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Game 49 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Detroit Red Wings

The Time: 7:30 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG(HD), VERSUS(HD, only if you're not local); Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (16-29-3) at the Detroit Red Wings (29-13-6)

The Last Devils Game: It wasn't one of their best performances against the Florida Panthers. Yet, the Devils stayed hot thanks to their power play to turn a 2-1 lead in the second period into a more commanding and the eventual final score of 5-2.  My recap of the game is right here.

The Last Red Wings Game:  On January 22, the Red Wings hosted their hated division rival Chicago Blackhawks.  The banged-up Detroit team was beaten further by Chicago in a decisive fashion, 4-1. The effort by Detroit was described as "lackluster" among many other points in Amerinadian's recap at Winging it in Motown.

The Last Devils-Red Wings Game: A slow start leading to an early deficit? A game where the Devils only score one goal and that's it? A night where one team showed up to play hockey against a listless New Jersey squad?  This could describe several games from December 2010 for the Devils, if not John MacLean's tenure as a head coach. But I am referring to the last time these two teams played each other, a 4-1 loss at the Rock.  My recap of the game is here, where I lamented how the Devils lost the game yet again. Casey Richey has this game recap at Winging it in Motown, while J.J. from Kansas has a more detailed breakdown of the Wings' performance here.

The Goal:  The Devils need to make that pass out of the zone count.  Too many times against Florida, a Devil would misfire on a pass out of their own zone, miss their target, or just dump it out right to the other team.  If Florida didn't get it, the puck goes all the way down to the length of the rink to make it icing.  This cuts into players getting on and off for substitutions, it gives possession right to the other team or gives them a favorable faceoff, and it undercuts any hope of the Devils going forward to attack. 

To not improve in this area will especially hurt the Devils tonight because the Red Wings have been very good at scoring at 5-on-5 this season. Per Behind the Net's team stats, they have 110 goals scored, fourth in the league behind Boston (111), Colorado (111), and Philadelphia (124).  Opposition goaltenders have a 91.0% save percentage against Detroit in this situation, tied for the fifth best in the league.   Needlessly giving them the puck over and over will likely spell doom for the Devils in Detroit.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For Detroit-based opinion, please check out Winging it in Motown.

The Detroit Red Wings are undergoing some injury woes. No Pavel Datsyuk. No Chris Osgood. No Tomas Holmstrom. No Mike Modano. No Danny Cleary.  Devils fans can sympathize with how a long injury list can affect a team.  It's taken it's toll on the Red Wings in this month in particular.  They have won only one game in regulation in January, a 5-3 win over Edmonton on January 5.  Everything since then has either been a post-regulation win (4 this month) or a loss (only 1 beyond regulation).   I'm sure that the players know this even if head coach Mike Babcock has not pointed it out.  I would think they would like to avoid ending the month with only one win in regulation.

There's good news ahead for Detroit, though.  A few of the injured may be ready to return after the All-Star break according to this George Sipple article in the Detroit Free Press.  With respect to this game, though, that's not really relevant.  Nor should it put Devils fans at ease since the Red Wings still have their best player:

2010-11 - Nicklas Lidstrom 48 11 31 42 -2 12 6 0 1 101 10.9

Nicklas Lidstrom remains awesome.  Not including Tuesday's games, he leads all defensemen in the league in scoring while taking on the best Detroit's opponents have to offer.  Like Martin Brodeur, Lidstrom's age is just a number on the ice. Unlike Brodeur, Lidstrom can go through a game where it doesn't appear he does a whole lot. He doesn't throw big hits or do anything particularly visual, all he does is cover his man, provide help where necessary, and can command the flow of the game when he does have the puck going forward.  Keep on eye on #5 tonight if only so you can say that you watched a hockey legend perform yet again.

2010-11 - Henrik Zetterberg 48 16 36 52 6 24 4 0 2 205 7.8

While not having Datsyuk is a big blow to the team, the Red Wings can still boast the talents of Henrik Zetterberg. While he has a low shooting percentage, Zetterberg remains seventh in the league in scoring largely because he's helping others get goals.  Namely Johan Franzen (20 goals) and Patrick Eaves (13 goals) as of late, assuming Babcock has used the same first line he's had in Tuesday's practice per this report by Ansar Kahn at MLive.  On top of the points, Zetterberg has racked up the shots (leads the team by far with 205) and minutes (20:02 per game, leads Detroit forwards).  Andy Greene and Henrik Tallinder are going to see a lot of Zetterberg and they may be in for a long night if they give up passing lanes too easily to this brilliant playmaker.

