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Game 43 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning

The Time: 7:30 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (11-29-2) at the Tampa Bay Lightning (26-13-5)

The Last Devils Game & the Last Devils-Lightning Game: Way back on Sunday evening, the Devils hosted the Bolts at the Rock.  It wasn't the greatest of starts, and Martin Brodeur pretty much kept it a game through two periods.  Then the incredibly unlikely happened: the Devils scored goals. A lot of goals5 five goals in the third period.  The Devils won 6-3, the first victory of 2011 for the team.  Matt did the recap here about the win. For the other side, Cassie McClellan has this recap at Raw Charge.

The Last Lightning Game: While the Devils have been off since Sunday's win, Tampa Bay played a game on Wednesday. A little team called the Washington Capitals.  The Southeast Division has become tight between these two, so this was more than just another game for both.  Believe it or not, but the Bolts carried the day in Tampa Bay.  They didn't just beat the Caps; they shut them out completely in a 3-0 win.  Read about their win in this recap by Meredith Qualls at Raw Charge.

The Goal: The last time the New Jersey Devils had a 4-day rest between games was back at the end of November. They beat Philadelphia 2-1 in a shootout on November 27, had no games for 4 days, and then came out incredibly flat only to be flattened further by Montreal's steamroller performance on December 2.  If past history wasn't enough, realize that Tampa Bay is going into this game with a little revenge on their minds along with more than a little confidence coming off a 3-0 win over Washington.  Throw in the fact that in the 6-3 win the Devils ended the first period out-shot 13-5 and down on the scoreboard 2-1, and the goal is quite clear: the Devils players must be intense right from the beginning of the game.  Coming out slowly or allowing Tampa to take control early (at home, no less) may lead to a very ugly loss - as it did on December 2, 2010.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump.  Please check out Raw Charge for coverage of the other team in tonight's game.

The scoop on Tampa Bay as a team was covered more in depth on Sunday.  Rather than repeat the whole thing, I'll summarize it in a few points.  If you'd like more details, then please check out the last preview.

  • Tampa Bay scores loads of goals.
  • Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis are fantastically dangerous on the ice.  This is not to say Ryan Malone, Vincent Lecavalier, Teddy Purcell, etc. aren't chopped liver.  Yet, Stamkos and St. Louis are absolute point-making beasts on the ice.
  • Their power play is ridiculously good; and their PK is no joke.
  • The Lightning have been leaking goals at 5-on-5 like the Devils have been this season.  A Dan Ellis Problem™ (and Mike Smith Issue), indeed.  Hence, they traded for Dwayne Roloson.
  • But since Tampa Bay scores a lot of goals, they have a good record unlike the Devils.

What Lightning head coach Guy Boucher and his staff will definitely do is make adjustments from Sunday's game.  While they pounded away with 36 shots on net on Martin Brodeur, the Devils got the better of the bounces in their shot opportunities past Dan Ellis. There's not a whole lot Boucher and the players can do about that; but try to keep possession as much as possible.  What I thought took a lot of wind out Tampa's sails was the massive double-minor penalty kill shortly after David Clarkson's equalizing goal in the second period.  The Lightning, I felt, had their chance to re-take momentum. Instead,  they struggled to put shots on net, they struggled to get into New Jersey's end thanks to the aggressive penalty killers, and the whole effort was prematurely ended by Steven Stamkos cross-checking a Devil on offense.  Their ineffectiveness to just put pressure on the Devils, much less try and score, on that power play really hurt Tampa Bay in that game.

What happened after then?  Oh, Jason Arnott scored the go-ahead goal, and the game remained more even than it should have been with 10-10 in shots on net in third period.  Tampa Bay should have been pressing really hard and attacking as much as possible the moment it hit 3-2 New Jersey; instead, they were content to trade off shifts with New Jersey - who put up some more goals.   I would look for the Lightning to try and avoid that again.  They can do it either by attacking hard early and hoping they get the bounces to beat Brodeur and build up an early lead, or to avoid relenting on their gameplan if it remains close or New Jersey just goes up in the game.

I also wonder whether Boucher would play Roloson over Ellis given what he saw on Sunday.  It's not an easy decision since the Lightning will also play on Saturday at Carolina.  I felt most of the goals allowed were more of the fault of the guys in front of Ellis and some bad luck rather than Ellis playing poorly.  Maybe Boucher should start Ellis again?

As for the Devils, their roster may look a little different.  As reported on Thursday by Tom Gulitti, Adam Mair was on the fourth defensive pairing in practice with the now-waived Anssi Salmela.   This means Mattias Tedenby was at forward and it could mean he plays tonight.  Devils head coach indicated that this may happen in this post by Gulitti; which also confirms that Martin Brodeur will start in net.  

Personally, I would be on board with the move if only because Tedenby has offensive skills (e.g. puck handling, off the puck movement) and speed whereas Mair does not.   It gives the team this kind of versatility. Should Tedenby play well, he can be moved up the depth chart - like to play with, oh, Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac as an example - and even play on the power play. If not, then he can get limited minutes on the lower two lines.  Hopefully this happens, because seeing him scratched in place of players who can bring little or develop little on the ice doesn't make sense.

What does make sense is the decision to waive Salmela.  Should he clear waivers, he can be re-assigned to Albany.  While Matt put up this FanShot for discussion (thanks Matt), Lemaire clearly told the press on Thursday why this transaction was made.  Here's the quote from this post by Gulitti:

"He skates well," Lemaire said. "You get an injury [to] your leg, it’s not the brain. To me, he skates well, he controls the puck well, he shoots the puck well. It’s his puck play that I’m not satisfied with. That’s all. He’s got to make better plays with the puck. When there’s no play, he’s go to know what to do."

I would only like to add that his off-the-puck play hasn't been good either.  He's had some unforced errors like being out of position as well as one where he was in position and just fell down.  He took a few dumb penalties because he made the wrong decision and/or didn't control his own stick.  In general, I got a sense from his defending that he was tentative to make a play.  In a way, it's understandable since he didn't go through training camp or preseason to get himself sorted.  That said, it's better for New Jersey to demote Salmela, which is how I view the waiving.   I don't think he'll be claimed by anyone, and Salmela can get his mental groove with Albany in the AHL. 

This is good news for Matthew Corrente and Mark Fayne, as this will mean an opportunity for each to prove to Lemaire that they should remain in the NHL for now.  Don't blow it, guys.  The opportunity is there for both since Anton Volchenkov will not play tonight or tomorrow. As Gulitti reported that while he may be back in the U.S. on Thursday evening, Volchenkov hasn't skated at all since last Saturday and so it doesn't make sense to fly him down to Florida for this back-to-back set.   So the only change to Sunday's roster may be whether Tedenby plays in place of anyone at forward. 

One final note: Keep a close eye on David Clarkson tonight.  He's scored 3 goals in the last 2 3 games, including 2 breakaways.  Goals aside, he also has 10 shots on net and no penalties in that time frame.  Clarkson's been more active going forward without being a detriment to his team.  That's heartening and I hope it continues for the winger. Perhaps we'll see a hot streak develop from the fourth liner - it may be his ticket away from Rod Pelley and Tim Sestito at even strength.

The Gamethread will be up later, closer to game time.  In the meantime, please feel free to discuss today's game in the comments. If you want to post any news updates (or corrections or what-have-you), then please do so in the comments with a link to the source. Lastly, thank you for reading. Let's go, Devils.