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Game 63 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Calgary Flames

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The Time: 9 PM EST/6 PM PST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (38-21-3) at the Calgary Flames (30-24-9)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils went down to San Jose and came out winners, believe it or not. The Devils played a very good second period, scoring three goals - including a power play goal.  They added a fourth in the third period; but a mix of bad bounces and some poor defending moments got San Jose within 1.  Most surprisingly of all, the Devils held on for the 4-3 win.  Not once did the Sharks, a top team in the West, pull ahead in the game. No wonder Steve's recap was positive. There's plenty to be positive about.

The Last Flames Game: In contrast to the Devils, the Flames returned to NHL action at home and it wasn't pretty. The Minnesota Wild rolled in and finished their chances against Miikka Kiprusoff.  Four times.  The Flames didn't generate many chances, made enough errors, and suffered a 4-0 loss to the Wild.  In their own building. Ouch.  Maimster at Matchsticks and Gasoline felt empty after the loss, which could be costly given their position in the standings.

The Goal: A strong start to the game can/will sink Calgary early in my opinion.  The Flames are not an offensive team. They do not win games with offense. They are poor in that regard. While the Devils aren't the Washington Capitals, they put up four goals in a row on the road in San Jose.  However, what struck me was that the Sharks had the better start - Joe Thornton hit the post early, Martin Brodeur made some tough saves, and the Devils had to eventually claw their way back into it.  While they've done so and struck first; they can really put the screws to Calgary right from the get-go. They're coming off a bad loss, the Devils' offense is coming off a good game, so why not try to take advantage early?  I'm not saying the Devils have to put 4 goals in the first period; but a few early goals could be enough of a hole for the Flames to be buried.

Want the Flames' side of tonight's game? Check out Matchsticks and Gasoline and find out what you need to know.  Are you over 21 and want to watch tonight's game in a drinking establishment in Hoboken?  User Cherno77 is running this meetup event for Devils fans to watch the game - check that out.  Want to read more of my thoughts about tonight's game? Please continue after the jump.

The Calgary Flames are strong defensively. They have the fourth best goals against per game average with 2.44 in the league. They only allow an average of 29.0 shots against per game, the ninth best in the league. Their penalty killing success rate is solid at 83.2%, the tenth best in the league.  Miikka Kiprusoff, Olympics and Wednesday night aside, is an incredibly talented and hard-working goaltender.  He alone is a challenge to the Devils' offense tonight. As will be getting through a defense led by the dynamic Jay Bouwmeester and the suprising production of Mark Giordano.

2009 - Miikka Kiprusoff 56 3311 27 20 122 2.21 1586 1464 .923 3

2009 - Jay Bouwmeester 63 2 21 23 5 42 1 0 0 0 105 1.9
2009 - Mark Giordano 63 10 15 25 4 63 5 0 1 0 82 12.2

However, why is Calgary mired in ninth place in an incredibly competitive Western Conference?  Well, from where I sit, it's because of their terrible offense. As a team, Calgary is tied with Edmonton for the second lowest goals scored per game average, 2.43, in the NHL. The Flames have averaged only 28.5 shots on net per game, the fourth lowest in the league.  The Calgary power play has been less successful than New Jersey's, sitting at a 16.7% conversion rate - tied with St. Louis for the sixth worst rare in the NHL.   Even their faceoffs are bad.  The Flames are the second worst faceoff winning team in the league with an overall winning percentage of 47.4%.  That's bad.  Just bad.  On top of that they got blanked in their first game after the Olympics?

A big part of it could be that the forwards in Calgary have changed so much over the past two months, and the only consistent scorers appears to be Jarome Iginla and Rene Bourque. Yes, three other Flames have put up 10 goals or more; but largely, the offense is coming from Iginla.  As a result, the coaches are still trying to figure out what line combinations will work to boost Calgary's production.

2009 - Jarome Iginla 63 27 30 57 2 51 8 0 4 0 196 13.8
2009 - Rene Bourque 54 18 23 41 5 74 3 3 2 0 158 11.4

Speaking of coaches, Brent Sutter just happens to be the head coach of . You may remember him.  He signed a three-year deal out of Red Deer of the WHL to be the head coach of the Devils; quit after two great regular seasons, two poor playoff performances, and "processing" for over a month; and then signed up with Calgary on June 23.  Here's my own post from that fateful day in June for record.  

Tom Gulitti had an excellent interview with Sutter on Thursday.  Please read it. This passage strikes me, with respect to tonight's game.

