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Game 50 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Ottawa Senators

Patrik Elias will play tonight. Here's a picture that proves that he could wear a Rick Martel-ian button.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Patrik Elias will play tonight. Here's a picture that proves that he could wear a Rick Martel-ian button. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (16-30-3) at the Ottawa Senators (17-25-8)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils went into Detroit and the Red Wings showed them that possession really is everything. Well, after the first period.  The Devils lost 3-1 and their then 4-game winning streak was snapped. My recap of that game is here.

The Last Senators Game: It wasn't a bad game by the Senators by any means, but the result wasn't to be for Ottawa. They took the Buffalo Sabres to overtime, but lost 3-2 in the post-regulation period.  Peter Raaymakers has a recap from a Senators-based perspective at Silver Seven.

The Last Devils-Senators Game: Way back in the John MacLean era, on December 10, the Devils went into Ottawa for a game.  It wasn't that bad of a performance by New Jersey, all things considered.  They actually had a close game in December, on the road no less, and forced Ottawa to hold on to win.  It was that bad of a month for New Jersey since that's something to highlight.  The Devils lost 3-2, and I wrote a bit about small victories in my recap.  Peter Raaymakers of Silver Seven has this recap of the game from the perspective of the home team.

The Goal: Get right back to work.  Everyone's been off for 4 days (5 for games) due to the All Star break.  While it's the middle of the season, getting back into the groove is a little difficult after a long weekend. Even for All Star representatives Patrik Elias (NJ) and Erik Karlsson (Ottawa), since their game was just for fun.  Devils head coach Jacques Lemaire noted that the team did struggle through Monday's practice according to this report by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice.  He even commented that he hopes the other team has some rust.  To that end, whoever is the least rusty will have the best chance to make this game their own.

I have a few more thoughts about tonight's game after the jump.  Please check out Silver Seven for a Sens-based take.

A quick note about the Senators: They're in a bit of a free fall and needed a break.  As casually noted in this post at Silver Seven where Adnan praised Karlsson, the Senators have lost 12 of their last 13 games.  With a 17-25-8 record at the break, Ottawa fans aren't thinking playoffs.  In fact, Silver Seven has begun a look at "Senators for Sale," players the writers feel the team could move in return for prospects, picks, and other assets.  Mark Parisi has this one for Brian Lee; and Peter Raaymakers has this one for Chris Neil.

Even in the reports from Senators practice has a tone of "this season's done." Don Brennan in the Ottawa Sun noted on Monday that goaltender Robin Lehner was called up, filling in for Pascal Leclaire. While head coach Cory Clouston did not say who will start for the Sens (it's either Lehner or Brian Elliott), Brennan opined that a start for Lehner would be justified under the argument of "whythehellnot?".  I sympathize with how things are going for the Sens.  As an additional cherry on top, here's a quote from captain Daniel Alfredsson from the same Brennan article:

"We’ve just got to push ourselves here, everyday, and try to get something going, especially offensively," Alfredsson said of the final 32 games. "We want to be good defensively, but we’re having such a tough time scoring goals, and we need to get something going. If we can do that, we’ll get some more wins."

I really sympathize with what you're going through, Ottawa.

Incidentally, Brennan also reported that forward Colin Greening was called up from Binghamton (12 G, 20 A, 48 GP); and that he's likely to play for Ottawa with Peter Regin and Brad Winchester this evening.  It will be his NHL debut.  Let's hope he doesn't score his first NHL goal or register his first NHL assist.  Or if he does, let's hope it's not an important point.

This all said, the 30th place team in the NHL can't afford to take anyone likely.  In addition to dealing with their own rust, they will have to contend with the classy and skilled Alfredsson (14 G, 14 A), Karlsson (8 G, 20 A, 23:00 ATOI), Mike Fisher (13 G, 9 A), Milan Michalek (11 G, 9 A), and seeing a whole lot of Sergei Gonchar (24:05 ATOI).  The Senators are similar to New Jersey as none of these statlines will blow you away, yet the Senators can at least say the range of their scorers are close.  While Alfredsson and Kalrsson both lead the team with 28 points each, #3 through #9 in points range from 22 to 18.   That's, well, some kind of depth.

