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Game 29 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Detroit Red Wings

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (8-18-2) vs. the Detroit Red Wings (18-6-3)

The Coat Drive: If you're going to the game tonight, then please bring a new or gently used coat with you. Even if the Devils don't succeed, you can succeed at helping someone in need.

The Last Devils Game: While the Devils did a number of things right and praise-worthy, it wasn't enough to defeat the Ottawa Senators.  The road losing streak continued with a 3-2 loss, something I covered in some detail in my recap.

The Last Red Wings Game: Normally, the Detroit Red Wings don't let their opponents put up 30 shots on net. But last night, they weathered a storm from the Montreal Canadiens in the third period.  Jimmy Howard was up to the task in stopping all 19 third-period shots, and it ended 4-2 for Detroit last night. Casey Richey has a recap of the game up at Winging it in Motown.  For an analytical take, J.J. has a CSSI report on the game.

The Goal: Yesterday, I stated that the goal was to win the second period. While it was one of their better second periods all season, they didn't exactly win it.  Plus, they were down going into it.  The Devils haven't been able to comeback from a small lead in the third period all season (with one exception). Detroit's too good of a team to try and come back from a one-goal deficit by the third period.   Therefore, I think the goal should be, once again, to win that second period and not go into it down.  Winning at the start of the second and third would be desirable and ideal.  That said, I would have no qualms at keeping it 0-0 by the third period against a team as talented as Detroit.

For a Detroit perspective, please visit Winging it in Motown.  For further thoughts on tonight's game from my perspective, please continue after the jump.

The key word for Detroit is possession.  Mike Babcock says it's everything, and their team is dominant at 5-on-5 when it comes to Corsi.  JLikens has been updating the team Corsi rates throughout the season for close games and adjusting for it strength of schedule.  In his latest iteration, Detroit remains among the top in the league. 

On the individual level, the Red Wings players largely make the puck go in their direction at evens.  Look at the on-ice Corsi rates at Behind the Net for Detroit and try and keep your jaw from dropping.  An astounding 7 players have rates over 10: Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom, Justin Abdelkader, Pavel Datsyuk, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, and all 7 games of Doug Janik.   That's a group including guys who play against tough competition (Zetterberg and Datsyuk), defensemen who aren't with Nicklas Lidstrom all the time (Rafalski, Kronwall), and depth players who play weak competition (Abdelkader).    Flipping the script, only three players have negative on-ice Corsi rates: 2 games of Kris Draper, Brad Stuart (who plays fairly tough competition), and Valtteri Filppula (who has 7 goals and 9 assists anyhow).

Even if the Devils somehow stop or contain Datsyuk and Zetterberg (likely by hoping both don't show up tonight), they still have to deal with Johan Frazen (13 goals), Dan Cleary (12 goals), Todd Bertuzzi (5 goals and 14 assists) among others.   This is where I usually list the stat-lines of all of these players, but I think it'll be easier on both of us to just look at the Detroit player stats page at  A dazzling array of points from all kinds of players. 

For a Devils defense that hasn't been too bad, one or two mistakes (which seem to happen at some point for NJ) will almost certainly come up when Detroit repeatedly gets the puck in the Devils' end.   That Detroit has a diverse group of players driving the play and putting up points means they can't just focus on one group or player; they need to be vigilant throughout the game.  And that's really hard to do if the New Jersey offense can't keep the opposition honest unless they're down in the game.

And then there's Nicklas Lidstrom.  He's 40.  I repeat: he's 40 years old.  And he's arguably one of the best defensemen in the league this season.  His on-ice Corsi is only 3.57, but he's still facing the other team's best players (Qual Comp of 0.082) and logging heavy minutes with an average ice time of 23:58, the highest on the team.   If you're a defenseman or you want to see greatness, then keep an eye on #5 throughout the game.  He can simply command a game from the blueline.  Oh, and he's a producer with 4 goals and 18 assists, too.   He's 40. You're not going to believe it when you watch him, but these are supposed to be his down years.  And he's still a stud #1 defenseman in this league along with being one of the greatest ever to have played the game of hockey. If nothing else, try to appreciate what he'll do to the slumping New Jersey offense that will likely see him for 23-26 minutes tonight.

I was worried about the Captials a few weeks back.  But Detroit frightens me more.  I want to be optimistic, but this team is just so built with talent and strikes with ruthless efficiency.  Because they have the puck so much, they are able to fire away with 33.1 shots per game (3rd best in the NHL) while only allowing 29.3 shots per game (12th best). With an average shot differential that large, it's no surprise that Detroit has put up an average of 3.41 goals per game (2nd in NHL) while only allowing 2.63 goals per game (10th in the NHL).  Their power play is solid at 20.5% (10th in the NHL) and their PK is tight at 85.3% (7th in the NHL).   No wonder their goaltenders don't need to be big-name players; they just have to be good enough.  And Jimmy Howard is more than just good enough (Chris Osgood, not so much):

2010 - Jimmy Howard 22 1310 16 4 55 2.52 655 600 .916 2
2010 - Chris Osgood 5 303 2 2 14 2.77 128 114 .891 0

Possession is everything.  And that drives their success.  It's why I respect Detroit so much.  Even when Lidstrom hangs it up, they will unsurprisingly remain contenders for years to come.  They have stuck to their ways, their ways usually lead to wins in hockey games, they have management and coaches who understand this, and they got some excellent talent to continue doing what they have been for over a decade now.

As of this writing, I don't know who will start in net for both teams.  The Devils should be hoping for Chris Osgood, but who knows if they'll get him. And who knows if they'll crack him given how bad the Devils have been shooting all season. Moving over to the Devils side, I wouldn't be surprised if John MacLean rolls the same lines and pairings from last night. 

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

There haven't been any changes to the line-up and the team performance wasn't all that bad, so I wouldn't mind it.  Plus, I don't know what the Devils can do line-wise to handle Detroit. 

I wouldn't mind Martin Brodeur or Johan Hedberg being in net.  Brodeur was fine last night and he should be well-rested as he didn't play any games prior to last night for a few weeks.  Plus, given the level of opponent, having your best goaltender play is usually a good idea. That said, Hedberg may get the call and I wouldn't mind.  If you figure this game is a long-shot as I do, then let Marty have the night off.  Hedberg has done fine against Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, anyway.  He's used to being shelled.

More cynically, it may not matter who is in net, because the Devils will have to play one of their best hockey games of the season to have a chance against the top team in the Western Conference.

Or, as with the 5-0 Washington game, hope the opposition will come out flat, be out of sync for most of the game, and play well below their potential.   I highly doubt Mike Babcock and his crew will allow that even if they did win last night.  You don't get to 18-6-3 by settling for wins, you do it by trying to improve even when you do win. And after that third period, you can bet on Detroit improving by either doing what they can to put the game out of reach early or to really clamp down in the third period if/when they have a lead then.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope the Devils do try to win those first two periods. I hope that this is the proverbial "trap game" for Detroit. I hope I can see an increasingly rare Devils win at the Rock.  While my heart will hope, my head isn't expecting a lot, sad to say.  Such are the 2010-11 New Jersey Devils.

The Gamethread will be up later, closer to game time. I'll be commenting from time to time from my seat in Section 1, Row 16, Seat 5, for what it's worth.  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.