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Game 70 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Ottawa Senators

The Time: 7:30 PM EDT

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (33-32-4) at the Ottawa Senators (25-36-9)

The Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils took on the Atlanta Thrashers at the Rock. The start was poor, to say the least, as Atlanta went up 2-0.  It could have been worse if it wasn't for the heroics of Martin BrodeurTravis Zajac salvaged the period with a deflection to end it 2-1.  From then on, the Devils offense got more active. Patrik Elias tied it up in the second period; Jacob Josefson took the lead on a one-timer in the third period; and the Devils held on late. Ilya Kovalchuk scored an empty net goal for a 4-2 win.  My recap focused on how the Devils came back to win and why the performance wasn't all that great.

The Last Senators Game: The Ottawa Senators hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night.   It wasn't pretty. The Penguins basically beat them up and down the ice. The Sens were out-shot 22-41 and out-played for nearly all 60 minutes.  The only solace they can have from this one was that they weren't shutout.  The Senators lost 5-1 to the Penguins.  Ryan Classic's recap at Silver Seven sums up how stinky the Sens were that evening.

The Last Devils-Senators Game: The Devils hosted the Senators last Tuesday.  The game went on like many games by the Devils in the last 3-4 weeks.  It was close on the scoreboard, but the Devils held an advantage in terms of possession.  It still looked frustrating at times, but the Senators weren't exactly rolling in Newark.  However, they didn't get the lucky bounce, the extra strong shift, or the great play to win the game in the third period.  On this night, Ottawa did when Jason Spezza fed Erik Condra for a point-blank one-timer late in the game to earn a 2-1 win.   My recap of the game is right here; and for the opposition's side, here's a recap at Silver Seven by Peter Raaymakers.

The Goal: Attack, attack, attack attack attack.  The Senators just gave up 5 goals on 41 shots in their most recent game. In the game before that, the Senators gave up 6 goals on 33 shots to Buffalo.  Craig Anderson has been thoroughly solved in both games.  The defense certainly didn't help him out much in either game, too.  If the Senators show any signs of hesitation or nervousness in their own end, then the Devils need to pounce on it. If Anderson isn't able to contain the puck on shots, then the Devils need to go after those rebounds like wolves on steaks.   If the Devils are able to pull ahead with a lead, then they need to pour on the misery to avoid any comebacks or attempts to make the game "interesting" like Tuesday's game with Atlanta.  I'm not asking for a blowout, I'm asking the Devils to attack the Senators for 60 minutes tonight. 

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For any Ottawa Senators analysis and opinion, please check out Silver Seven.

The Senators remain a team beset by injuries.  As I noted in the now-somewhat-recent preview last week, they have called up quite a few players to fill open spots.  New Jersey fans who remember last season as well as this one can sympathize.  Well, it's not getting any easier for Ottawa.  In this Wednesday article in the Ottawa Citizen, Ken Warren reports that goaltender Craig Anderson may be joining the injured.  It's not known what the injury actually is, but it's enough to make him questionable for tonight.  If he's healthy, he'll start. Otherwise, Curtis McElhnney will start tonight's game.   (Also: in the same Warren article, the Sens will call up 2 more players for tonight and Zach Smith has fought with the flu, but will still play.)

Given that Ottawa doesn't have anything to play for the rest of the season, I'm not sure why Anderson would want to come in to start and risk further injury.   Then again, I have a vested interest in wanting to see McElhinney start.

2010-11 - Craig Anderson 44 2436 19 19 121 2.98 1312 1191 .908 1
2010-11 - Curtis McElhinney 23 1094 7 10 60 3.29 567 507 .894 2

So should you.

2010-11 - Jason Spezza 50 15 24 39 -11 26 5 0 1 153 9.8

In any case, the biggest threat I can see on paper from Ottawa will be Jason Spezza's line.  Spezza himself has 3 goals and 2 assists since the last Devils game, when he set up the game-winner.  Granted, 2 of those goals and both assists came in the Buffalo game.  Still, he's too skilled to ignore.  Give him space and he will ruin your night. Against the Pens, his linemates were Bobby Butler and Colin Greening, two guys looking to make a good impression in the hopes of getting a NHL job for next season.  They may not do anything fancy, but they won't have to be fancy with Spezza being the proverbial straw in the drink.  In my opinion, the Devils defense will have to be aware of that unit the most.

