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Game 61 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Carolina Hurricanes

The Time: 7 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (37-20-3) at the Carolina Hurricanes (23-30-7)

The Last Devils Game: Believe it or not, the Devils were the better team on the ice for most of the night against the Nashville Predators. They attacked early and late, they didn't make too many errors, and when Predators took a 2-1 lead, the Devils responded quickly at 2-2 and didn't let the other team dictate the run of play in the third.  Ilya Kovalchuk scored his first goal as a New Jersey Devil, the game-winner, and Zach Parise scored an intentional power play goal to add to the lead in the third period. The Devils went on to win 5-2 over the Nashville Predators, a win that I had a lot of good things to say about in my recap.

The Last Hurricanes Game:  Believe it or not, the Hurricanes clawed back from down an early two goals by the Buffalo Sabres to tie it all up before the end of the first period.  The two matched efforts and forced an overtime at 3-3.  Sergei Samsonov ended overtime early for a win for the Hurricanes, Carolina's fourth straight win.   The Canes pounded Ryan Miller with shots (35, 6 from Joni Pitkanen), and Brandon Sutter stuck out in particular for scoring the team's first goal and setting up Samsonov for his game-winner.  Bob Harwood Waeghe at Canes Country notes how well the team did, that they are playing like they haven't given up.

The Last Devils-Hurricanes Game:  Back on December 9, the Devils had an excellent first period and followed that up with progressively worse second and third periods.  I'm serious, the Devils went up 3-0 on the Canes and nearly lost the lead with two quick goals in the third period.  The Carolina Hurricanes made the right adjustments as the game went on and had the chance to at least equalize. Thankfully, Rob Niedermayer iced an empty net goal on a penalty kill to ensure a flattering 4-2 score for the Devils.  I expressed my unhappiness with the performance in my recap; for the Carolina's fan perspective, Bob Harwood Waeghe at Canes Country appreciated the team's effort.  The Devils are 2-0 against the Carolina Hurricanes this season.

The Goal:  Make it two straight.  I fully believe tonight's game is important. The Devils did mostly well against Nashville and earned a deserved victory.  Yet, when was the last time the Devils won two straight games? January 12, a shootout win in a double-shutout against Our Hated Rivals; a win that came after a tight one in Montreal on January 8.  Since then, the Devils have struggled to build on their victories, following them up with a loss of sorts.  Going into the Olympic break, the Devils have a chance to end this month at 3-3-1 and, more importantly, end it on a high note.  A loss tonight will be something they very well could dwell on for the next two weeks and that's the last team this needs.  A win will at least give most of the roster more confidence in that break.  I'm not so much concerned with how it's done, the result is more important in my eyes.

I know some may feel that Carolina isn't a good team, isn't worth the effort, but they've been playing really well and given the Devils' recent struggles, no opponent can be discounted.  Tonight's game is big. 

For a take from the Carolina Hurricanes' side of this contest, check out Canes Country.  Their preview is up now. Please read on for my further thoughts on the game.

The New Jersey Devils will likely see a number of changes for tonight's game.  After last night's win, Tom Gulitti learned that Jay Pandolfo was a healthy scratch and will be playing tonight. Fair enough, his scratching of last night's game surprised me.  Given that he won't be playing for the next two weeks, I doubt he needed rest but a message sent of sort.   I suppose that will mean Matthew Corrente is either on defense or scratched.  Most likely the latter considering another Devil probably returning to the lineup.

More surprisingly, Anssi Salmela told Gulitti that he feels fine and will travel with the team to Raleigh.  Given that he sustained a concussion and not long after one sidelined Patrik Elias for three weeks, I'm concerned as to how ready he may be. Then again, unlike Elias, Salmela was skating on Friday; so perhaps he didn't sustain anything too serious to not play?  In any case, if he plays, then I would think Cory Murphy will be scratched.  (UPDATE: Murphy has been sent down to Lowell, per Tom Gulitti.)

You know who won't play? Yann DanisGulitti reported that Jacques Lemaire said that Martin Brodeur will start in net tonight.  If the Devils weren't going into this game with only two wins in their last two weeks, then I'd be unhappy about Danis not starting.  However, I see this game as an important one for the team because they have been struggling.  Therefore, I think the situation behooves Lemaire to play his best players: which means Brodeur's starting.  I'm fine with this.

