The Time: 7 PM EDT/6 PM CDT
The Broadcast: TV: MSG+ (HD); Radio: 660 AM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (42-25-4) vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets (29-31-12)
The Last Devils Game: The effort was there, the Devils didn't do poorly, but the St. Louis Blues got one shot through and the Devils just couldn't finish on their chances. Sure, it's great they didn't fall flat on their face throughout the game; but a shutout loss is still poor all the same. The Devils lost to the Blues 1-0, here's my recap of the game.
The Last Blue Jackets Game: Just like the Devils, the Blue Jackets lost their last game 1-0. Only it was to the Nashville Predators, they were on the road, and the 1-0 loss came in overtime. According to this post by Aaron Portzline of the Puck-Rakers Blog at the Columbus Dispatch, interim head coach Claude Noel called it a "moral victory." Well, I suppose when you're out of the playoffs, you look for the small victories.
The Goal: Get off to a good start and keep at it. The Columbus Blue Jackets are not the team where rookie goaltender Steve Mason would help steal games en route to a playoff run. Not this season. On paper, Mason's been beaten many times, the Blue Jackets' offense is top-heavy, and they really don't have much to play for. I'm not say the Blue Jackets should be or will be an easy opponent. They are 4-1-1, Mason's numbers look far better under Noel, and the team is giving their youth more of a chance (hat-tip: The Cannon). Still, I doubt the Devils are going to run into the same problems that prevented them from scoring against St. Louis for a second night in a row. According to Tom Gulitti's post from today's practice, the players and coach Jacques Lemaire are aware of wanting to avoid another letdown against a non-playoff opponent. The best way to back up the talk is to start off the game right. Honestly, I didn't think the performance against St. Louis was that bad, just the finishing wasn't there.
For a Columbus-based perspective, check out The Cannon later on. If you'd like to read further about tonight's game, please continue after the jump.
Let's consider the opposition first. Per Aaron Portzline of Puck-Rakers, these were Columbus' lines yesterday.
Kristian Huselius - Antoine Vermette - Rick Nash
R.J. Umberger - Derick Brassard - Jakub Voracek
Chris Clark - Samuel Pahlsson - Andrew Murray
Derek Dorsett - Mike Blunden - Jared Boll
Fedor Tyutin - Marc Methot
Kris Russell - Mike Commodore
Nathan Paetsch - Anton Strahlman
Portzline also stated that Steve Mason will be the starter for tonight's game on Sunday evening.
|2009 - Steve Mason||50||2732||17||22||142||3.12||1394||1252||.898||4|
Now, Noel has put three of his top scorers right on the first line. The most well-known player on the team is Rick Nash, a powerful scorer if there ever was one in the league. But Huselius and Vermette have been productive as well this season. I'm admittedly not sure how well they would work together, but it's a combination I'm sure the Devils will be especially careful when on the ice. I also wouldn't sneeze at the second line of R.J. Umberger - the Blue Jackets' fourth 20+ goal scorer - nor the young talents of Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek, who has 30 assists already. Still, as a whole, the Blue Jackets haven't lit the net as often as they'd like; averaging only 2.57 goals per game (just behind New Jersey's 2.58).
|2009 - Rick Nash||68||30||29||59||-6||52||9||2||5||0||230||13.0|
|2009 - Antoine Vermette||72||22||34||56||1||26||5||1||1||0||139||15.8|
|2009 - Kristian Huselius||64||20||35||55||-6||32||8||1||5||0||140||14.3|
|2009 - R.J. Umberger||72||20||27||47||-15||36||6||1||4||0||193||10.4|
|2009 - Derick Brassard||69||8||23||31||-16||30||3||0||0||0||104||7.7|
|2009 - Jakub Voracek||71||12||30||42||-9||26||4||0||0||0||135||8.9|
Moving on to defense, here, the Blue Jackets are one of 7 teams in the league to average at least 3 goals per game (3.06) while being in the middle of the league in terms of average shots against per game (30.4; 18th in NHL). There is one player that I really like on this unit. While you may be familiar with Mike Commodore, he of the giant red fro-ish hair on the 2006 Carolina Stanley Cup Championship team if not as a former depth defenseman on the Devils, the main man on the Columbus blueline is Fedor Tyutin. The former Rangers prospect is their leader on defense, averaging 23:15 per night and remaining on the top pairing, firing away and picking up points. Fortunately, the Devils aren't a one-line team so it won't be a matter of the same group of forwards trying to beat him over and over to mixed results.
|2009 - Fedor Tyutin||70||5||25||30||-9||45||3||0||2||0||130||3.8|
As for the Devils, first off, I'd like to congratulate the Kovalchuks for the birth of their third child, a boy named Artem. Congratulations to Ilya and Nicole. Kovalchuk (Ilya, not Nicole or Artem) returned to practice today, and according to this report from Gulitti, he was paired with Travis Zajac and Brian Rolston. Really. Personally, I know the object is to fit Kovalchuk in, experiment to see who plays with him the best, and therefore I'm not so bothered by this. Fitting in with a new team is a process, and there's still a little time left to play around.
Still, I'm scratching my head at the combination. A takeaway from the St. Louis game led Lemaire to switch Elias and Zajac? Is the intent to get both Kovalchuk and Rolston going in terms of scoring? Wouldn't Zubrus be a better fit as he's far better than Rolston along the boards and his blend of being huge whilst having some soft hands command more attention than Rolston? I'm sure some are bothered by the fact that Brian Rolston is anywhere on a scoring line. I'm more concerned of how it'll function.
Regardless, if the combination doesn't work, then I'm sure Lemaire will make a change. (Who knows, maybe I'll be dead wrong and Lemaire goes with something completely different tonight.) What he won't change is the defense and that's perfectly fine with me. You may not like seeing Paul Martin next to Martin Skoula of all people; but you cannot deny the success the unit has been having. Have the defense cost the team games due to horrible errors recently? Not really. Has the defense stepped up more on offense now that Martin is back? A little bit, yeah. Does it seem like everyone's communicating well and positioning themselves well most of the time? I would think so. The defense has been stabilized, Martin Brodeur has been more than fine, and so it falls on the offense to make
As I said prior to the jump, the team has spoken publicly about the need for scoring or having a good start, as evidenced by this post at Fire & Ice. Well, now it's time to get out there and doing it at even strength and on the power play (the penalty kill has been superb, they just have to keep on keeping on). There's not a whole lot more you can say about it at this juncture. So here is my wild guess at the Devils' lines for tonight, based on Gulitti's report from Monday's practice (does this mean Vladimir Zharkov gets a shot? I wouldn't complain about that.)
Zach Parise - Patrik Elias - Jamie Langenbrunner
Ilya Kovalchuk - Travis Zajac - Brian Rolston
Dainius Zubrus - Rob Niedermayer - David Clarkson
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond - Dean McAmmond - Vladimir Zharkov
Bryce Salvador - Andy Greene
Colin White - Mike Mottau
Paul Martin - Martin Skoula
Steve will have a GameThread up later. I'll be in my usual seat (5), in my usual row (16), in my usual section (1), hoping for a good performance and result by the Devils. By the way, the Penguins lost on Monday in Detroit. A win would put the Devils at a tie with Pittsburgh in points with a game in hand. If there was ever a time to take an opportunity, now would be it - not that it'll be easy. In any case, please leave all your thoughts, feelings, concerns, corrections, complaints, and news updates (with links) in the comments. Go Devils!