2010-11 - Erik Karlsson 67 12 28 40 -36 46 4 0 4 158 7.6

The wild-card is defenseman Erik Karlsson. He leads the Sens in scoring with 12 goals and 28 assists. He plays quite a lot, as he averages 23:17 per game this season.  However, his defensive game may still need some work. Ryan Classic's recap of the Penguins game noted something very curious about the player:

It always seems to be one extreme or another with Karlsson. Sometimes his offensive skills outshine his defensive shortcomings and he's the most valuable player (or at least defenceman) on the ice. Tonight was not one of those nights. Karlsson was a liability.

Given that he was apparently horrid against Pittsburgh, he may play tonight like he has a point to prove.  Whether it's the point that he can roll off a bad game and still do well, or the point that he's still inconsistent.  Let's hope it's the latter.

One other point about Ottawa that I want to make is their penalty killing. Believe it or not, but they are seemingly quite good on the PK. Their success rate this season is 83.1%, which is tied for the twelfth best in the NHL.   They are prone at allowing a lot of shots at 4-on-5 situations, their shots against per 60 rate of 55.9 is the fifth highest in the NHL according to Behind the Net.  Yet, they have benefited from excellent goaltending in those situations: the team's 90.3% save percentage is the fourth highest in the NHL.  The Devils should definitely strive to do much better on any power plays than they did against Atlanta, but I wouldn't have high expectations for power play goals tonight. 

Moving onto the Devils, the lineup may be the same for the third game in a row.  Emphasis on may. The only change among skaters may be on the fourth line, with Rod Pelley filling for Adam Mair. Tom Gulitti's report from Wednesday's practice stated that Mair, Pelley, David Steckel, and Vladimir Zharkov were on the fourth line.  None of them dressed as a defenseman, so it's not a sign if someone is out. Then again, before the game against Atlanta, Mair did dress as a defenseman in practice and he still played.  So there may not be a change at forward. 

Regardless, that there is uncertainty at the twelfth forward spot speaks well about the other three forward lines. They have proven to be productive in recent games, everyone seems to complement each other in some way, and none are getting destroyed on the regular.  And so Jacques Lemaire keeps them together.  Who knew that's all it took?  Same for the defense. There really isn't any reason to put Mark Fraser back in the lineup unless someone can't play.  I guess when you're 23-3-2 since January 9, there's not a lot of reason to make large changes in the roster.

Speaking of keeping things the same, Travis Zajac will suit up for his 389th consecutive game tonight, breaking the franchise record for consecutive games played, soon-to-be-formerly held by Ken Daneyko. Congratulations in advance to Zajac.  If want to how he's doing this season, then read this - I think he's doing quite well.

The goaltender may also be the same. In this Gulitti post on Wednesday, Martin Brodeur might be starting his ninth game in a row.  It wasn't confirmed, but Gulitti's been on the beat long enough to know what's up. If he thinks Brodeur's starting, he probably will be.  I actually hope Gulitti's wrong and Johan Hedberg plays.  This is the first of a back-to-back set of games and tomorrow's game is against the ridiculously talented and hot Washington Capitals (yes, they lost on Wednesday, that still makes them 9-1-0 in their last 10).  Then after that set, the Devils will go on the road for four games in seven calender days.  I'd rather have Brodeur fully ready for the Washington game and the ensuing road trip.  Though, if you're a Believer in the Longshot Happening, then you won't mind Brodeur starting because a win is a win regardless who starts. 

In any case, what would you like to see the Devils do tonight - other than win, of course?  Do you think they will attack as much as I'd like them to, or do you expect a more reserved effort?  Which Devils line do you think will do the best tonight?  What about Ottawa concerns you the most? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments.  Thanks for reading.