Positionally, the biggest change might be Patrik Elias moving to center.  In Tom Gulitti's opinion, Elias looked good centering Kovalchuk and Jamie Langenbrunner and that played a big part in Kovalchuk scoring his first goal as a Devil.  Gulitti reported that Lemaire will probably try to use Elias at center again.  I don't doubt Elias' vision or playmaking skills at center.   His defensive work is fine.  It's just that Elias is not good at faceoffs and that's an important aspect of playing center.  If the line looks good and is effective going forward, fine; but the Devils on the ice better be ready to try and take the puck back after most faceoffs.

If the chemistry doesn't work out so well and Elias continually loses faceoffs; expect a shift at some point.  Regardless, I think Lemaire will start with the lines he ended yesterday's game with; only with the addition of Pandolfo.  I'm not so certain about Salmela, but this is just a guess more than anything else:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Dainius Zubrus
Ilya Kovalchuk - Patrik Elias - Jamie Langenbrunner
  Jay Pandolfo - Rob Niedermayer - Brian Rolston
Rod Pelley - Dean McAmmond - Vladimir Zharkov

Andy Greene - Bryce Salvador
Colin White - Mike Mottau
Cory Murphy  Matt Corrente or Anssi Salmela - Mark Fraser

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

Now, consider tonight's opponent.  They are at the bottom end of the Eastern Conference, but you wouldn't know that if you watched them recently.  They beat the Buffalo Sabres twice, the Florida Panthers, and the New York Islanders.  That's a four game winning streak.  Sitting at 53 points (3 behind the Islanders) in fourteenth place, the Canes are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.  The team is being heavily scouted at games for trade options, and Carolina just traded Matt Cullen to Ottawa for Alexandre Picard and a second round draft pick. (By the by: Zach Boychuk has been called up to Carolina to fill in the extra forward spot, per Chip Alexander of Canes Now) Yet, they power on, beating teams, and giving the Hurricane faithful something to get excited over.

The hot players for the Hurricanes are Jussi Jokinen and Ray Whitney.  Whitney continues to do as he does: make plays, pot in a few goals, and set up his teammates for goals.  Something he's done all throughout his career, whilst proving that for some, age really is just a number.  He's got a four-game point streak while continuing to play 18-20 minutes.  Jokinen has been blazing, though, with an eight-game point streak where he has scored six goals and three assists.  Jokinen and Whitney both play on the top line along with captain, point-machine and diving-hobbyist Eric Staal.  Needless to say, the Hurricanes' first line is going to be the biggest challenge for the Devils' defense tonight.

2009 - Jussi Jokinen 59 21 25 46 3 30 8 0 4 0 114 18.4
2009 - Eric Staal 48 20 28 48 0 48 10 0 2 0 193 10.4
2009 - Ray Whitney 58 17 28 45 -1 22 4 0 3 0 122 13.9

I'd also keep an eye on Brandon Sutter.  Sutter played a crucial role with his sharp performance in Carolina's last win, scoring a goal and earning 2 assists.  Sure, it's one good game, but perhaps he uses that as a springboard to another good game tonight. Among the other non-top-line Canes, he's the one that sticks out the most for me given his impressive performance on Thursday.

2009 - Brandon Sutter 51 14 14 28 -1 2 4 0 2 0 120 11.7

The Devils will probably get to see Manny Legace in net tonight. Cam Ward has been injured, but Legace has stepped in real nicely in the last two games with a total of 48 saves over 52 shots in both winning efforts.  He's got to be feeling good coming out of that Buffalo game with a win. Hopefully, he doesn't grow a massive impression of himself (he is only 5'10", but you know what I mean, playing big and all that).    Hopefully, the Devils don't give too many simple shots.

UPDATE: I was quite wrong on this.  Per Canes Country's preview, Justin Peters will get his second NHL start tonight against the Devils.  Make him work, Devils.

2009 - Justin Peters 1 60 1 0 1 1.00 35 34 .971 0

Again, I fully believe tonight is an important game. A second straight win, especially over a hot team like Carolina, would be huge for the Devils.  It'll certainly make us feel a lot more relieved going into the Olympic break.   Join me and Steve in the GameThread later tonight.  In the meantime, please place your comments in this post about tonight's game. Go Devils!