Now that I brought it up, the injuries to Datsyuk (12 goals, 27 assists prior to injury) and Cleary (16 goals, 10 assists) really do hurt Detroit as they've lacked two scoring forwards for quite a while.  At the same time, Zetterberg has managed to keep producing despite their absence.  All the more reason to focus the best defenders on Zetterberg.

2010 - Jimmy Howard 36 2054 23 8 98 2.86 1026 928 .904 2

Going back to Kahn's report of Detroit's Tuesday practice at MLive, it appears that Jimmy Howard will be the starter for Detroit. His last five games weren't his best.  He was great on January 8 against Vancouver, stopping 34 out of 35 shots; but was yanked early in his next start on January 10 for allowing 4 goals on 10 shots against Colorado.  Since then it was an early exit due to a bruised knee on January 14 after stopping 9 out of 11 shots against Columbus; going 26 out of 29 in an overtime win over St. Louis; and stopping 29 out of 33 against Chicago.   I can't comment whether the goals against were soft or not, but allowing 14 goals in the last 5 appearances isn't exactly confidence-inspiring.  Neither is a season save percentage of 90.4%.  I can see why Detroit wanted Evgeni Nabokov, though that plan blew up in their faces. That said, the worst-offense-in-the-league can't afford to take any goaltender lightly.

Speaking of the worst-offense-in-the-league, the Devils' 5-2 win over Florida accomplished something huge. The Devils are currently at 2.04 goals scored per game. Yes, they cracked the 2-goal mark.  Feel free to celebrate in however you see fit.

As far as what's new with the Devils, one of Nick Palmieri and Vladimir Zharkov will apparently play tonight.  According to this report by Tom Gulitti of Tuesday's practice, Jacques Lemaire wasn't pleased in with how either of them did in practice; Gulitti noted that since Alexander Vasyunov was sent back to Albany, at least one of them will play. Who knows how much ice time they'll get.  If Lemaire changes his mind and goes with both, expect Adam Mair to sit for one of them. But based on Lemaire's opinion, Mair may be in the lineup.  

On offense, though, the main line to look out for is Brian Rolston, Patrik Elias, and Dainius Zubrus.  Elias and Rolston have been hot and each scored a power play goal on Sunday against Florida. Elias now has 4 goals and 5 assists in his last 7 games; Rolston has 3 goals and 7 assists in the same timeframe. While I'm sure Detroit will focus attention on Ilya Kovalchuk, not worrying about this unit may be too much of a risk for the Red Wings.   Let's hope the Red Wings don't take them seriously enough and their respective hot streaks continue.

The severity of Colin White's injury is still unknown.  He underwent a MRI on Monday according to Gulitti. That there is no update cannot really be interpreted as good news. I would think if White's injury is minor, the team would mention that by now. Let us hope it really is minor since I think White has been a solid defenseman this season. (Expect a post on this in the near future to determine whether that's true or not).  His loss is a blow to the blueline if only because it means Anssi Salmela gets minutes on the blueline.  My advice to Salmela, please do not give the puck away with a poor clearing attempt. You will be burned by it.

Gulitti confirmed that Martin Brodeur will be starting this game for New Jersey.  Brodeur's been hot as of late and the NHL as given him credit for it by naming him the Third Star of last week.  Brodeur was solid as usual against Florida. I expect him to go from strength to strength against the Zetterberg-led Detroit offense tonight. I just hope the guys in front of him don't put Brodeur in spots where he has no chance.

Detroit remains a very tough opponent. The game's in their building, the team wants a second win in regulation this month, they lead the Central Division in spite of their problems, they have two excellent players to lead the way, they are a strong scoring team at 5-on-5, they boast the fifth best power play conversion rate at 21.2%, and they already beat the Devils once this season.   Oh, and Mike Babcock, at least, isn't looking past the Devils. Here's what he had to say about Jacques Lemaire in this George Sipple article in the Detroit Free Press:

"Jacques just does what Jacques does -- goes and gets the room organized, gets them to play without the puck, and they're working harder," Babcock said.

"Jacques is one of the best coaches in the world. He's obviously gone in there and been a calming influence."

Make sure no one tell John Tortorella about this.  He may butt in and white-knight for John MacLean again.

As usual, there will be a Gamethread 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.  Thank you for reading. Let's go, Devils.