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Game 66 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Ottawa Senators

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (30-31-4) vs. the Ottawa Senators (22-34-9)

The Last Devils Game: On Sunday afternoon, the New Jersey Devils took on the Islanders of New York  in their house. While the Devils enjoyed the better of possession, the Isles kept it close thanks to one bad bounce on a penalty kill and one bad clearing attempt by Mark Fayne.  The game required a shootout and New Jersey's goal scorers in regulation - Ilya Kovalchuk and Brian Rolston - came through while Martin Brodeur's glove stayed true. The Devils extended their winning streak to 4 games with a 3-2 shootout win.  My recap of the game is here.

The Last Senators Game: After a 3-1 win against Atlanta, the Ottawa Senators hosted the Rangers on the very next night.  The Senators couldn't build on their win over the Thrashers, as the Rangers just put them to the sword in a 4-1 loss.  Adnan at Silver Seven has this recap where he praised Erik Karlsson for being hero despite faltering in a major way. It seemed to be just another one of those games among Ottawa's nightmare 2010-11 season.

The Last Devils-Senators Game:  Both teams faced off in Newark after the All Star Break to kick off February.  While the first period showcased some rust from the layoff, the Devils turned it up in the second period.  Goaltender Robin Lehner had to stand on his head to keep the Senators in it; but the Devils were able to crack him with a fortunate deflection off of Chris Phillips' stick in the third period.  The Devils won 2-1 to kick off a February full of wins.  My recap of the game is here.  For the other side, Peter Raaymakers of Silver Seven called it a snoozefest in this recap.

The Goal: Try really hard to get more than 2 goals in regulation.  I have no issue with 2-1 or 1-0 wins on their own. However, the Devils have been rather fortunate to get great goaltending, strong defense, and opposition errors so that they've been getting loads of wins with minimal goal scoring.  After all, the Devils last scored more than 2 goals in regulation back on February 19 (4-1 win at Carolina) - over 6 games ago.   I fear the night will come where either of those three traits don't happen and the offense won't be able to carry the day, so to speak.  So piling up a couple goals tonight would do wonders for the team's confidence.  While getting goals isn't as easy as just hoping for it; it's important that the Devils make the effort to attack even with the lead.  Even if they don't score - they'll ensure that the Sens won't be fighting back.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For the opposition-based take on tonight's game, please check out Silver Seven.

The Ottawa Senators have pretty much waved the white flag on this season.  In February, they traded Mike Fisher, Alexei Kovalev, Chris Kelly, and Jarkko Ruutu.  Their injury list has swelled with important players.  As reported by Allen Panzeri at the Ottawa Citizen on Monday, the IR list includes Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, Peter Regin, and Matt Carkner.  Even the goaltender who had a brilliant night against the Devils, Robin Lehner, isn't even on the team anymore: he's down in Binghamton (and not playing per this post at Silver Seven). 

Basically, there's going to be quite a few new faces on this Ottawa roster tonight.

There are still a few Senators of note who will play tonight. Defensemen Sergei Gonchar, Erik Karlsson, and Chris Phillips all average over 20 minutes per game.  The top Devils forwards will see plenty of those three.  The Devils should be wary of the offense Gonchar and Karlsson can bring to the table.  In terms of forwards, Jason Spezza  (45 GP, 12 G, 21 A) is still talented enough to cause some damage.

If nothing else, the most intriguing Sens may be the newbies.  As Panzeri wrote in this article at the Ottawa Citizen on Monday, the rest of this season is essentially an audition for Bobby Butler, Colin Greening, Erik Condra, and Zack Smith.  Of those four, look out for Butler.  He's been very productive in recent weeks.  He got the "biggest gain" moniker in Mark Parisi's most recent Ups and Downs article at Silver Seven because he has 9 points in his last 10 games.  6 of those 9 points are goals.  He hasn't been all that streaky unless you consider getting points in alternating games to be a streak.  He shouldn't be ignored.  The Devils coaching staff probably wont if he's playing up top with Spezza.

2010-11 - Craig Anderson 40 2234 17 18 110 2.95 1188 1078 .907 1

Lastly, there's the goaltender to deal with.  Craig Anderson was acquired in exchange for Brian Elliott.  He didn't benefit from the percentages in Colorado this season, but his time in Ottawa so far hasn't been bad.  Parisi wrote the following about the recently acquired goaltender:

Lost some of his shine in a 4-1 drubbing by the Rangers on Friday night, but was coming off a one-goal, 42-save game the night before.  Continues to provide the best goaltending the Senators have had all year.

