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Game 74 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Montreal Canadiens

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT/4:00 PM PDT

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

The Official Watch Party: Are you over 21 and looking to watch the game with other Devils fans? Rella's Italian Tavern in Brielle, NJ will be hosting the Devils' official watch party.  Check the official site for details.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (43-25-5) at the Montreal Canadiens (37-30-8)

The Last Devils Game:  There wasn't much that the Devils did wrong against the New York Rangers on Thursday.  The offense made shots, the defense bended without breaking too much, but they couldn't pull away from the Rangers enough to prevent the opposition from equalizing late. The game went to a shootout where the Rangers won the game, officially at 4-3.  I recapped the game here.

The Last Canadiens Game: After a heart-breaker of a loss in Buffalo, the Canadiens hosted the Florida Panthers and decisively defeated them 4-1.  They took advantage of some poor play by the Panthers, their penalty killers were great in forcing Florida to go 0-for-5 on the man advantage, and didn't fold when they conceded a late goal. Not bad, and now Les Habs are 7-1-2 in their last 10. Robert L was less sympathetic in his take, focusing on how individual Canadiens didn't perform as well as he'd like.

The Last Devils-Canadiens Game: Back at the Rock, amid the struggles, the Devils took on Montreal on January 22.  While there were some good takeaways from the game and a sweet breakaway goal by Zach Parise to start the game, Montreal's Jaroslav Halak was the man of the moment - stopping nearly everything and the kitchen sink the Devils threw at him.  Alas, some bad breaks and a bad game by Mike Mottau helped Montreal manage to get three past Martin Brodeur and leave New Jersey with a 3-1 win.  At the time, I called it a "step back" for the Devils in my recap.  As for the Montreal perspective, Robert L had this "monologue" by Georges Laraque in what he called a "surprising" win for Montreal at Habs Eyes on the Prize.  The Devils are 2-1 against the Canadiens this season.

The Goal:  Play like you're at home, Devils.  The New Jersey Devils absolutely need a road win this weekend.   Their last road win was back on March 2 against San Jose. They've lost four straight on the road to the likes of Calgary, Edmonton, the Islanders, and Toronto.  Now the Devils will take on a potential first-round opponent in Montreal, who will be motivated by virtue of being at home and playing for position.  They need to play like they have been at home, where even in their losses they looked pretty good on the ice.   But in those four road games, well, let's just say the performances have left a lot to be desired.  That's got to change tonight and it has to stay changed for tomorrow.  Some fans are already thinking about playoffs, and I want those fans to pay attention. If the Devils can't sort out their road woes starting tonight, then it's going to be a short postseason.

Check out Robert L for analysis and history about the Canadiens at Habs Eyes on the Prize. For  Canadiens news, check out Habs Inside/Out.   If you want my additional thoughts on tonight's game, please continue after the jump.


As I mentioned in my recap yesterday, the offense had a very strong game.  38 shots on net, the power play put 6 good shots on net, the penalty killers had two great chances, and they scored three great goals.  The top two lines clicked very well, so much so that I wouldn't be surprised if Jacques Lemaire ran the same lineup as he did on Thursday.   If the forwards can skate through the neutral zone and keep tearing through the defense like that again, then I would expect a far more favorable outcome.  Unless Montreal's Jaroslav Halak (I think he'll start, but nothing's confirmed as of this writing) or Carey Price decide to be brilliant.


2009 - Jaroslav Halak 39 2264 24 11 91 2.41 1195 1104 .924 3
2009 - Carey Price 40 2299 13 19 107 2.79 1217 1110 .912 0

It's a good idea to expect them to be, given how this season series has went.   All of the games have been fairly close so far this season: 2-1 Devils win in November, 2-1 Devils overtime win in January, and a 3-1 Devils loss later in January.   While we'd like the Devils to keep on attacking, it'll be up to the defense to be vigilant at all points of the game.   I wouldn't worry about Martin Brodeur because Montreal's rink usually turns out to be his whenever he plays there.  Once again, his lifetime stats against Montreal:

Lifetime vs. Montreal - Martin Brodeur 58 3507 37 16 5 104 1.78 1520 1416 .932 8

Yeah.  Brodeur's pretty good.

