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Game 78 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Carolina Hurricanes

Will it be Bryce Salvador who sits tonight, or will it be some other defenseman?  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Will it be Bryce Salvador who sits tonight, or will it be some other defenseman? (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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The Time: 7 PM EDT/4 PM PDT

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (44-26-7) at the Carolina Hurricanes (33-35-10)

The Last Devils Game:  Ever get the feeling of deja vu? The Devils played well against the Chicago Blackhawks, started off the game just great, but couldn't get that second goal.  That came to haunt them as Kris Versteeg potted a goal with less than 30 seconds to play to tie up the game.  Both teams were even in overtime, but the Blackhawks prevailed in the shootout 1-0 to win the game 2-1.  My recap of the game can be found here.

The Last Hurricanes Game:  The Hurricanes were on their way to a 3-2 victory over Ottawa before Erik Karlsson scored his second goal of the the third period (and the game) with 8 seconds left in the third period. That forced an overtime, leading to a shootout where Ottawa won to clinch a playoff berth. Granted, Carolina's own playoff chances are incredibly slim so the loss doesn't necessarily mean much. But that's no excuse to let the other team back into a game in the third period - which was what Bob Harwood Waeghe at Canes Country focused on in his recap.

The Last Devils-Hurricanes Game: In a word: Flat.  Well, it was for the Devils. They came out poorly, the passing was abysmal, the discipline was a joke, terrible mistakes were made by the visiting Devils, and a line of Ray Whitney, Eric Staal, and Jussi Jokinen tore up the ice with a brilliant display of offense.  Needless to say, it was a terrible game to have right before the Olympic break.  The Hurricanes won 5-2 and fully deserved it.  I expressed my disappointment with the game in this recap; over at Canes Country, Bob Harwood Waeghe had many positives to cover in his recap - including Ray Whitney's excellent performance.  The Devils are 2-1 against the Canes this season.

The Goal: Don't let last night get you down, copy the work ethic from Friday if nothing else.  I really want three points out of this back-to-back set. The Devils did play well against Chicago and I was most pleased at how well they started the game. They pushed the tempo. They set up all kinds of shots. All four lines were making a statement. They scored an early goal.  These are the things to feel confident about as well as the fact that they held one of the top teams in the league to 1-0 for 59 minutes and needed a break to make it 1-1.  

My point is that all of the hard work wasn't totally for naught and if they can bring that same effort again and improve on a few things, then they'll be just fine tonight.   The important word here is "if." The Devils haven't won the second game of a back-to-back since January 23, 2010 and Carolina hasn't been kind to New Jersey given their last game at the RBC Center.

Check out Canes Country for your Carolina coverage; but do read on for my further thoughts on tonight's game.

With the Devils having played last night, the lineup is a bit up-in-the-air as of this writing.  According to this post-game post from Friday night, Tom Gulitti reports that Jacques Lemaire said that Dainius Zubrus will "probably play." Zubrus has been sick the past two days, so if he's still not feeling well, expect Vladimir Zharkov to take his place on the second line.  I don't personally anticipate any other changes at forward, given how well the fourth line played on Friday. 

However, Gulitti reported before tonight's game that Lemaire that defensemen Mark Fraser or Anssi Salmela will get to play tonight.  I understand why he wants to do this, he wants to keep them somewhat fresh should he have to use them in the playoffs.  Fine, but who sits?  It's not like any of the regular six defensemen have been playing poorly.  I wasn't thrilled with Martin Skoula's game last night, but given how he plays next to Paul Martin, I think he's safe.  I would think it would be either Bryce Salvador or Andy Greene as their minutes have dropped upon Martin's return.   From a role standpoint, I would think Salvador may be the most likely as Fraser could replace his role as an defensive, physical defenseman next to Greene.  For Salmela, he could take on a more offensive role and Greene can play back a little more.    Of course, most likely I will stand to be corrected in some way.

All the same, I hope the defense in general will do a better job clearing the puck if the opposition gets a long possession.  This way they can avoid making their own jobs harder on themselves like they did at times against Chicago.  Hurricanes such as Eric Staal, Jussi Jokinen, and Ray Whitney would absolutely love it if the Devils struggle to get pucks beyond their own blue line when pressured.  The Devils should strive to cut down on those snuffed clearances against Carolina.

2009 - Jussi Jokinen 77 29 33 62 4 34 10 0 6 0 150 19.3
2009 - Eric Staal 66 24 37 61 1 66 12 0 3 0 258 9.3
2009 - Ray Whitney 76 21 37 58 -2 26 7 0 5 0 165 12.7

I'm sure some are wondering who will start in goal tonight for New Jersey.  Back on Thursday, Gulitti reported that Lemaire plans to use Brodeur the rest of the way.  Granted, who knows if anything tonight would change his mind.  But if you want that Atlantic Division and want the Devils to get on a roll before the playoffs, then you pretty much have to play Brodeur to have the best chance for that.  Of course, some will immediately counter that he needs the rest based on evidence of...something.  I personally don't care too much because, as I said earlier, the key for New Jersey will be in their work ethic after playing the night before against Chicago.   So here's a guess at the lineup, expect it to be off in some way or form.

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Ilya Kovalchuk - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus/Vladimir Zharkov
Brian Rolston - Rob Niedermayer - David Clarkson
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond - Dean McAmmond - Rod Pelley

Paul Martin - Martin Skoula
Colin White - Mike Mottau
Andy Greene - Bryce Salvador/Mark Fraser or Anssi Salmela

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

As for Carolina, don't discount the Hurricane.  They just ran a record of 9-5-2 in March and have shown substantial improvement in the 2010 part of the season such that they may finish just outside of the playoff bubble. A gigantic leap ahead of where they were back in, say, November 2009.   I'm telling you this now so regardless of what happens tonight, you can't complain that the Devils lost to a bad team.  They certainly aren't playing like one.

By the way, do you remember this guy, Devils fans?  He's back!

2009 - Cam Ward 43 2438 16 21 108 2.66 1282 1174 .916 0

I know you're all thinking of some kind of groan or expletive in response to this reality, but he'll likely start tonight for Carolina.  He won his first two starts since injury and has only allowed one goal in each of those wins.  So not only is he back, but he's been playing very well. Not at all good news for a team that has scored a total of 2 goals in their last 3 games (going 0-1-2 in them, no less).   Admittedly, I'm short on ideas on how the Devils should attack Ward outside of getting him moving laterally to make saves tougher and crashing the net should the Carolina defense take away the cross-ice passing lanes.  In other words, the general tactics you apply to most goalies.  Hopefully the Devils' coaching staff will have a better game plan.

At least Carolina's defense - now without Joe Corvo - may give the Devils plenty of chances to shoot.  In their last 5 games, here's how many shots on goal they allowed: 43, 43, 27, 35, and 35.   It must be said that the Canes have went 3-1-1 in that stretch and they've allowed 2, 4, 1, 1, and 3 goals respectively in those 5 games.  Let's hope the Devils can continue the trend of creating chances to shoot, only to make more of those shots count in the net.

Steve will have a GameThread up later and I'll be joining in the comments.  We hope to see you there.  As usual, before that goes live, please leave your thoughts, corrections, concerns, complaints, compliments, and news updates (with links) in the comments. Go Devils!