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Game 29 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning

Bryce Salvador played with Adam Larsson on Saturday; but he's expected to have a new partner in Matt Taormina tonight.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Bryce Salvador played with Adam Larsson on Saturday; but he's expected to have a new partner in Matt Taormina tonight. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
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The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - VERSUS; Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (14-13-1) at the Tampa Bay Lightning (12-15-2)

The Last Devils Game: On Saturday, the Devils hosted Montreal in an attempt to win three games in a row. It didn't quite work out so well. While the Devils had the better of possession and shots on net, Montreal broke through a power play goal and a put-back to go up 2-0. Nick Palmieri made it interesting with a shot off a loose puck to pull the Devils within one, but it wasn't to be. A mad goal mouth scramble gave the Devils a penalty shot; but Zach Parise couldn't beat Carey Price to tie up the game. The Devils lost 2-1; my recap of the game is here.

The Last Lightning Game: The Lightning visited Philadelphia on Saturday night. The opening period went well for the visitors as Ryan Shannon gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead. The Flyers not only responded in the second, but put the hammer down. Early on, Wayne Simmonds beat his man in the neutral zone, passed it to Danny Briere, and Briere sniped one for an equalizer. Less than a minute later, Jaromir Jagr hammered a puck from Claude Giroux off the post and in to give Philly a lead. Much later on in the second period, Simmonds scored on the power play and that carried the game to a 3-1 Philly lead after two. Vincent Lecavalier would convert an early power play in the third period; but the Flyers denied the comeback with a PPG of their own four minutes later and an empty net goal to seal the deal. The Lightning lost 5-2 tp end their four-game road trip; here is John Fontana's recap at Raw Charge.

The Last Devils-Lightning Game: Back in mid-November, the Devils rolled into Tampa Bay in the midst of a five-game road trip. After an OK first period, the Devils blew the game wide open with a three-score second period. Dainius Zubrus scored just after a Devils penalty ended; and the team scored two power play goals - one from Patrik Elias and one from David Clarkson. The Devils entered the third period up 3-0 and looking good. Then the Lightning woke up. First, the Devils took three straight penalties - killing each of them. Then, the Lightning got on the board with two quick goals from Martin St. Louis and Ryan Shannon. Peter DeBoer called a timeout halfway through the third, settled down the Devils, and it worked wonders. The Lightning were limited to one shot on net since the timeout; and Ryan Carter got a gift from Dwayne Roloson pulling a Hedberg. The Devils won 4-2. Here was my recap of that game; and here's an opposition perspective of that game from Clark J Brooks over at Raw Charge.

The Goal: Exercise better discipline. The Devils have took five minor penalties in each of their last two games, and they're 13th in the league in times shorthanded with 106. Most of the recent calls they took were legitimate and early enough in the game for the opposition to get involved. It's true that the Devils still have the best penalty killing units in the league and the Tampa Bay power play isn't exactly lighting opponents up with a conversion rate of 14.7%. Still, even if the Devils do a great job in killing calls, it's still time where they're primarily defending. The opponent still has the space and the time to set-up good shots on net. Since the Devils have struggled in generating shots on net, it makes little sense to hand the opponent opportunities where they won't be able to attack normally. Especially early in the game and/or when the Devils get off to a good start at even strength. Cutting down on taking penalties will only help the Devils.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For the opposition's perspective, please check out Raw Charge.

The New Jersey Devils are going to go into this game and tomorrow's game with a depleted defense. Tom Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice on Sunday that Anton Volchenkov will not travel with the team for this back-to-back set. Volchenkov has been an excellent on the penalty kill and pretty good in his own end. I suspect that after a decent outing against Montreal, DeBoer will again use Alexander Urbom and Matt Taormina. However, don't expect the two to stay together. In reporting from Sunday's practice, Gulitti spotted Taormina lined up with Bryce Salvador; Urbom was paired with Mark Fayne; and Adam Larsson is back together with Henrik Tallinder. Since DeBoer has been consistent with using his lines and pairings in games based on their last practice session, I would expect that these will be the pairings tonight.

I actually like the changes made on defense. The pairing Urbom and Taormina was OK against Montreal, and they were used in limited action. Yet, since the Devils won't have the last change now that they're on the road, such a pairing just basically screams for the home coach to put out their top forwards. Similarly, the pairing of Salvador and Larsson hasn't filled me with confidence. Larsson can play the minutes, but he's prone to making huge errors in his own end with the puck. Salvador has experience on his side, but he's just too slow to recover from his errors and/or to help out Larsson. It's a pairing that has given me reason for concern in recent games; so I understand splitting them up. What I do question is whether Fayne can carry a pairing. He's mostly played with Tallinder in his time in the NHL, so how he'll do as the "experienced" one on a defensive pairing remains to be seen.

What also remains to be seen are the forward lines. DeBoer has moved David Clarkson up with Petr Sykora and Elias; while moving Zubrus back down to play with Carter and Nick Palmieri. While the coach mixed up the lines during the Montreal game to some effect, I'm not sure how this will work. Clarkson loves to shoot the puck, as he has 77 shots on net this season. Sykora also loves to shoot the puck, as he has 72 shots on net this season. On separate lines, they've been the most prolific shooters; once they get it, they're thinking or acting for a shot. I'm not sure how this is going to work with two of them on the same line. At least a Zubrus-Carter-Palmieri line can be physical; though, if Tampa Bay throws out players with speed against them, it can problem. None of those three are particularly fast. As with the Montreal game, if it doesn't work, DeBoer can switch guys around.

