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Game 63 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (27-31-4) vs the Tampa Bay Lightning (31-18-7)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils ended a four game road trip at Sunrise, home of the Florida Panthers. The Panthers started off strong, but Martin Brodeur - who had his first start since February 6 - was up to the task. The Devils rolled on the Cats in the second period, put up two goals, and weathered the storm Florida put up in the rest of the game.  Florida got one back but couldn't get the equalizer; that's how New Jersey won 2-1.   My recap of the game is here.

The Last Lightning Game:  The Lightning took a trip to the World's Most Overrated Arena to play the Rangers.  It was a tight one on the scoreboard. Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier scored the goals needed for the Bolts to win, and Dwayne Roloson stood tall except when Brandon Prust ran him (and somehow still had his goal count).  The Lightning won 2-1 and Cassie McClellan's recap at Raw Charge delves a little bit into how it wasn't one of Tampa Bay's better performances.

The Last Devils-Lightning Game: This preview is going to be rather short because these two teams just played each other last Friday.   The game was in Tampa Bay and the home team took control in terms of possession.  What made the difference for the Lightning were not just one, but two shots in the high slot of faceoffs.  That's how Martin St. Louis and Simon Gagne scored to put Tampa Bay up by 2.  In the third period, Mark Fayne fired a long shot through traffic to halve the lead.  However, despite Tampa Bay sitting back in the last 5-7 minutes or so, the Devils just didn't get the breaks on the way to getting an equalizer.  The Devils lost 2-1, snapping an eight-game winning streak for them.  It would be their only loss for the month.   My recap of the loss is here, where I called the result deserved for New Jersey.  For the other side, Meredith Qualls has this recap up at Raw Charge.

The Goal: Win the matchups beyond the top line.  In the last Lightning-Devils game, while the Devils largely limited Steven Stamkos and St. Louis in the run of play and the Bolts quieted the Zajac line, Tampa Bay enjoyed plenty of success on their second and third lines.  Vincent Lecavalier, Simon Gagne, and Teddy Purcell had a lovely time beating on the Elias unit at evens.  Sean Bergenheim, Dominic Moore, and Adam Hall did fairly well against Jason Arnott and a double-shifted Ilya Kovalchuk.  While the goals against didn't come from the run of play, Tampa Bay controlled much of the game because their second and third lines did so well.  That hurt the Devils overall, late attempts at a comeback notwithstanding.  To prevent that, New Jersey's second, third, and fourth lines really need to do a better job tonight.

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

The Lightning did nothing at the trade deadline.  They already picked up a goaltender earlier in the season (Dwayne Roloson) and they bolstered their defense with the addition of Eric Brewer, who did very well against the Devils last Friday. 

Therefore, what I wrote about the Lightning last week still applies.  So if you're interested in learning what the Tampa Bay Lightning are all about and who to watch for, please check out the preview from last week.   If you saw Friday's game, then, well, there's nothing new I can really add.  Here's a quick and dirty summary anyway:  Stamkos and St. Louis are amazing point machines. Lecavalier's rather talented so don't be fooled by his low point totals.  Brewer has been a great addition to their blueline.  Roloson is a better goaltender than Dan Ellis and Mike Smith (and possibly put together).  The Lightning, in general, are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to puck possession.  The Lightning are one of the top teams in the league regardless of whatever you may feel about them. These statements, as far as I know, are all still true.

The Lightning may get a defenseman or two back.  Or not.  As reported on Sunday by Damian Cristodero at Lightning Strikes, defenseman Mattias Ohlund may have had a set-back in his injury while defenseman Mike Lundin could be ready to return this week.  We may see Ohlund and Lundin or one of them or none of them tonight. Let's hear it for potential!

Anyway, moving on to the Devils. They did do one thing at the trade deadline: they moved Jason Arnott to Washington for David Steckel and a 2012 second round pick.  Here's what I wrote about the trade yesterday, which includes a quick analysis as to what kind of player Steckel is.  Basically, he's a defensive center who can win loads of faceoffs.  Steckel will make his New Jersey Devils debut tonight, and he practiced with the team on Tuesday.

