were me, I'd have those two do the dirty work, while Vasyunov hangs back a bit to be set up for shots.

Putting all of this together, here's my guess at the lineup:

Ilya Kovalchuk - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Patrik Elias - Jason Arnott - Mattias Tedenby
Alexander Vasyunov - Dainius Zubrus - David Clarkson
Stephen Gionta - Rod Pelley - Adam Mair

Andy Greene - Anton Volchenkov
Colin White - Henrik Tallinder
Matt Taormina - Olivier Magnan-Grenier

Johan Hedberg
Martin Brodeur

That's not a bad line up, outside of Vasyunov sticking out like a sore thumb on that third line.  Switch Rolston in there in case he does actually play.   I'm not sure if Matthew Corrente will get in, though he has been practicing with the team too.  If he does, then I would think Magnan-Grenier sits just as Gulitti reported in Tuesday's practice.

Now, a few words about the Sabres.  They're in the same boat as the Devils.  The Buffalo News' Sabres section has articles about whether the team should fire the coach (Bucky Gleason), how Ruff can't be faulted for the team's struggles (Larry Felser), and others that seem like they can be written about the Devils with just a few name changes. 

And just like the Devils, their starting goaltender is out for tonight and one of their defensemen is sick.  According to Bucky Gleason at Sabres Edge, the paper's blog about the team, Miller is still being kept out due to a lower-body injury, Patrick Lalime may need to have an appendix removed, Craig Rivet has the flu, and Jhonas Enroth is the expected starter.

Buffalo does have something the Devils don't have, and not just another point or 12 more goals scored: momentum.  They did win their last game in Toronto. Spare me the complaints about the win coming from a shootout.  The Sabres' top player, Derek Roy, scored another goal and set up Jochen Hecht to score an equalizer with 14 seconds left to play.  They got a result out of the game instead of just sulking in the third period.  They have every reason to look to build on this win, especially since they murdalized the Devils 6-1 the last time they were in Newark.

2010 - Derek Roy 15 7 8 15 0 8 1 0 1 0 34 20.6

Clearly, the Devils will need to contain Derek Roy.  He's been clutch, he's been productive, and he's been on the ice quite a bit, leading Buffalo forwards at evens per the 11/9 stat by Ubiquitous over at Die by the Blade.   Of course, this isn't to discount Thomas Vanek (2 goals in last game against NJ), Drew Stafford, Jordan Leopold, Tim Connolly, or the aforementioned Hecht.  All are talented but for one reason or another, while they aren't shooting at terribly low rates, Buffalo just hasn't come up with wins. 

Next to Roy, though, I'm most concerned about Enroth.  He's coming off a very good performance.  Since tonight will be his fourth career appearance in the NHL, some will expect the Devils' offense to finally get some breaks. After all, Enroth is not an established goaltender.  Enroth is still a big question mark in the big scheme of things.  However, given how awful the Devils' luck has been in conjunction with his last start, Enroth has no reason to not be confident and build on what he did in Toronto. 

Amid all of this, the Devils need, need, need to get some level of revenge tonight.   Again, I think a revenge mindset would do them good in order to get that first home win they so desperately need.  There needs to be some level of "We are not going to take this lying down like we did in October" in the Devils' play.  Let us hope they have that.  Otherwise, well, I don't know what to tell you.

In advance of the Gamethread, please discuss tonight's game in the comments to this post.  If you have any news to share, please link to the source.   If you have any additional points, feel free to make them here.  I'll be in my usual seat in Section 1, Row 16, Seat 5 demanding vengeance.  Let's go Devils.