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Game 30 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Phoenix Coyotes

Strive for more than just "not being the Islanders," Devils. Get a win. Otherwise, the retort will soon be "Yeah, you're worse than the Isles! BOOOOM" (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Strive for more than just "not being the Islanders," Devils. Get a win. Otherwise, the retort will soon be "Yeah, you're worse than the Isles! BOOOOM" (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty Images

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (8-19-2) vs. the Phoenix Coyotes (14-8-6)

The Toys for Tots Drive is Friday:  So bring a toy to Friday's game and make a kid happy.

The Last Devils Game:  The Detroit Red Wings came in and played a lot like the Red Wings. The New Jersey Devils only looked good on special teams, but it was another night of ill feelings and bad 5-on-5 hockey at the Rock. The Devils lost 4-1, their fifth straight in miserable fashion.

The Last Coyotes Game:  The Phoenix Coyotes took on the then-Pacific Division leading Dallas Stars and proceeded to put on a decisive performance. 3 goals in the first period, Shane Doan put up a brace, and Phoenix held Dallas to only 2 en route to a 5-3 win. Jordan Ellel at Five for Howling has this short recap of the game.

The Goal: Given that the Devils have given up 2 goals in the first 2 minutes of their last 2 home games, the Devils can at least strive to come out strong.  Or at least not be halfway buried by 5 minutes into the first period.  Yeah, some of those 4 goals were soft, but it's not like the guys in front of the goaltenders had a lot of pep in their skates in those games.  A hot start would be great, but given the last two games at the Rock, even a fairly-warm start would be a big improvement.  From there on, the Devils can manage the game as best as we hope they can.

Of course, getting more pucks in zone #1 would be helpful too.  Small steps, though, small steps.

I have a few more thoughts about tonight's game after the jump.  For a Phoenix take, please visit Five for Howling.

There's a new addition to the 2010-11 New Jersey Devils: Anssi Salmela.  OK, you've seen him before, but not yet this season. After suffering from a torn meniscus and ACL in May, Salmela is finally cleared to play.  As per Tom Gulitti's report from practice this morning, he will be activated for tonight's game.  I fully expect him to get limited minutes on the third pairing, taking Matthew Corrente's spot, so he's eased back to game action.  I know he's had two games with Albany for conditioning purposes, but the NHL is a far different level and requires additional adjustment. 

Speaking of Corrente, he and Alexander Vasyunov were sent down to Albany on Sunday.  I can understand both moves. Corrente hasn't played well on defense in recent games, and there's not a lot of sense of keeping Vasyunov on a fourth line. Interestingly, Mark Fayne remains with the team.  Hopefully, he'll not get as much or more time than Anton VolchenkovThe Devils did call up Tim Sestito on Tuesday to replace Vasyunov's spot.   I really wish they'd give Vladimir Zharkov a chance by now; he's done it before at this level, and he could do so much more than Sestito could. Alas, it is not to be.

What was surprising is that Brian Rolston was placed on waivers yesterday.  Kevin's had this fine post and reaction to the move. Clearly, the plan is to hope A) there's a really dumb GM to snag Rolston on waivers and take his entire contract or B) there's a less dumb GM looking to snag Rolston on re-entry waivers for half of his salary.  The latter scenario would mean the Devils would eat half of Rolston's salary, but given how little Rolston has done for New Jersey this season and how any cap relief is welcomed, it's not a terrible gambit.  We'll know later today whatever happens. Should Rolston go elsewhere, there would have to be another forward called up to take his spot (Vasyunov?).

