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Game 70 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Toronto Maple Leafs

The Time: 7:30 PM EDT/4:30 PM PDT

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

The Team's Official Watch Party: The Devils are having an official watch party at the Hoboken Bar & Grill.  If you're 21 or older and in the area, why not watch the game with your fellow Devils supporters?  The official site has further details.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (42-24-3) at the Toronto Maple Leafs (24-34-12)

The Last Devils Game: Last night, the New Jersey Devils swept the season series against the Pittsburgh Penguins with a 5-2 win.  The game featured some stout defense, a good game from Martin Brodeur, five different goal scorers, two shorthanded breakaways, one shorthanded goal, and the return of Paul Martin (who scored one of those goals).  All in front of an electric crowd at the Rock.  It was a great game and I still feel great about it: I mean, 6-0 against Pittsburgh!  WHOO!  Here is my recap of that game.

The Last Maple Leafs Game: They may be in dead-last in the East; but don’t tell the Ottawa Senators. The Leafs lit up the Senators in Ottawa 4-1 in a decisive performance among province rivals. Jonas Gustavsson stood tall, and Rickard Wallin scored. PPP at Pension Plan Puppets, like most Leafs fans, had much to be thrilled about Toronto’s win over the "SNES." 

The Last Devils-Maple Leafs Game: So far this season, the games against Toronto have ranged from bad (3-0 in Toronto) to not good but miraculously salvaged. The last game between these two were in that range as the Devils scored three goals in under the last four minutes to turn around a 3-1 deficit to a 4-3 New Jersey win. The game was Ilya Kovalchuk’s debut as a Devil and he wasn’t too bad with two assists. Yet, the heroes of the night were Dean McAmmond, Travis Zajac, and Jay Pandolfo for scoring those late goals to steal a win outright from the Maple Leafs. I recapped the game here.  PPP was disappointed in the loss and how Toronto literally blew it at the end. The Devils are 2-1 against Toronto this season.

The Goal: Wake up, wake up, wake up. Wednesday was a big game with a historic promotion, the return of Paul Martin, the one-year anniversary of history being made on the ice (Martin Brodeur’s 552nd win), and all against a very good division rival that the Devils swept in all 6 games this season. The last time the Devils played the Penguins, they literally faded the next night in Long Island – blowing a good start with horrid puck movement and unable to catch up. The Devils have been very poor on the road as of late with only one road win in this month and losing their last three road games. While the team has looked far better at the Rock, if they want get back to winning ways away from the Rock, then they’re going to find something left in them to get up for this one. Toronto may be in last place in the East, but as the Senators would be happy to tell you, that really doesn’t mean anything in a game. The Devils shouldn’t have to even ask – just recall their other three games against them from this season should suffice.

Check out Pension Plan Puppets for a Toronto-based perspective on tonight’s game. Read on after the jump for some brief further thoughts about the game.

Now, with the game taking place right after a win, it's not very clear what the Devils will do.  Per Tom Gulitti's post-game post about Paul Martin, Jacques Lemaire had this to say:

Martin would now hopes to play again Thursday night in Toronto. He is flying with the team tonight to Toronto. Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said this morning that Martin "probably" would not play Thursday because he thought it would be difficult for him to play on consecutive nights after such a long layoffs.

Lemaire seemed to be wavering on that after tonight’s game, though.

"We haven’t decided that yet," Lemaire said. "We’ll just talk briefly about it and then we’ll get the decision either on our way there or tomorrow morning."

When I asked Lemaire if Martin’s play tonight was making him think about changing his mind, he replied. "I just don’t know."

Incidentally, Martin himself would like to play, but it's not his call.   So whether or not Martin plays tonight is a good question.  He did play well in his 18:05 of ice time.  All but a minute of it was on even strength.  If the issue is rust, then playing him tonight would help in that regard. If it's fatigue, resting him for Saturday wouldn't be a bad idea. Besides, I'm sure either Anssi Salmela or Mark Fraser would jump at the chance to make a case to play for Lemaire.

