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Game 19 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Toronto Maple Leafs

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I believe composure will be key tonight. So will be staying on your skates. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
I believe composure will be key tonight. So will be staying on your skates. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (5-11-2) at the Toronto Maple Leafs (6-8-3)

The Last Devils Game: Spending lots of time on the PK, passing the puck poorly, giving up some soft goals, and not adjusting to an opponent's gameplan is no way to win games. It's the way of losing them, and the Devils did all of that against the Boston Bruins on Monday in a 3-0 loss.

The Last Leafs Game: Normally, when a team is down 4-1 in the second period, they aren't going to make a comeback to win the game.  Normally, said team doesn't get the opportunity to score 4 straight power play goals.  Yet, the Leafs did exactly that to Nashville on Tuesday night.  The Maple Leafs won 5-4 to snap their winless streak, and PPP's recap at Pension Plan Puppets breaks down who did well and who did not.

The Goal: Here's a quote that head coach John MacLean gave to Tom Gulitti after Wednesday's practice:

Why has the power play been so bad on the road?

"The composure hasn’t been where it should be on the road," MacLean said. "That’s what we have to get—a little more composure with the puck on the road. We’re shooting when we should hold it or pass it and passing when we should shoot it. Those are the things that we have to fight against."

Composure definitely is needed for the power play, but that should be New Jersey's aim as a whole tonight.  The Leafs are coming off a win where they blew up Nashville's PK units repeatedly.  They'll have momentum, they'll have confidence, and their PP units will have the chance to get hot if given opportunities.  If the Devils can remain calm, not let the emotions of the game get to them, not rush passes or shots, don't get suckered into taking stupid calls, and don't get down on themselves if things don't go well to start, then they should have at least a chance to win tonight.   Composure is exactly what the Devils need in general, much less their power play.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. If you're interested in the Toronto take, please read Pension Plan Puppets.


Now, you may have read the goal and thought, "I got an idea, why not try to ruin Toronto's composure? Why not throw them off their game?"  Well, good luck with that.  General Manager Brian Burke has built up the team to be particularly tough - to the point where the word "truculent" has become a buzz word.   I don't believe it will do the Devils any good to get into a physical game with a team that has plenty of physical players, even if Dion Phaneuf is injured.   Focusing on throwing some pain-bombs, I think, will only serve to ignite the crowd instead of taking them out of the game.  Not to mention give the refs more chances to call penalties that could lead to more power plays for Toronto.  Since the Devils have struggled to score goals and not fall into deficits in games, doing things that can give the opponent the advantage should be avoided.

So what should the Devils do?  Well, Patrik Elias may have hit on something.  In talking with the media after Wednesday's practice, he gave this interesting quote - reported here by Tom Gulitti:

Elias watches other games and other teams play and sees a lot of them playing like the old Devils and sitting back waiting for the opponent to make a mistake.

"We’re pushing for everything and sometimes we make a mistake and it costs us," Elias said. "We don’t play as patient as we can sometimes because we’re afraid that we’ll get scored on one time and that’s it. I watched a couple of other games and half of the game they’re just sitting back, especially when they don’t have the puck. That used to be our bread and butter all the time, recognizing when to be aggressive and when to be patient.

"We’re just going. We’re forechecking and trying to get in there all the time. If you do that, you’re going to chase the puck and you’re going to waste your energy and once you get the puck you have no energy to do anything. I think we have to recognize that more. I watched Montreal (Tuesday) and half of the game they’re just sitting back waiting for the Flyers to make mistakes and they get it and all the sudden it looks like they have the jump."

I don't know whether it's feasible to have the team go back to a counter-attack based offense right away, but it would certainly be something that may be worth trying.  Especially if Ron Wilson has Toronto come out with figurative guns a-blazing tonight.

Still, for the Devils to be patient at the appropriate times and aggressive at others, they will need to stay composed. For the Devils to not fall apart after a goal against, they will need to stay composed. For the Devils to do anything Elias describes in this quote, the team needs to be composed.   All the more reason why it should be the team's main goal for this game.

