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Game 20 Preview: New Jersey Devils at St. Louis Blues

Play this man tonight, Mr. John MacLean. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Play this man tonight, Mr. John MacLean. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Getty Images

The Time: 8:00 PM EDT

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (5-12-2) at the St. Louis Blues (10-5-3)

The Last Devils Game: More of the same. Few breaks on offense, inconsistent puck movement, meaningless PP, costly defensive errors, and more frustration. The Devils lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1.  Here's my recap which is laden with the phrase, "Once again."

The Last Blues Game:  The St. Louis Blues, undercut by injury and sliding down real fast with a 5 game losing streak, may have got their groove back at home on Friday night. The Blues took down the Senators 5-2 to snap the aforementioned slide. Check out St. Louis Game Time for a recap by Brad Lee praising Brad Boyes in the team's effort.

The Goal:  It's not easy coming up with just one thing to identify as a goal for this team.  There are so many aspects of the game where they will need to improve upon to beat a team that's coming off a feel-good win at home.  Well, on Friday, Tom Gulitti had this to report - the Devils are feeling good themselves according to Johan Hedberg:

Goaltender Johan Hedberg thought he could sense a positive response from the meeting.

"I think the spirits are high," he said. "Obviously, it’s a game where confidence plays a very, very big role and that’s what we need to find and find a way to relax and find a way to play our game even though we know it’s a crucial time for our season. But it’s not going to help squeezing sticks too hard and being afraid to make plays."

My initial reaction was, "Relax? The record surely doesn't indicate a hard working team.  Give me a break." Then I thought about it for more than a second, and I think Hedberg's right to think this way.  Panicking or getting further frustrated isn't going have the team play better hockey.  It's only going to continue the cycle of mistakes, turnovers, and other failings.  Basically, the goal for tonight is to break said cycle.  Replace the worry with a focus on getting the task at hand completed, and work towards the ultimate goal (victory) by accomplishing steps along the way (e.g. getting passes through the neutral zone, covering open men, keeping calm when the game gets heated, adjust crashing the net based on how the rebounds go, etc.).

It  may seem ridiculous to suggest that a team of pros should break it down that way, but with a record of  5-12-2, it definitely couldn't hurt.   Submitting to the pressure will only ensure a thirteenth loss.  In any case, I have a few more thoughts about tonight's game after the jump.

Who will start in net for the New Jersey Devils? This likely won't be answered today.  Martin Brodeur was replaced in the game against Toronto after the second period after being struck on that right arm again.  He went to see a specialist in New Jersey today, but there's no word yet on his status.  I doubt he's going to be perfectly fine and get to St. Louis prior to gametime to start.  Logically, Johan Hedberg should be the starter then.  He stepped in for Brodeur in the Toronto game and was fine. He was fine in replacing Brodeur for a few games when he was out with that right elbow injury.  He was given a good amount of money to be the backup, his confidence is acceptable, and so this should be an easy decision.

According to John MacLean, though, he says he hasn't decided - reported here by Tom Gulitti.   Mike McKenna was called up on an emergency basis, and MacLean has been vague on what to do.  I am hoping he's waiting to hear more about Brodeur's status.  I am seriously hoping it doesn't mean Mike McKenna will get to start.  It would be his first start since April 11, 2009 - where he gave up 4 goals on 15 shots and was pulled for Karri Ramo with about 26 minutes left in the game.   With Albany this season, McKenna has appeared in 7 games, put up a 2-4-0 record, a goals against average of 3.72, and (worst of all) a save percentage of 88.2%.  While I haven't seen him play in Albany, the numbers suggest he hasn't been good.  He was called up over Jeff Frazee, presumably to keep getting minutes as sitting on the bench in St. Louis won't do him much good.

With all due respect to McKenna, I'm not seeing much of a reason for MacLean to start him over a healthy and prepared Johan Hedberg.  I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and guess that Hedberg will start.  Here's a guess at the rest of the lineup:

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

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

Johan Hedberg
Mike McKenna

Per Rich Chere's article about the player's only meeting on Thursday night, the players have said they know they need to be better.  MacLean says everyone needs to do more.  We shall see whether their talk turns out to be worth something.

The opponent's tonight won't make it easy.  Ty Conklin got the start and the win on Friday against Ottawa.  I would think that Jaroslav Halak will get the start tonight.  Now, you may know Halak as the man who accidentally knocked a puck into his own net after making a save recently.  Laugh it up, but he's got talent - he just hit a rough patch along with the rest of the team.  Now that the Blues are coming off a win instead of just another loss, there's nothing to stop Halak to come in fresh and start anew.  (Not to mention the Devils offense has been a great builder of confidence for opposition goaltenders so far this season.)

2010 - Jaroslav Halak 14 823 8 4 34 2.48 361 327 .906 3

Granted, the Blues are without some important players. One of their top offensive players, T.J. Oshie, is out with a broken ankle.  Tough guy David Perron remains questionable with a concussion.  In my mind, the biggest injuries have been to Barret Jackman and Roman PolakBoth carried a lot of weight and handle a lot of tough minutes for the Blues last season, according to Behind the Net's 5-on-5 numbers.  Their loss has been felt this season.  But don't take my word for it, take it from SBN St. Louis writer (and St. Louis Game Time writer) Joe Barker.  Here's a snippet, but do read the whole thing:

On the flip side, however, is that the Blues should really do nothing. The problem lately has been goaltending and defense. Halak is here to stay, so that won't be addressed, and the Blues have about 10 defensemen who can play. Yes, they need a veteran presence like a Jackman, but where does that player fit in beyond this season? Polak and Jackman will be back this year. Another NHL-level defender wouldn't fit with the Blues when everyone is healthy. 

As hard as it is to say, Armstrong's best play is probably just to wait it out. If he can get a top-six forward, that would be great for now and the future, but in the short term, there's really nothing to do. The defense will just have to get better. Jaro and Ty Conklin will have to play better. Davis Payne will have to coach better.

Regarding the offense, I think between Brad Boyes, Patrik Berglund, David Backes, Alexander Steen, and Andy McDonald, the Blues have some dangerous talent.  Not coincidentally, they are the Blues' top 5 scorers right now. Barker's article called Boyes "streaky," Brad Lee's headline for a recap of the 5-2 win over Ottawa called Boyes "streaky," and his game log at suggests he's streaky.   Bad news for the Devils though; he's on a streak right now.  He's got a goal in each of his last 4 games, and he tallied an assist in his last two games.  If there's someone the Devils need to target defensively, then I'd make it Boyes.

2010 - Brad Boyes 18 5 6 11 -2 18 3 0 0 53 9.6

This isn't to say the Devils shouldn't be aware of McDonald, Backes, Berglund, or anyone else.  Leaving anyone wide open in a dangerous place usually ends up with a goal against, and for that reason alone the Devils should make a point of it to stick to their men.  In any game, really. 

To reiterate the goal, the worst thing the Devils can do tonight is to let a St. Louis team do as they wish, lose their focus, and continue the cycle of negative feelings and bad hockey. This will just about gift a second straight win for St. Louis.  The Devils players claim that they understand the situation that they are in. They are only going to get out of it if they can smash that cycle and respond appropriately to whatever the Blues do (imposing a cycle of their own down low wouldn't be so bad).  This will lead to more possession, which in turn will lead to more shots, which may (emphasis on the may) lead to more goals.  This is the hope that I have, at least.

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 (and there will be, given the goalie question), then please do so in the comments with a link to the source.  Thank you for reading.  Let's go Devils.