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Game 78 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Montreal Canadiens

Keep shining, Patrick.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Keep shining, Patrick. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
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The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG(HD); Radio - 1130 AM WBBR

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (36-36-5) vs. the Montreal Canadiens (41-30-7)

The Last Devils Game: Last night, the Devils hosted the Second Rate Rivals.  The Flyers looked pretty good early with a 1-0 lead in the first and leading in shots 14-8.  The Devils would respond in a big way through legendary forward Patrik Elias.  Elias finished off not one, not two, but three offensive rushes for goals - including a shorthanded goal.  Elias' hat trick was the team's first this season and the first at the Rock since 2007.  He and Brian Rolston were brilliant. Johan Hedberg was busy with 34 shots, and a Nick Palmieri re-direction was the eventual game winning goal as the Devils rolled on to win 4-2.  My recap of the game is here.

The Last Canadiens Game:  On Wednesday, Montreal went down to Carolina to play the Hurricanes. To say it didn't go well would be an understatement.  They allowed two goals in the first period. Two more in the second. And then another two in the third.   It's not so much that Montreal just let the Canes do as they wish.  They put 40 shots on net, blocked 23 shots, and got two past Cam Ward.  Les Habs just made mistakes and the Canes made the most of them - six times, to be exact.   The slump continues for them with the 6-2 loss.  Here's Kevin van Steendelaar's recap at Habs Eyes on the Prize.

The Last Devils-Canadiens Game: Back on February 6, the New Jersey Devils rolled into Montreal, coming off an overtime loss to Florida.  However, they showed little fatigue - striking early for two goals in the first and putting up a third early in the second.  Martin Brodeur started this one but had to leave due to injury after the first period; so Johan Hedberg came in frustrated the Canadiens with more saves.  Yet, the star of the game was Ilya Kovalchuk. He couldn't be stopped. He was a beast. He had a hand in all of New Jersey's goals and his stick was unfortunately involved on the only one that beat Moose.  The Devils won 4-1, and my recap of the game is here.  For the other side, Kevin van Steendelaar has this recap of the loss at Habs Eyes on the Prize.

The Goal: Slow the game down if possible.  In the Devils' win over the Flyers last night, the game itself was flowing up and down the ice freely. There wasn't a lot of neutral zone battles and both teams were able to get into the offensive zone with relative ease.  Great as it was to see New Jersey score four goals all off rushes up ice, I don't think it's their benefit to play like that tonight.  Montreal's not as deep at forward as Philadelphia and the last Devils-Canadiens game showed that they could be hindered.  I'm not saying the Devils need to sit in a 1-2-2 for 60 minutes (unless that would really screw up Montreal).  Just that they need make it more difficult for Canadien forwards to get into New Jersey's end than they did last night.  It would lessen the effect of fatigue from playing last night and possibly make the game easier.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For Canadiens analysis and history, please check out Habs Eyes on the Prize.

It's official, Zach Parise will play tonight.  Tom Gulitti reported this morning from the Devils' optional practice that Parise will play against Montreal (and for the rest of the season if possible).  Seeing #9 back on the ice is going to be great. 

However, I am not expecting much from Parise.  He hasn't played a game since the end of October.  Yes, he's been skating and was working out off-ice and practicing, but Parise is not likely going to be in game shape.  I am not demanding that he put in 16-18 minutes of ice time and torch Montreal defenders all night long.  I wouldn't complain if he did, but if he just puts in limited minutes at evens, gets some power play time and looks decent skating, I'd be satisfied with that.  The whole point of his return is to get back on the ice and show that his knee is fine; not to carry the team offensively. 

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see who he will line up with and who comes out of the lineup for him. That news will come out closer to game time. I wouldn't be surprised if he gets a few shifts with Travis Zajac, just to remind people what the two can do together.

That's not the only news coming out of the optional practice.  Gulitti also reported this morning that while Colin White was at practice, he will not play tonight; and that Mark Fraser is "preparing to play" and will at least be in warm-ups.   It's not guaranteed that he'll be in the lineup, but if he was, I would think he'd come out for Jay Leach.  I do not see the need to bench a regular for Fraser getting a game, not even Anssi Salmela, who had a poor game against the Flyers.  While Colin White was at the optional practice, he confirmed will not play.

