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Game 28 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Ottawa Senators

The Time: 7:30 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (8-17-2) at the Ottawa Senators (12-16-2)

The Last Devils Game:  If you ignore the record, losing 2-1 to the hottest team in the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins isn't so bad.  Knowing that the Devils needed points badly and had close to 28 minutes to tie it up gives a different perspective for the loss.  Therefore, my recap was a bit of a downer.

The Last Senators Game: The Ottawa Senators hosted Our Hated Rivals, the Rangers, and put up the first goal. Which the visitors equalized.  Then the Senators put up a second goal - only for the visitors to equalize again. Late in the second, the Sens took a 3-2 lead, only for it to become 3-3 early in the third. Then Michael Sauer decided now would be a good time as any to score his first of the season to win the game, souring an already displeased Senators fanbase.  Ottawa lost 5-3 and while Peter Raaymakers is happy to see Ottawa put up 3, he's got plenty of "Zeros" to point out in his recap at Silver Seven.

The Goal: Second periods have been usually awful for the Devils this season. I'd go as far as to say that it's a big reason why they lost several of those 17 games.  Let's start there.  It should be a priority for John MacLean and his staff figure out how to make the proper adjustments after the first period and during the second. It should be a priority for the Captain Jamie Langenbrunner and his teammates to stay motivated and sharp in the second period.  I don't want the Devils to settle for not allowing any goals, not scoring any, and getting outshot - I want them to set the goal of winning the second period.

For the Ottawa take on tonight's game, please visit Silver Seven.  I have a few more thoughts about tonight's game after the jump.

On Wednesday, Lou Lamoriello spoke to the press to emphasize that change isn't on the horizon.  As Tom Gulitti reported:

"We’re staying on our course," Lamoriello said. "You can take that and go whatever way you want to go. We’re here today every one of us. This is our team. Right now what we have to do is look at today. Look at what we can do today to get better and prepared to play against Ottawa. As far as anything else, to me, it’s all speculation."

On Thursday, there was some changes to the Devils' lineup.  As reported by Gulitti, Stephen Gionta and Olivier Magnan-Grenier were placed on waivers.  I expect them to go through.  I'm not sure who would want a fourth line forward or a third-pairing defenseman who each couldn't make their case to stay on an 8-17-2 team.  When they do go through, they can and likely will be re-assigned to Albany.  This leaves the lineup with exactly 12 forwards and 6 defensemen.  Here's my guess as to what it could look like for tonight's game.

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

Colin White - Henrik Tallinder
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Anton Volchenkov- Matthew Corrente

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

That's not a typo. MacLean confirmed to the press (here by Gulitti) that Martin Brodeur would start tonight.  This will be his first action since leaving after the second period of the Toronto game on November 18.  Will it inspire the team?  Did his first return from injury do that?

Tonight's game is also notable for Anton Volchenkov's first game against his former team.   This leaves Johan Hedberg as the final UFA from this summer who has not faced their team from last season so far.  That will end on December 18.

The Ottawa Senators had a fantastic stretch of games from the final week of October through the first week or so of November. A torrid time of form with 6 wins out of 7 games.  Outside of that, they've been getting results not unlike the Devils this season.   As you may expect, the team is filled with talented players who aren't producing as well as you may think.  Here are their top 5 forwards in scoring this season and their stats prior to Thursday's game against the Rangers.

2010 - Daniel Alfredsson 29 8 10 18 -7 4 5 0 1 58 13.8
2010 - Jason Spezza 24 6 9 15 -3 10 1 0 1 68 8.8
2010 - Alex Kovalev 29 7 7 14 -6 8 3 0 3 79 8.9
2010 - Mike Fisher 29 7 4 11 -7 19 1 0 1 65 10.8
2010 - Milan Michalek 25 5 5 10 -4 16 0 1 0 48 10.4

No, it's not great. The team is 28th in the NHL in goals per game with 2.14; and they're not really prolific at shooting with a 27.9 shots per game, the 26th best rate in the league.  I repeat, not a good offense. However, they are at least shooting better than New Jersey, who has exactly two forwards on the team shooting better than 10%: Jason Arnott and Mattias Tedenby.   The Sens faithful can feel good about that their offense has been more productive than their opponent's tonight.  Sometimes, you got to embrace a small victory like that.

The Senators have gotten additional production out of two defensemen: Sergei Gonchar (4 G, 10 A) and Erik Karlsson (4 G, 9 A).  Each has received significant power play time, the highest per-game average on the team (3:47 for Gonchar, 3:18 for Karlsson).  As they should, since Gonchar' has 2 PPG and 8 PPA and Karlsson has 2 PPG and 4 PPA. Not that the Devils should not worry about Daniel Alfredsson or Jason Spezza, but the pointmen have had success on the man advantage this season. The penalty killing forwards should make a point of it to not give them a lot of space to shoot - and create rebounds for the forwards down low.

As a team, though, defense isn't really much of a strength.  Prior to the Rangers game, Ottawa is 23rd in the league in shots allowed per game, with 31.7; the PK has been successful 80.2% of the time, which is  and the team is 21st in goals allowed per game with 2.90.  Since the Sens gave up 5 goals (1 empty-netter, 1 PPG) and 28 shots last night, I doubt those numbers will improve.  No, they aren't pitiful, but they are in the lower third of the league.  Still, I would expect Senators head coach Cory Clouston to put Chris Phillips and Gonchar out against the Devils' top lines.  They just dealt with Marian Gaborik for the most part against New York, surely they can handle a slumping New Jersey team.

Speaking of Clouston, it's my understanding that Kovalev started the game on the fourth line thanks to this post at Silver Seven.  I doubt Jesse Winchester and Peter Regin are top-6 forwards on Ottawa, and that's who Kovalev played with the most at evens last night.   I guess Kovalev is being sent a message?  It'll be interesting to see if he keeps him there for another night or puts an offensive winger with other offensive players.  Per Peter Raaymakers' headlines post from Thursday afternoon, I get the sense that Clouston likes to shuffle lines - and keep them shuffled.  That seems familiar somehow.

It'll also be interesting to see who starts in net. Brian Elliott returned from his injury to start against NY.  Kevin wondered aloud on Twitter whether that means the Devils will see Pascal Leclaire tonight.  That would make some sense, as to not throw Elliott into two straight games. Especially after giving up some bad goals against the Rangers.  Leclaire has been not all that good this season:

2010 - Pascal Leclaire 12 643 2 7 33 3.08 336 303 .902 0

With the Devils' offense not able to fire anything more than blanks, he doesn't have to have a good season. Leclaire just needs to have a good night and the defense in front of him just has to guard the slot with diligence. 

Going back to what the Devils need to do tonight, they need to make some changes to their performance if the current plan is to keep the roster and coaches as they are.  This means they can't flop in the second period, as I noted in The Goal.  This also means they can't get worked in the first period either.  While it seems so basic, the Devils need to do what they can so they can enter the third period with a lead instead of being down a goal.   As we've seen all season, if the Devils are losing at the start of the third period, then we might as well add another "L" in the standings.  Followed by returning to Stage 4 of dealing with more disappointment (and a fourth straight loss) by the Devils.

So win that second period. Win the first too.  Solve some of these internal issues and basic failures (e.g. standing around on defense, not looking out for the other team's top forward).  If only so the Devils faithful all around the world won't have to hope, pray, and plead for some magic to happen to get a badly-needed result tonight.

The Gamethread will be up later, closer to game time.  In the meantime, please feel free to discuss today'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.  Lastly, thank you for reading.  Let's go, Devils.