We shall see if the 4-1 loss to New York was a sign of things to come or just an off night.  That he can still bust out a 42-save performance is enough to know he's not washed up.  Plus, Anderson shutdown the Devils once before this season.  He's familiar with most of New Jersey's top scorers in that sense.

As far as the Devils themselves are concerned, their other big goal is to not lose their focus.  It's easy to look past a 15th place team that traded a few players away and have more injured.  It's simple to look at the Fenwick percentage in this post at Behind the Net, note that when the game's tied the Devils have been awesome at the Rock and the Senators have been below average on the road, and conclude this game should be in the bag for the Devils.

Well, that would be stupid.  Just as other teams didn't look past the Devils back when New Jersey was giving away points like Oprah Winfrey, the Devils can't come out lethargic or forget about what they did to get where they are.  I'm sure Jacques Lemaire isn't going to allow this to happen.  In Monday's practice, Tom Gulitti noted that the Devils were doing some work on their breakout passes.  It's that type of work that should keep the Devils' heads straight.  Besides, it

If there's something else the Devils should look to do tonight, it's to find men in the slot and around the net when they do go forward.   Matt found that the Devils have had a fantastic 22.7% shooting percentage around the net and a healthy 12.7% in the slot in these last 24 games.   As with the goal described before the jump, you can file this under "Easier Said than Done" in the "Duh" cabinet.  One does not simply just walk into the slot, the Sens skaters will do what they can in response. Still, it's something to strive for rather than settling for shots from the perimeter. 

There are a few Devils to keep an eye on tonight. The obvious man is Kovalchuk, who has become a goal scoring machine in recent weeks - 10 in the last 16 games. The dude's got no mercy for goalies.  Hopefully, he'll extend his goal scoring streak to 4 games tonight.   But there's more to New Jersey than #17.  There's Patrik Elias, the Corsi machine who has driven the unlikely-on-paper linemates of Brian Rolston and Dainius Zubrus forward and to success.  #26 deserves your attention.  Take notice of rookie Mark Fayne on defense if you can as well. He had a horrible turnover in the third period of the Islanders game that led to an equalizer.  How he does on his first few shifts should indicate whether he's moved on from the error.  I think he'll be fine;

Do watch out for the rookies Jacob Josefson (#16). He had a good game against the Penguins last Friday. He had another good game in Long Island, where he picked up his first NHL point on a drop pass to the aforementioned Kovalchuk.  It should be interesting to see if he can make it three in a row.  Don't necessarily look for points from him, that will depend on who he's playing with, but notice how he plays off the puck in both ends.  Like Vladimir Zharkov, he seems to know where he needs to be and he stays calm when there is pressure.  It's the kind of play that doesn't necessarily show up on the scoresheet, but will show whether it was worth it to burn his ELC.

As Gulitti reported on Monday, there could be one lineup change: the return of Rod Pelley to the lineup.  He was scratched for Sunday's game to make room for Mattias Tedenby and because Adam Mair played too well on Friday to sit.  I know Pelley was disappointed and I sympathize with him. However, with David Steckel now on the team, he's not guaranteed a spot every night.  This means when he does play, it behooves him to put in a smart and significant effort on the ice.  It's not known who will sit for Pelley, assuming he does get in; though it wouldn't surprise me if it was Mair.  He wasn't as strong on Sunday afternoon and only played with Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac because Nick Palmieri was being punished for a breakaway-causing turnover.

2010-11 - Martin Brodeur 42 2267 17 19 97 2.57 988 891 .902 4

Lastly, Gulitti confirmed on Monday at Fire & Ice that Martin Brodeur will start tonight.  As if there was any doubt. He's been excellent since returning from his last injury, not unlike Johan Hedberg's hot streak in February. 

What do you think will happen in tonight's game? Do you think the Devils will be able to get more than two goals on Craig Anderson?  Are you concerned about Bobby Butler with Spezza up top?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments.  If you find any news updates during the day, then feel free to add them in the comments - just please make sure you link to the original source of the news.   Thank you for reading. Let's go, Devils!