At least it's official that Martin Brodeur will be starting.  That much is clear, per Gulitti on Tuesday.  Now, if the team can play with something resembling being on the same page from the start of the game, that would be a very good first step.  If the Devils can continue their recent success on the power play (6 PPGs in the last 4 games!), that would be a fine second step.  Then figure out the next few steps at even strength.  Examples: A sensible breakout where a defenseman has a relatively close option in case the forecheck brings too much heat.  Linemates of forwards who like to carry the puck over the blueline (Ilya Kovalchuk, Mattias Tedenby) getting in positions to give those guys outs if necessary.  Looking for a second or third pass for closer shots instead of settling for a point shot - shown here by Matt - from an unproductive group of defenseman, as shown here by Tom yesterday.  Small steps, but important ones to improve a 5-on-5 game that badly needs it and to snap a 5 game losing streak.

Now, let's talk about the Phoenix Coyotes.  They sure love Shane Doan and why not?  Dude's powerful and scores all kinds of goals.

2010 - Shane Doan 18 4 8 12 -4 25 3 0 1 50 8.0

OK, not many so far this season.  But Doan is among many other 'Yotes when it comes to production, one of 13 players with at least 10 points.  While no one has more than 8 goals scored, the team as a whole averages 2.86 goals per game (13th best in the NHL).  It's a true scoring-by-committee team, and that's not a backhanded compliment.  What it means is that the Devils can't just key on any one player or line because the scoring can come from Lauri Korpikoski, Lee Stempniak, Scottie Upshall, or any other number of forwards.

The two most impressive forwards on this year's team are the two Coyotes who have faced the toughest competition at 5-on-5 hockey this season, per Behind the Net: Martin Hanzal and Ray Whitney.

2010 - Martin Hanzal 22 7 3 10 3 20 3 0 3 56 12.5
2010 - Ray Whitney 26 4 16 20 2 12 1 0 0 51 7.8

Hanzal is a big man who's used to playing against the opposition's best players for multiple seasons now.  What's more is that he has gotten the puck forward regardless; a great defensive forward.  The Devils' top players should expect to see a lot of him, and they should be wary if given enough time with the puck.  7 goals isn't exactly wondrous, but he's just as much as part of the scoring committee as any other 'Yote.

Whitney is the team's leading scorer and I was honestly surprised he has such a high qualcomp at evens (0.163). If you've been familiar with Carolina in recent seasons, then you know what Whitney's all about.  For those who haven't, the biggest thing you need to know is that he's basically a straw that stirs the drink.  He's got a good enough shot, but his bread and butter are his passing skills.  He can make sweet plays and move pucks through seams as well as anyone in this league.  While no one on Phoenix has stepped up to be the main goal scorer, it doesn't matter for Whitney: he'll be feeding pucks for shots all night long. 

While keeping an eye on Hanzal and Whitney, you also want to pay attention to the defense.  In general, Phoenix has been pretty generous in giving up shots. The team averages 33.3 shots against per game, the 25th best team in the NHL in that category.  A quick look at the even strength numbers at Behind the Net shows that the only  Phoenix defender with a positive qualcomp with a reduction in shots against per 60 when he comes on the ice is: Adrian Aucoin.  This isn't to say Keith Yandle, Ed Jovanovski, and Derek Morris are wastes of space.  Just that the D isn't so strong.  At least they have an excellent defensive forward in Hanzal helping them out.

Since they haven't played since Saturday like New Jersey, I would think Ilya Bryzgalov would be in net for Phoenix.  In two out of his last three seasons in the desert, he's put up a save percentage of at least 92%, which is quite good.  And right now, he's on pace to make it three for four.

2010 - Ilya Bryzgalov 25 1466 12 5 62 2.54 792 730 .922 2

Yep, another very talented goaltender.  Truthfully, the market for goaltenders has been saturated with talent so a lot of teams have good goalies.  Besides, when a team is shooting at about 6% or less like the Devils, then pretty much any goaltender is going to prove a challenge to beat.  Given the nature of the Coyotes so far, tonight will be a tough one.

Of course, when a team is 8-19-2 going into their thirtieth game, they're all difficult games.

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 (or corrections via new information), then please do so in the comments with a link to the source. Lastly, thank you for reading. Let's go, Devils.