The other issue is at goaltender: who will be starting in net for New Jersey?  Martin Brodeur had a good workout with 26 shots against Pittsburgh, some difficult, some easy.  given that the Devils have only won one road game this month and that they fell apart on Long Island last Saturday, maybe playing Brodeur wouldn't be such a bad idea.  I think winning the game is more important than some may realize because of the Devils' own recent road woes and the trouble they've had with Toronto this season.  I'd like to see Yann Danis get the start to spell Brodeur in the back-to-back anyway.  Most of those struggles have come from the play on the ice, not necessarily the play by the goaltender.  Besides, Brodeur did pretty well against Boston after the two days of rest.  Of course, according to this post-game post by Gulitti, Lemaire isn't saying. 

The only other lineup changes I can anticipate for New Jersey may be on the fourth line. Toronto's "truculence" may behoove Lemaire to insert some beef (e.g. Leblond) into the lineup.  Rod Pelley got a major penalty for shoving Alex Goligoski in the numbers into the boards; he could possibly see a suspension for the move.  It was similar to what Alex Ovechkin did to Brian Campbell, fortunately without the injury.  If that happens, perhaps we could see Vladimir Zharkov back in the lineup for Pelley (which is what I'd favor). Or just some more beef.  If Pelley's not suspended, then by all means, he should play - he has done well recently, dangerous hit aside.  

That all said, I'm going to wildly guess at this lineup for the Devils. Expect this to be wrong by Thursday afternoon.  I may be so bold to suggest the top 6 forwards are beginning to "click" with each other in spite of variations from game to game.

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

Bryce Salvador - Andy Greene
Colin White - Mike Mottau
Paul Martin - Martin Skoula

Yann Danis
Martin Brodeur

As for Toronto, it's clear from the standings that their goal is to finish as well as possible to avoid handing the Boston Bruins a really high draft pick in the first round.  Brian Burke is still rebuilding the team and how each player performs will speak largely as to whether they'll stick around after this season.  So forget where they are in the standings; they're looking at this game as a chance to impress the coaches and management.  I reiterate that a lackadaisical performance or letting the game slip away during a period largely due to, say, bad passing is only going to lead to a ruin against the Maple Leafs.   If the recent loss to the Islanders has taught the team, if not us, the fans, anything it's that there are absolutely no easy games in the NHL.

There are definitely a few players on Toronto who will not make this easy for New Jersey.  Phil Kessel is back at frightening defenses and goaltenders with his skill, he's got 4 goals and 3 assists in his last 5 games.  He's had at least 4 shots in each of those 5 games and has put up as many as 7 in two of them.  Sure, Frederick Sjostrom will be back in the lineup according to this video at the team's official website; but Kessel is truly the man at forward that will command much of the focus for the Devils. They shut down Sidney Crosby, but Kessel's recent form may make him more of a challenge to contain, much less stop.

2009 - Phil Kessel 58 26 23 49 -5 17 8 0 5 0 257 10.1

In net, Jonas Gustavsson has also done pretty well as of late. He's won four games in row. He looked very good in his last start against Ottawa.  Will he start tonight?  I don't know.  I wouldn't be surprised if the Devils see Jean-Sebastian Giguere instead. Giguere shut the Devils out the last time New Jersey visited the ACC.  He's certainly talented enough to get the Leafs through it.  Either way, the Devils' forwards aren't going to have an easy time with either the hotter goalie (Gustavsson) or the veteran who has seen all of these guys except for Kovalchuk on New Jersey earlier this season (Giguere).

2009 - Jonas Gustavsson 36 1971 13 13 97 2.95 974 877 .900 1
2009 - Jean-Sebastien Giguere 29 1654 7 13 82 2.97 850 768 .904 3

Until the GameThread is up, please leave all your thoughts, complaints, criticisms, concerns, news updates (with links), corrections, and other feelings about tonight's game here. This means when the GameThread is up, go there for comments.  Let's hope the Devils have enough left in the tank to beat Toronto tonight and finally get the current 3-game road losing streak put to bed. Thanks for reading. Go Devils!