Their team stats are fully in line with a team that's not good.  They are next to last in the league (ahead of you-know-who) in terms of average goals scored per game with 2.16; and they are a little better - 27th place - in terms of average goals against per game with 3.16.   The Ottawa special teams aren't as dire, though. They are tied for 20th with a 16.8% conversion rate on their power play and all alone in 20th place on the penalty kill with a 80.6% success rate.   The Senators are just behind New Jersey in average shots on net per game with 29.0, good for 24th place in NHL; and they allow an average of 30.2 shots per game, the 16th best average in the league.

The Devils will have some trouble due to some recent news.  Colin White is still not healthy and didn't practice on Monday. That's not really a surprise.  However, Mark Fayne - a guy whose underlying numbers haven't been bad at 5-on-5 this season as I found out when looking into White's numbers - is sick, as reported by Gulitti on Monday.   That's not good news. The Devils are currently down to 5 healthy defensemen for Tuesday's game. However, this quote from Lemaire in Gulitti's report indicates that the coach is banking on Fayne playing anyway. 

"Fayne is sick," Lemaire said. "So, we’ll see how feels tomorrow, but he’s got to play. We’ve got nobody else."

Why don't they call someone up?  It's not like Olivier Magnan-Grenier can't fill in for one night.  Either way, I hope Fayne (and White) feel better soon.  Especially soon for Fayne's sake.  Unless Fayne can tough it out (or stops being ill), expect Andy Greene and Henrik Tallinder to play a lot on Tuesday with increased minutes for Anton Volchenkov.   Mark Fraser is another who could get more ice time than usual, and he actually played 2 games recently for Albany on a conditioning assignment.    Hopefully the blueline can persevere if they have to go short, and if not, hopefully starting goaltender Martin Brodeur (confirmed here by Gulitti) can stand on his head.   Even a punchless offense can strike gold if the defense is lacking, as the Devils found out against Tampa Bay in their two games in January.

In fact, tonight would be a good night for the Devils offense to show up if only to give their back end some goal support.  It's not like Ottawa has been particularly stingy when it comes to allowing goals regardless of who is in net. Moreover, the Devils have enjoyed much better luck as of late under Lemaire.  As Matt showed on Monday with his updated shot location breakdown, the Devils are taking shots similar to where they have been all season. They're just going in more.  So get into Zone 1, Devils, and strike while the proverbial iron is hot. But not the actual iron, that's not even a registered shot on goal.

Plus, the younger forwards could be in more form than the veterans who rested the past few days.  Vladimir Zharkov, Mattias Tedenby, and Nick Palmieri were sent down to Albany during the break to play 2 games along with Fraser.  Albany didn't do too well as they lost both games (4-1 to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 6-1 to Rochester), and only Zharkov got a point among the quartet of New Jersey Devils sent down (a goal against Rochester).  The purpose wasn't for them to shine in the AHL, just to get minutes during a lull in the schedule.   If you notice those 4 players looking upbeat early for the Devils, then you'll know why.

As a quick aside, congratulations to Patrik Elias. The January 2011 ILWT Devil of the Month scored his first ever goal in a NHL All Star game on Sunday and looked great on a line with Peter Stastny and Jeff Skinner. Too bad he had the same number as Stastny, so we don't know his true Corsi from the game. I imagine it was brilliant given Stastny's +13. (Hat-tip: Ryan Lambert at Puck Daddy).

One last note: there's all kinds of winter storm warnings in effect in New Jersey (and across the nation).  It's not clear whether anything will happen before, during, and after the game - but what I'm reading now involves quite a bit of ice.  The storm could run over night (which is OK) or during the evening (which would suck).  If you're not sure what the weather will do, or reports are updated during the day to show it's going to get bad at night, then please be smart about it and don't go to the game.  I assure you, a Devils-Senators game isn't worth it. Not even for the free ice scraper the Devils are giving away for all attending fans.

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.