There's a few players I'd keep an eye on.  On the Canadiens, do take a gander at how Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec look.  They are two of Montreal's most talented and productive forwards, so they may/will command your attention anyway. Pay attention to how they look away from the puck and how they respond after hits.  According to David Stubbs of Habs Inside/Out, Cammalleri is still trying to get back into form after a long knee injury and Plekanec is playing with a hip injury.   I wonder how they'll handle tonight's game; given that tonight's game will be Montreal's fourth game in six days.

2009 - Tomas Plekanec 75 22 45 67 8 46 3 1 3 0 201 10.9
2009 - Mike Cammalleri 58 26 22 48 9 14 4 0 4 0 197 13.2

This isn't to say that if they're rendered ineffective that Montreal can't make a game of it.  Not at all.  Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez will want to make a statement against their former teammates; and forwards like Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot can definitely pot in a few if given the chance.

Speaking of chances, don't be surprised the Devils to get more than a few as the Canadiens have allowed the fifth highest shots against per game average at 32.2.  Sounds like a prime situation for a certain Russian winger: Vladimir Zharkov Ilya Kovalchuk.  Ilya Kovalchuk has picked up his game considerably and he'll command your attention without even asking with his moves up-ice and in the offensive zone.  Even the Devils are appreciating what Kovalchuk is doing as of late, and Jacques Lemaire feels that Travis Zajac currently fits with him best at center according to Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice:

"He came here and his stats were good," Lemaire said. "He didn’t get enough goals, but the stats were good. He had a point game, but he didn’t score like he wanted to score. Then, he started to put a little pressure on himself. Now they feel good because they’re doing so many things on the ice that are fun. I think they’re enjoying the game more now because of all of these plays that they’re making. Now, it’s fun."

Lemaire said that Zajac has been "a good fit" for Kovalchuk.

"He moves the puck quick. He gets in the open," Lemaire said. "They know where they are on the ice and Kovie has started to know him well, so that’s why there’s a connection between the two when they’re playing. They’ve got good chemistry because they feel for one another where they are and what they like and so on."

Combine this with how his line with Brian Rolston did on Thursday and I see no reason to change the unit.  That Kovalchuk seems to click with a Devil is huge with respect to fitting in on the team, which in turn will lead to a more productive Kovalchuk.  That's good everyone who isn't the Devils' opponent.  The only lineup changes I'd like the Devils to make for tonight are on the fourth line.  First, please put Vladimir Zharkov in for Andrew Peters.  Namely because I see no reason for the Devils to have any "beef" on the ice, much less Peters.  As Jay Pandolfo got some action in the last game after being scratched, I think it is a good time for Zharkov to return on the fourth line.  Right in Peters' place, in my opinion.  I'd like Rod Pelley back in for some grit and hits; but the rest can stay as-is.  So here's my wild guess at the Devils' lineup. Expect changes prior to the game, as usual:

Zach Parise-Patrik Elias-Jamie Langenbrunner
Ilya Kovalchuk-Travis Zajacn-Brian Rolston
David Clarkson-Rob Niedermayer-Dainius Zubrus
Rod Pelley-Dean McAmmond-Vladimir Zharkov

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

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

The Devils can clinch the playoffs tonight if they can get at least one point or if Atlanta gets nothing in their game against Carolina.  I don't really care about that, I want a good performance tonight, I want the Devils to play well against someone they very well could be seeing after April 11, and most of all, I want this road losing streak to end. Will it be easy? No.  As per Friday's Habs' Notebook on their official website, Jacques Martin wants the Canadiens to be as prepared possible:

"I’ve learned over the years that any time you play the Devils, you have to really look at them and be ready," mused the Habs’ bench boss. "And no matter who’s coaching them, they always have that system where they’re sticky and tough and they have a lot of depth. They’re the kind of team that will bring out the best in you. We’ve had some good games against them this year and tomorrow will be a good test for our team."

I won't be available for this one.  With the New York Red Bulls playing at home in their first MLS home opener at RBA and the Devils being on the road, I'm taking myself to the local game.  So Steve will not only take care of the GameThread, but will take care of the recap.  Regardless of participation, let's get this weekend off to a good start. Go Devils!