"Their system hasn’t really changed," he said. "They forecheck the same way that we forechecked. They tweaked a few things, but no drastic changes. What they now No. 2 in goals against? (First, as of today) Last year, we were No. 4. They’ve got good players and Jacques (Lemaire) is a good coach and everything moves on. Everybody moves on. But I learned a lot there. Believe me, I use it a lot here.

Yet, the Devils aren't so poor on offense as Calgary, they are better in terms of scoring goals, taking shots, and even on their power play.  Perhaps it's really personnel?

As an aside, some Devils are looking forward to this one given that Sutter quit on the team back in June.  I can't say I'm as disappointed as I was back in June.  I understand family and personal matters are important.  But, Mr. Sutter, what your position was really means nothing.   You weren't harassed. You weren't inundated with frivolous procedures to force you out. Your only big failing was in the playoffs, and that's as much on the players as it was on you. You could have served the third year of your contract that you signed of your own free will and knowing what sacrifices were to be made by coaching in the NHL for Devils, announced your intentions to leave after the third year, and leave it at that. 

But, no, you quit.  You didn't go back to your ranch, you made a deal to coach a "local" team in a conference with far more travel than you did in New Jersey.   Simple as that.  If you don't like hearing that, too bad.  Your legacy in New Jersey is that you failed in the post season twice and you quit on the Devils.  

Anyway, going back to the Flames as a team, I have no idea what to expect.  They had a 2 week break and their Olympians not named Kiprusoff had a very good outing in Vancouver and they get shutout in their own building.They could come out to prove a point and make a statement and (most importantly) do whatever it takes to get some needed points in the standings. They could play this game hard and close.  Yet, if they reacted to bad games like that, then wouldn't they be higher in the standings? They could easily come out and just repeat the same mistakes that doomed them on Wednesday against the Wild. 

The Devils should be careful of how the game starts, which goes back to my desired goal for the Devils to start this game off strong.

Let's focus on the Devils for a bit.  Now, in that big post where Gulitti interviewed Sutter, Lou told Gulitti that there was no animosity or additional meaning to the game.  The players, on the other hand, had a mixed take on whether this game had any additional meaning.  Gulitti reported that some Devils are downplaying that they are facing Sutter yesterday:

"Maybe for other guys, but not for me, not really," center Dainius Zubrus said. "I’d like to beat him. That’s about it."

"We just want to keep winning," left wing Brian Rolston said. "We want to build on what we did in San Jose. That’s what’s important to us."

Zubrus and Rolston both said after Sutter left that they would have liked to have better roles last season.

"I do now," Zubrus said. "I’m happy now. This year I’m way more involved in different things, whether it’s special teams. I’ve had more responsibilties than I had the last couple of years and that’s something that I wanted. That’s about it."

Personally, I don't buy that they don't want to show Sutter something a little special.  Neither Zubrus or Rolston were particularly happy with how they were used by the former Devils coach.  I'd argue that both are doing better now than they were last season; Rolston has more goals and is only 2 points away from matching last year's total, and when Zubrus has been healthy, he's been very useful.  They should be motivated to display to Sutter what he missed out on.  Besides, both wanting to make a statement could be instrumental to winning tonight's game.  I think that's worth the extra effort - just in case Zubrus and Rolston may be reading this.  I'd keep an eye on both players.

2009 - Dainius Zubrus 32 6 8 14 0 18 0 0 2 0 54 11.1
2009 - Brian Rolston 61 17 13 30 1 16 6 0 3 0 189 9.0

I'd also keep an eye on Ilya Kovalchuk.  He had a great game on Tuesday against San Jose.  He set up the play that led to the game's first goal; he scored on a well-placed wrist shot from the point on the power play; and was just a force on the ice.  That had to build up his confidence after a poor Olympic showing.  Let's hope he can keep up the good work in Calgary.

NJD Stats 2010 - Ilya Kovalchuk 7 2 5 7 1 6 1 0 1 0 36 5.6

Lastly, we will not see the debut of Martin Skoula tonight.  Lou told Gulitti on Thursday that he'll arrive in Calgary to with the team, but he won't play tonight.  How Mark Fraser and Anssi Salmela will play will be interesting.  I figure that Skoula is a depth defenseman so when he plays, it's highly likely one of them will have to sit.  Jacques Lemaire may base that decision based on form alone - so a good game from either of them will play a big role as to whether they'll be on the bench in Edmonton on Sunday.

Here's a wild guess at the Devils' lineup:

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

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

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

Thanks for reading and please join Steve and I in the comments for the GameThread later tonight.   Please leave your thoughts, questions, concerns, and news updates (provide links for updates!) for tonight's game in the comments in the meantime. Let's get a second road win; disappointing Sutter will be a big bonus.  Go Devils!