According to Tom Gulitti's report from practice at Fire & Ice, Steckel centered a line with Vladimir Zharkov and David Clarkson. That's not a line that's going to score a whole lot of goals, but it could do well along the boards and  possibly (hopefully) in their own end. All three have absolutely no problems cycling or dumping and chasing.  In fact, as Gulitti reported in this post, Steckel himself thinks the line will do well in the corners.


Steckel said he isn’t sure what his role will be with the Devils, but thinks he just needs to play his game.

"To be honest, I don’t how I’m going to fit in here, but, for me, it’s winning faceoffs to control the puck and being a two-way player out there on the positive side every time I can be," he said. "Just get in deep, cycle and get it to the net and I think with the linemates I had today (Vladimir Zharkov and David Clarkson) we’re going to be pretty successful in doing that."

Based on Gulitti's other posts from Tuesday's practice, Steckel is fitting in right away.  In this post by Gulitti, Martin Brodeur considered the trade to be a top three line player for another top three line player.  Over in this post by Gulitti, Rod Pelley had plenty of nice things to say about Steckel, throwing in the phrase "Devils' hockey" around. Jacques Lemaire wasn't as upbeat in this Gulitti post - which should surprise no one - but he all but said that Steckel will kill penalties while appreciating that he has the option to put together a checking line.

While it's great that Steckel is so warmly received, I'm not going to hope for too much.  It's his first game with the team and it's against a top opponent. He's a defensive center anyway, so expecting him to bring it on offense would be too much to hope for.  If he just has a simple, decent outing where he doesn't get burned on an error, then I'd be pleased. 

I'm not pleased with the notion that Jacob Josefson may play tonight.  According to this post by Gulitti, Josefson will line up at center between Pelley and Mattias Tedenby.   It's his natural position and Lemaire wants to see how he does.  He wasn't so bad against Lightning, but he really didn't stand out either.  My problem is that if he does play, then this will be his ninth game played season. Any more games, even just one shift in a future game, will activate his contract for this season.  That's money spent, even if it is pro-rated, that does not need to be spent. That's makes him a free agent one year sooner after this ELC and he can become an unrestricted free agent one year sooner.  Now, if New Jersey sends him back to Albany for the rest of the season, then no big deal.  I'm concerned that they won't for one reason or another, which is entirely needless. I know you may be sick of hearing this again and again. I don't hate the kid, I just want his contract to slide into next season. Why risk it with another game played?

Anyway, as noted in the goal, how those two lines will do will be of importance.  Not just for how Steckel and Josefson do at center, but in terms of who they will match-up with and how they'll perform against them.  If they can do some damage against the Lightning, then it would only benefit New Jersey's efforts tonight.  It's one thing to get pinned back by two of the top scorers in the NHL who play on the same line.  But they can't play the whole the game.  When they're off the ice, the Devils can, in theory, strike back against any momentum Tampa Bay generated or add to what the Devils have done for themselves. The bottom two lines may not get a lot of minutes, but they won't be wasted if they can push the puck forward or at least avoid getting pinned back.

The rest of the Devils' lineup looks to be the same.  As Gulitti noted at the end of this post, while not confirmed, it is apparently likely that Martin Brodeur will get the start tonight. Given how well he played against Florida, I have no problems with this and neither should you.  With Hedberg's February performances earning him the NHL's third star of the month along with Brodeur being, well, himself; goaltending is the least of New Jersey's concerns.   Hopefully, it should be Tampa Bay's second biggest concern tonight - behind the Devils' efforts on defense.

How do you think tonight's game will go knowing how well the last Tampa Bay-New Jersey game went? What do you expect out of David Steckel tonight? Do you think the changes on the bottom two lines will be a positive factor tonight? Will the Devils beat the Lightning for a third time this season or split the season series? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. If you have any news updates, please feel free to add them in the comments as long as you provide a link to the source.  Let's go, Devils!