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Game 56 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

The Time: 7 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (35-18-2) vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs (18-28-11)

The Last Devils Game, The Last Leafs Game, & The Last Devils-Leafs Game: These two teams just played each other on Tuesday, which was the night Dion Phaneuf and Jean-Sebastien Giguere made their debuts for a completely revamped Toronto squad.  Phaneuf threw some hits, Giguere wasn't really challenged at all, and the Toronto offense managed to score twice off of rebounds and once on a power play from a long range shot through Yann Danis' legs. The Leafs would go on to win 3-0.  The score was entirely deserved. The Devils basically skated like they were in mud, no line combination spurred the offense to actually get the puck into the slot, and the Leafs basically outplayed New Jersey for all 60 minutes.  Even the Leafs penalty kill looked good.

The Devils played so poorly in that game, it reminded me of the 3-0 loss to Ottawa, and just disappointed me in general.  The Leafs fans were properly ecstatic with the win.  PPP at Pension Plan Puppets was left wondering whether the win will be the start of something great building in Toronto.

The Goal: Do the exact opposite of what happened on Tuesday, Devils. You should be good to go then.  Also, um, there's this new player in town.  Maybe he'll help out?

More on that and other thoughts on tonight's game after the jump.  For a Toronto fan's take, please check out Pension Plan Puppets.

Yes, the Devils officially made a big move last night. The New Jersey Devils traded Johnny Oduya, Nicklas Bergfors, prospect Patrice Cormier, a 2010 first round pick, and a 2010 second round pick to the Atlanta Thrashers for Anssi Salmela, a 2010 second round pick, and, oh yeah, ILYA KOVALCHUK.   Here's the official press release from the Devils' official web site.

2009 - Ilya Kovalchuk 49 31 27 58 1 45 10 0 3 0 179 17.3

From the conference call from the Devils, Lou Lamoriello stated that Kovalchuk would make his debut tonight and Salmela will be available for the lineup, per Gulitti.  If you want my take, here's the post I made about it yesterday, as news was updated.  My last reaction came at the bottom.  Now, I am fully aware that I said in prior places - in this FanPost I made about a hypothetical trade for Kovalchuk and this more recent FanPost about rumors for Kovalchuk - that I didn't think the Devils would do such a deal.  I didn't think the Devils had the assets and that the Devils needed another winger.

On the other hand, I also didn't think it would only take Oduya, Bergfors, Cormier, and two picks to bring Kovalchuk to the Rock.  With all due respect to Thrashers fans, Lou pretty much fleeced Atlanta GM Don Waddell.   Kovalchuk is clearly one of the best scorers in the world of hockey and all it took was a guy who was starting games next to Mark Fraser, a rookie who hasn't scored in weeks, a prospect, and picks?  For a player who could seriously help the Devils with scoring goals?  You have to make that deal.  It may be a rental, but it's a bold, bold move that doesn't kill the Devils' future.  I'm more than willing to be a hypocrite about Kovalchuk here - if it leads to wins.

If you're not sure what Kovalchuk can bring to the Devils, here's a highlight video from the Devils' official website:

Yeah, I think he can bring something to the table.

So what about tonight?  Kovalchuk will certainly want to do well and make a statement to Devils fans to say that he's come to New Jersey to play.  What about the rest of the team? Are they ready to try and make Giguere work for his money tonight?  Is the now-Oduya-less defense ready to do a better job covering Leafs?  Will we see some "beef" in the lineup to try and "protect" a certain big-hitting defenseman target a few Devils?  As much as I like the move now (because it was so much cheaper than I expected)

From Thursday's practice, Patrik Elias was on the ice and worked out like everyone else; though Gulitti did report that Jacques Lemaire said he wasn't ready yet.  Fine.  With the addition of Kovalchuk, the Devils shouldn't need to rush Elias back.  (Though can you imagine the two with each other? That's a pleasant thought.)  It's just good to see he's progressing further and could be ready soon.   To the surprise of no one, Martin Brodeur will start in net as reported by Gulitti.

We could see something like this tomorrow night.  Absent a call up from Lowell, the defense should see Anssi Salmela return to New Jersey and join Mark Fraser on the third pairing.  Meaning, I hope Greene, Salvador, White, and Mottau are ready to have good games on the blueline. This is just my wild guess at the lineup (don't be surprised if you see some Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk and if we do, I'm going to be thrilled).

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

Andy Greene - Bryce Salvador
Colin White - Mike Mottau
  Anssi Salmela - Mark Fraser

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

As for the Leafs? Well, given how much they moved on Sunday, I don't think they're going to look much different from what we saw on Tuesday.  If anything, they're going to feel real good about tonight's game.  They have the confidence from not just shutting out the Devils, but from getting a big win in general.  For Giguere and Phaneuf, it helps them acclimate themselves with the new team much more easily.  For head coach Ron Wilson, it gives him an idea as to what does work with his changed line up, so he has a plan in place. For the forwards, they won't necessarily feel so worried about who is going to step up to lead the offense.  And the fans feel like they have something to look forward to in Toronto.

I'm sorry it's not much, but again, these two teams have played each other twice within the span of a week, with a third game happening today.   Granted, the trades have changed things prior to each game, so in a way, there's no way of fully knowing of what to expect.  Hopefully, the Devils as a whole play a strong game, Kovalchuk looks good in his debut, and the Devils can earn a (REVENGE) win before playing Our Hated Rivals tomorrow.

I'll be in Section 1, Row 16, Seat 5, my usual spot, for the game. Steve should have a GameThread prepared for the game closer to gametime. I'll attempt to comment via mobile phone.  In the meantime, please leave all your thoughts, feelings, concerns, and complaints about tonight's game as well as of any news updates (provide a link if you do!) in the comments.  Thanks for reading.  Go Devils!