Oh, and as if there was any doubt, Martin Brodeur will be the starter - confirmed here by Gulitti.  Since I'll never get tired of pointing it out, here is Brodeur's lifetime season stats against Montreal:

Career vs. Montreal - Martin Brodeur 61 3647 40 16 5 0 106 1.74 1587 1481 .933 9

As far as the rest of the Devils go, I hope the Zajac line has a better night tonight. As I noted in the recap of the Flyers game, Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, and Nick Palmieri were beaten on in terms of possession over and over again. Hopefully they not only get a more advantageous match-up, but also get more success on possession. They didn't have too many shifts where they got position on Philly and used it to generate a few shots. Most of their work was done off the rush. I'd like to see more control from them.  

Oh, and Patrik Elias?  Keep on shining.

Montreal's been slipping as of late. They are 1-4-0 in their last five games, where they scored only five goals.  Three in their 3-1 win over Atlanta and 2 in their most a recent game, a 6-2 loss at Carolina.  Yes, they were shutout three straight times prior to those last two games.  Ouch.   I don't think the Canadiens are going crash out of a playoff spot, that would be incredibly unlikely.  However, I can't imagine they are pleased with how they are going about finishing off the season.  The fans certainly aren't.  The press is calling this one to be a big game. At least Mike Boone of the Montreal Gazette is calling as such given this headline at Habs Hockey Inside/Out.

That said, I wouldn't expect Montreal to come out floundering. They had two days off to think over and discuss their recent struggles.  I'm sure they've worked on a few areas they have been picked on in practice.  The players don't sound like they're freaking out per this Dave Stubbs article in the Montreal Gazette.  They're rested and they'll be ready to go.  I expect a difficult game from them as a result.

While not as deep as Philadelphia, the Canadiens do have some key players to watch out for.  Specifically, their top four scorers:

2010-11 - Tomas Plekanec 73 21 34 55 7 60 3 0 4 216 9.7
2010-11 - Mike Cammalleri 63 17 26 43 2 33 7 0 2 174 9.8
2010-11 - Andrei Kostitsyn 77 20 22 42 3 30 5 0 6 182 11.0
2010-11 - Brian Gionta 78 26 15 41 1 24 5 2 5 286 9.1

No disrespect intended to Scott Gomez, who's had a disappointing season, but these four are the big difference makers on Montreal. Tomas Plekanec is a force going forward and has been for a few seasons now.  Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn are both quite talented and can ruin a goalie's night if given enough space. Captain Brian Gionta has been a shot machine for Les Habs and will likely pound Brodeur with several shots tonight.  Going physical against him won't slow him down, and if anyone should know that, it's the Devils. 

It may sound strange to talk these four up since Montreal has seen their goal scoring dry up.  After all, as Stubbs pointed out in the aforementioned Montreal Gazette article, the team put up a MacLean-esque 1.7 goals per game rate in March outside their 8-goal win over Minnesota.  If anyone should know that good players still require good defending regardless of their recent scoring woes, it's this team.  It's been New Jersey's whole season after all.

Those four will be supported from the blueline, mostly by P.K. Subban (12 G, 24 A) and James Wisniewski (7 G, 21 A).  Both defenders have averaged over 22 minutes this season and will likely get quite a few minutes tonight.  Subban will be one to watch since he struggled mightily against the Zajac line (mostly Kovalchuk) in the last game between these two teams.  Defense has been a bit of a sore spot for Montreal as of late. In their last 10 games, they had 7 games where they allowed 30 or more shots, and in 2 of those 7 games saw them allow over 40. Oh, and Montreal was 2-5 in those 7 games.

Since they had a few days off, I would think Carey Price will be the starting goaltender for Montreal.  He's had a good season.  Even with the team's recent struggles, it's not his fault they have had problems scoring goals.

2010-11 - Carey Price 69 4025 35 28 162 2.41 2055 1893 .921 8

As with all goaltenders, I hope the Devils make Price work early and often.  Taking recent games into account, that has still led to a few getting beyond the netminder.  With the Devils scoring 3 on the Isles and 4 on the Flyers, I think it's safe to say their scoring slump is over.  Let's hope it doesn't take a step back tonight.


How do you think will tonight's game go down?  Do you think the Canadiens get it together and put together a solid effort at both ends of the rink?  Does Patrik Elias keep on shining?  Does Martin Brodeur play like he usually does against Montreal?  What do you think Parise will do and who do you think he should play with?  How much do you think he'll play tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments.  Feel free to bring up and discuss any news for tonight's game in the comments as well; please provide a link to the source of the news if you do. Thank you for reading.  Let's go, Devils.