As far as lineups go, there was a few changes up at forward.  On Tuesday, based on this report by Gulitti, Dainius Zubrus was moved to center Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Vasyunov and Travis Zajac got slotted in between Brian Rolston and David Clarkson.   I can understand MacLean wanting to keep Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott, and Mattias Tedenby together; as a whole they haven't been bad.   I can see how Zubrus, who has been a positive possessor of the puck this season, may help Kovalchuk out.  Though, I'm not really sure how Zajac will fit with Rolston and Clarkson, though.  Yes, I understand that the wingers are better suited for cycling down low than Kovalchuk and Vasyunov; but Zajac has been used to cycling with Zach Parise - and neither of Clarkson and Rolston are close to Parise's level at that.  We shall see.   Here's my wild guess for the lineup:

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

Anton Volchenkov - Andy Greene
Colin White - Henrik Tallinder
Olivier Magnan-Grenier - Matthew Corrente

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

Jamie Langenbrunner and Matt Taormina are definitely out, they didn't travel with the team to Toronto as reported by Gulitti. They will remain in New Jersey getting rest for sore body parts.

Moving on to Toronto.  As recently reportd by Leafs beat reporter and SBN-Hockey legend James Mirtle at the Globe & Mail, Jean-Sebastian Giguere is out for 1-2 weeks with a groin injury and Jonas Gustavsson will start tonight for Toronto. 

2010 - Jonas Gustavsson 6 316 1 3 15 2.85 153 138 .902 0

Not exactly great numbers early, but he did finish well against Nashville per PPP's recap.   Historically, Gustavsson hasn't done well against New Jersey; he's made only 40 saves on 47 shots in 2 games lifetime.  But this is a new season, the past is meaningless, and the Devils' offense is just below pop-gun status. I don't think Leafs will worry much about Gustavsson starting tonight.  And if they are, well, they should consider New Jersey's lack of production.

There are some Leafs to worry about.  Phil Kessel is a usual suspect, a goal scoring threat with a lovely shot. Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin have been productive, and leading the team in points and just behind Kessel in goals is Clark MacArthur.  Yes, the Clark MacArthur.

2010 - Clarke MacArthur 17 7 9 16 2 12 2 0 2 0 41 17.1

In his short career, MacArthur hasn't shot a whole lot or scored a whole lot; his career marks for goals and points are 17 and 31).  So it's difficult to say whether his shooting percentage of 17.1% is sustainable for a whole season.  It's immaterial for tonight, though.  Even if he's just really hot, then Toronto should keep fueling the flames and give him good situations.   The Devils defense needs to be aware of when he's on the ice in addition to Kessel and Grabovski.

As far as the team stats go, the one to note is the shots against per game value.  Toronto's one of the stingiest teams in the league in terms of shots allowed: 27.6 per game.  The Leafs are fifth in the league, right in between Detroit and San Jose.   With Francois Beauchemin, Tomas Kaberle, Luke Schenn, and Mike Komisarek patrolling the blueline, the Devils are going to have a challenge penetrating Toronto's end of the rink.  I think it's going to take some good preparation and tactics by the coaching staff and some smart hockey by the Devils players to break through with any regularly.  Let's hope that comes together tonight.

Speaking of, from my perspective Toronto is a team that now has renewed hope. They were on a horrible 8 game winless streak prior to Tuesday night.  The Leafs picked up a much-needed "W" in front of the home crowd and did it in impressive fashion.  Forget what Ron Wilson will demand, the players alone don't want that to be just a blip among several more losses.  They're going to want to build on that and use tonight's game to make a statement: "The time of being doormats is over." Especially before they go to Montreal on Saturday night. 

It's not at all a good situation New Jersey to come into; and all the more reason for the Devils to remain composed in tonight's game.

The Gamethread will be up later, closer to game time.  In the meantime, please feel free to discuss tonight's game in the comments.  If you want to post any news updates, then please do so in the comments with a link to the source.  Thank you for reading.  Let's go Devils.