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Game 42 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

The Time: 5:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG(HD); Radio - 1130 AM WBBR

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (10-29-2) vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning (25-12-5)

The Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils gave an improved performance, but it wasn't enough as the Devils fell to the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1.  My recap of the game focuses on how it wasn't a bad effort despite the familiar result.

The Last Lightning Game: The Lightning went up to Ottawa to take on the Senators and won a close game 2-1 with two third period goals.  The equalizer came from Adam Hall and the eventual winner was put in by Martin St. Louis. 

The Goal:  Sound discipline is necessary for this evening's game.  The Lightning have been excellent on the power play this season. The team has the fifth best power play conversion rate at 22.4%; their ace scorer Steven Stamkos is the league leader in power play goals (13) and points (25); and two other Bolts rank in the top 30 in power play points: Martin St. Louis with 22 (2 G, 20 A, tied for 3rd in the NHL) and Ryan Malone with 16 (8 G, 8 A, tied for 19th).  While the Devils' penalty killers have been pretty good this season, handing Tampa Bay power plays like they did to Philadelphia on Saturday will spell disaster for them.   The Devils' goal should be to stay calm, collected, in position, and keep this game at 5-on-5 as much as possible.

I have a few more thoughts on this evening's game after the jump. Please visit Raw Charge for a Tampa Bay based perspective for this game.

If nothing else, I want to emphasize this point. The Lightning are not good at 5-on-5 hockey.   The Devils have been terrible at even strength this season and I pointed that out compared to past seasons in this recent post.  In looking up the numbers at Behind the Net, I found that the Tampa Bay Lightning are just ahead of New Jersey in terms of 5-on-5 shooting percentage at 88.9% (Devils are at 88.2%) and only ahead of the Devils and Islanders in goals allowed per 60 minutes with 2.9 (Devils at 3.2, Islanders at 3.0).   They've been leaking goals at even strength, and it's a big reason why they made a trade for Dwayne Roloson.   Whether or not it has been mostly their fault, I do not know; but Dan Ellis (who may start, if the Lightning want to give Roloson a rest after playing last night) and Mike Smith just got beaten over and over.

The big difference why the Lightning have had a good season while the Devils are in the basement is offense. As noted before the jump, the Lightning power play has been great this season.  While the Lightning have given up 93 even strength goals, they've scored 80 even strength goals - compared to the Devils scoring 50 and allowing 104.  Basically, the Lightning attack offsets whatever weaknesses exist on defense and in goal.  They will put up lots of shots at 5-on-5 with 32.0 shots for per 60 minutes, and while it's only an above average rate, 2.5 goals for per 60 is loads better than New Jersey's rate of 1.5.

Over this whole season, the Lightning are quite vulnerable at 5-on-5, though not as much as the Devils.  I'd like to see the game remain there anyway as to avoid the Lightning special teams.  Sure, Damian Cristodero at pointed out that the Lightning power play was in a bit of a slump and went scoreless again in 5 attempts at Ottawa.  That doesn't mean it's advisable to give Stamkos, St. Louis, and Malone more opportunities.   Even if the Devils get gifted power plays, the Lightning have a very good penalty kill rate at 84.6% - the seventh best rate in the league and just ahead of the Devils.  Tampa Bay has been solid both shorthanded and with a man advantage, so I would prefer that the Devils should do what they can to keep it even.

2010 - Steven Stamkos 41 31 26 57 12 32 13 0 6 154 20.1
2010 - Martin St. Louis 41 18 34 52 6 8 2 0 5 143 12.6
2010 - Ryan Malone 41 10 21 31 -6 42 8 0 1 129 7.8

The most dangerous man on Tampa Bay is their leading scorer, Stamkos.  While I doubt he'll maintain a shooting percentage at 20%, he's got to be treated like Ovechkin and Crosby.  Stamkos put up 51 goals last year, he's on pace to surpass that, and he turns 21 this coming February.  He's that talented and he's only going to get better.  Good luck to Colin White and Henrik Tallinder, who I would imagine Lemaire would match up against Stamkos' line.    They are going to have a lot of trouble.

And if it's not Stamkos, then it's Martin St. Louis.  He's been a distributor on the power play and elsewhere with 34 assists, tied for second in the league with Crosby.  Whereas Stamkos is not even 21 and already this frighteningly good, St. Louis will turn 36 this summer and he's still a beast.  He fires plenty of pucks on net, he rarely takes penalties, and he's more than capable of hustling all night long for 20+ minutes a night.  He usually plays with Stamkos so it could be a very, very long night for whoever has to match up with them.  Expect changes by Lemaire if things don't go right.

I'm highlighting Malone as well because he sort of flies under the radar.  He's a power forward, for lack of a better term, who has been quite productive on the power play and in challenging the goaltender.  Malone is pretty difficult along the boards and on top of this, he does (sometimes) play with St. Louis and Stamkos at even strength in addition to the power play.  So the Devils could conceivably see cycles where Malone will do the dirty work and get it out to St. Louis and Stamkos down low.  I don't know if Tampa Bay does that regularly, I don't know if that Guy Boucher's preferred gameplan, but the thought of it makes me feel really bad for the Devils defense and their starting goaltender.

The starting goaltender for New Jersey will be Martin Brodeur.  He was named the starter for this game going into this back-to-back set of games this weekend, as reported here by Tom Gulitti.  However, he came in relief of Johan Hedberg on Saturday afternoon, looking like himself in stopping 19 out of 19 Philadelphia shots.  While the Devils didn't win, his performance Saturday should erase any (silly) concerns about Brodeur's game.  Of course, he's got a big challenge tonight in facing a hockey team featuring two ace scorers, Vincent Lecavalier (7 goals and 10 assists in 27 games), and a secondary group of forwards led by Teddy Purcell (6 goals, 18 assists).  Again, the Devils defense is going to have it's hands full; we can only hope not to hang Brodeur out to dry as much as they have been all season.

As far as the rest of the team, who knows if there will be changes.  I'd like to see Mattias Tedenby in the lineup at all while replacing a forward who has done little as of late (e.g. Adam Mair, Nick Palmieri), and Anssi Salmela to be scratched for Matthew Corrente.   Will either will happen? I'm not holding my breath.  We shall see closer to gametime on Sunday if there are any moves within the Devils' lineup.

The Gamethread will be up later, closer to game time, by Tom.  The next episode of Talking Red will also be done tomorrow, so there's that to look forward to in general.  Matt will take care of your recap purposes. Me? I'll be with the supporters in 107 for a change; yelling rather loudly.  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.