I'm sure there will be some questions as to why Mattias Tedenby is relegated to the fourth line again. It's simple: he's not playing well. He has moments where he does good things going forward. He has more shifts where he contributes nothing at all. For a winger who supposedly has high offensive potential, he only averages 1.185 shots per game. His defense leaves a lot to be left desired. Ergo, he really hasn't earned the right to keep his minutes, much less play with better plays. He's been bad this season and so he's slotted with Tim Sestito and Eric Boulton to minimize his non-effect on the game.

Who won't have a non-effect on the game? Johan Hedberg. Gulitti confirmed that DeBoer will split the two starts on Sunday; and so Moose is in net against Tampa Bay. Standard thoughts on Hedberg apply. You and I should have no fears about his ability to stop the puck. You and I should have plenty of fears about his ability to play with the puck outside of the net.

As far as who the Devils will be facing, I would expect a desperate Lightning team. Ever since the Devils beat the Lightning, Tampa Bay has won only one home game out of three and three games out of ten overall. They have really slipped in the standings. To make matters worse, they've been without one of their top players in Martin St. Louis. The team's second leading scorer took a puck to the eye in practice and has missed the last two games; that's a pretty big deal since he played 499 consecutive games prior to the injury. It's up in the air as to whether he could play tonight. He might if he's cleared.

Overall, Tampa Bay is defined as a trap team but the numbers suggest their trap isn't all that. They're just in the middle of the road when it comes to preventing shots at 5-on-5 (29.2 SA/60) and they're pretty bad about allowing goals (2.9 GA/60; 3.24 GA/GP overall). Their defense is led by Viktor Hedman and Eric Brewer, who both take up big minutes, loads of defensive zone starts, and regularly face tough competition per Behind the Net. They don't do so badly in possession; but the rest of their blueline does. Marc-Andre Bergeron is positive in on-ice Corsi, but he takes so many offensive zone starts that it's an inflated value. The Devils forwards should have no reason to be intimidated by this defensive corps on defense. On offense, Bergeron's fairly prolific at the point and has been productive, but that's really it from the Lightning blueline.

2011-12 - Steven Stamkos 29 16 14 30 8 30 2 0 1 102 15.7
2011-12 - Vincent Lecavalier 29 11 8 19 -3 22 4 0 4 98 11.2
2011-12 - Martin St. Louis 27 9 13 22 2 6 1 0 0 67 13.4

What about their forwards? Well, if St. Louis is out, it really puts a dent in their offense. Their top trio of Stamkos, Lecavalier, and St. Louis leads the forwards in points and lead the team in shots on net. Stamkos and Lecavalier remain has big threats that the Devils have to be concerned with at all times they're on the ice. Stamkos' shot remains lethal and Lecavalier has loads of offensive skill. Both play a lot (19 - 21 minutes) and both can ruin an opposition's night if given the chance.

As for secondary scorers, three names come to mind: Teddy Purcell, Ryan Shannon, and Ryan Malone. Purcell regularly faces tough competition per Behind the Net, though he doesn't necessarily always beat that competition. He is behind their big three in scoring with 5 goals and 10 assists. Malone is a big skater and like Purcell, he faces tough competition too with similar quasi-success. He's got 6 goals and 8 assists. Shannon only has 2 goals and 4 assists, but he's been a bit of a spark plug. He actually leads the Lightning in on-ice Corsi with his limited minutes. Shannon played a big role in the attempted Tampa Bay comeback in the last Devils-Lightning game, so he can't be fully discounted.

Yet, the Lightning as a whole aren't all that impressive as an offensive team. Per Behind the Net, they regularly have been outshot at evens, and their power play not only hasn't converted often but they don't generate a lot of shots on net (44.5 SF/60). In terms of possession, the Lightning are well in the lower half of the league in both tied and close-score Fenwick%. Outside of Stamkos, Lecavalier, and St. Louis, I'm not exactly fearful of Tampa Bay's lightning strikes - and neither should the Devils.

2011-12 - Mathieu Garon 18 911 6 7 1 41 2.70 450 409 .909 1
2011-12 - Dwayne Roloson 16 845 6 8 1 50 3.55 439 389 .886 1

Then there's their goaltending. In the last Devils-Lightning game, Roloson was the guy. Since then, he's been surpassed by Mathieu Garon. Garon's started the last three Lightning games and I suspect he'll be the guy tonight. Garon's been much better at even strength with a 91.7%, a far sight better than Roloson's 88.7%. I'm not sure whether it's a case whether Roloson's been hung out to dry or not; but it's seems to me that Garon is now their top guy. I'm not sure what the book is on Garon, so I revert to my standard comment of hitting him with a lot of rubber. It should be possible given Tampa Bay's defense and their recent struggles in general; but the Devils have proven me wrong in the past. And if they don't exercise proper discipline, it'll be even harder.

Those conclude my thoughts on tonight's game; now I want to know yours. What do you think of the Devils' new defensive pairings? Do you agree with the decision to start Hedberg for this game? What do you make of the Lightning squad as they are now? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thanks for reading.