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Game 68 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Boston Bruins

The Time: 7 PM EST/4 PM PST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (40-24-3) vs. the Boston Bruins (30-25-12)

The Last Devils Game: After an emotional win over Pittsburgh, a letdown on Long Island. The Devils struggled through the second period to let the game go into the Islanders' hands. An attempt at a comeback in the third period was thwarted by the one-two punch of an nonthreatening power play and the concession of a shorthanded goal. The Devils lost 4-2 and I wrote that the loss a "step back" for the team in my recap.

The Last Bruins Game: The Bruins took on their hard rivals in Montreal and were decisively defeated by the Canadiens. Boston started off the game slowly, paid for it twice, and Montreal tacked on another in the third which ultimately held up. The Bruins lost 3-2, here is the recap from Stanley Cup of Chowder.

The Last Devils-Bruins Game: Way back on November 27, the Devils traveled to Boston for a very close game. Goaltenders Martin Brodeur and Tuukka Rask were the stars, stepping up to block many shots. Only one beat them in regulation and a shootout was required to decide the winner. Jamie Langenbrunner beat Rask five-hole in the shootout for New Jersey to leave Boston with two points. The game was also notable as Martin Brodeur became the NHL career leader in minutes played in that game, surpassing Patrick Roy. The Devils are currently 2-0 against Boston this season. Here is my recap from that game, and here is a short one at Stanley Cup of Chowder.

The Goal: Puck movement needs to be consistent and on-target. While there is much ado and frustration over the Devils' power play, the baser problem of puck movement plagued the Devils against the Islanders. From the final 3 minutes or so of the first period and all throughout the second period, the Devils just struggled to get the puck into the neutral zone, much less keep it within it and go into the offensive zone. The struggles got worse as the second wore on and the Islanders, surprising no one, took advantage and ultimately struck the goals needed to win the game.

Let's put it this way: were the Devils as inconsistent and ineffective in passing or clearing the puck against the Rangers or Pittsburgh, games that the Devils won? No. The Devils were able to move the puck effectively for the most part through all three periods. I don't think that's coincidence. Therefore, the Devils should make the effort to not only make smart reads with the puck, but actually pass it effectively. Otherwise, forget about the power play, we could very well see a repeat of what happened on Long Island.

Check out Stanley Cup of Chowder later for a Bruins' perspective on today's game. Read on for my further thoughts after the jump.

The Boston Bruins are currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, looking to secure that spot for themselves. They have two games in hand on ninth-place Rangers and a lead of one point. Needless to say, this game will be important for them to keep the blueshirts at bay. However, as much as I hate the Rangers, I don't want the Devils to drop this game - they have the Penguins to catch.

Boston is a team that just struggles to score goals. At 167, they have the lowest goals for total in the entire NHL. They do average 31 shots on net per game, the tenth highest in the league; yet they have only averaged 2.36 goals per game. Either their players have awful luck or their shots aren't challenging enough on a regular basis. To make matters worse, they are still without playmaking center Marc Savard, who was literally (and cruelly) knocked out by Matt Cooke. Savard remains out with a concussion. Yet, with Savard, the Bruins are truly a scoring-by-committee team.

This doesn't mean they can't light up an opponent when given the chance, just ask the Philadelphia Flyers about last Thursday's game where the B's torched them 5-1. Moreover, a scoring-by-committee team can just as easily mean that there are multiple forwards to be concerned with as opposed to not having to be too concerned by their offense.

2009 - Patrice Bergeron 59 14 29 43 4 24 0 1 3 0 145 9.7
2009 - Marco Sturm 61 21 14 35 12 28 4 1 2 0 165 12.7
2009 - David Krejci 64 13 23 36 -4 24 5 0 2 0 116 11.2
2009 - Blake Wheeler 67 16 19 35 -9 43 3 0 2 0 133 12.0
2009 - Mark Recchi 67 14 21 35 0 30 8 0 1 0 116 12.1
2009 - Michael Ryder 67 15 12 27 0 33 6 0 1 0 162 9.3

These are the 10+ goal scorers on Boston, minus Savard. Take them as you will. Hopefully, New Jersey will take them all seriously regardless of your opinion.

Still, the big test for the Devils tonight will be trying to break through the Bruins' goaltending, which has been excellent this season. Boston has only allowed an average of 2.43 goals per game, tied for the fourth lowest average in the league, thanks to the tandem of Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask. In my opinion, it doesn't matter much who is in net as both have played well enough to worth concern.

2009 - Tim Thomas 39 2271 15 16 95 2.51 1127 1032 .916 4
2009 - Tuukka Rask 32 1825 15 9 65 2.14 888 823 .927 3

As for the Devils, expect Martin Brodeur to start this one since he got the night off on Saturday. Two players to keep an eye on will be Patrik Elias and Bryce Salvador. While the Devils practiced yesterday, both Elias and Salvador weren't there - they were "resting," as reported by Rich Chere. Well, Elias hasn't been invisible as of late - do we already forget the Pittsburgh game on Friday - but he also hasn't dominated. Maybe the rest will re-charge him a little bit. As for Salvador, he's hasn't been himself since the games before the break. He was the one defenseman who was playing well for the most part before the break. Since after the break, he's been slow to react at times, caught out of position on others, and he's made some horrible decisions in his own zone when he had the puck. Of the two, I really hope the rest cures whatever has been ailing Salvador.

I will blindly guess that the Devils don't make any other lineup changes beyond who starts tonight. We might see Parise and Kovalchuk flipped as seen from the third period from Saturday's game, but I'm not certain. I know Boston likes to play with an enforcer (Shawn Thornton) and perhaps Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (not Andrew Peters) gets a spot in response. But I'm going to guess otherwise given how well they handled themselves in real physical game with Pittsburgh from Friday. Good thing the following is just a guess:

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

Bryce Salvador - Andy Greene
Colin White - Mike Mottau
Anssi Salmela - Martin Skoula

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

Again, in my opinion, the key is simple: the puck movement needs to be on point for good things to happen for the Devils. Otherwise, it has been and will continue to lead to a slippery slope down to bad things happening for the Devils.

Check out Stanley Cup of Chowder later on for the Boston perspective. Steve will have a GameThread up later today. In the meantime, please place all your complaints, concerns, thoughts, feelings, news updates (with links, of course), and corrections in the comments. Go Devils!