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Game 79 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins

Could this man force Dan Bylsma to change his tactics from the last two Devils-Penguins games?  Hopefully! (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Could this man force Dan Bylsma to change his tactics from the last two Devils-Penguins games? Hopefully! (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
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The Time: 7:30 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - VERSUS(HD); Radio -970 AM WNYM

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (36-37-5) at the Pittsburgh Penguins (46-25-8)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils played the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.  To phrase a not-real movie critic for the Devils' performance: "It stunk."  That's a bit harsh.  Martin Brodeur played well.  The rest of the team stunk.  The Devils lost 3-1 and the defeat mathematically eliminated them from the playoffs.  My recap of the game is here.

The Last Penguins Game: The Penguins also played on Saturday night, visiting the Florida Panthers.  After striking first, the Penguins found themselves down 2-1 at the end of the first. Fortunately, within the first minute of the second period, Pascal Dupuis tied up the game; and the Penguins never looked back. Zybnek Michalek's blast from the point past halfway through the third took the lead and Craig Adams added an empty net goal to make it a 4-2 win.  Frank D has this recap of the game up at PensBurgh.

The Last Devils-Penguins Game:  These two teams played each other less than two weeks ago, back in Pittsburgh on March 25.  This was a difficult game to watch. The Devils struggled mightily to get anything resembling consistent offense. The Penguins had the better of possession and shots but they weren't that much more threatening.  It was a true defensive affair with both goaltenders, Martin Brodeur and Marc-Andre Fleury picking up the double shutout after 65 minutes.  A shootout was necessary to decide a winner and James Neal stepped up as the lone man to score a goal in Pittsburgh that evening.  The Devils lost the game 1-0 via shootout and in my recap, I bluntly stated that they should be happy they got a point at all.  Over at PensBurgh, Hooks Orpik praised Fleury for earning a fourth shutout in four March 25 dates in his career.

The Goal: The Devils would be wise to set the tempo early and disrupt the Penguins' defensive system. That's going to be easier said than done given Pittsburgh's commitment to their system, their strong possession game, plus the three headed beast that makes up half of their total blueline: Kris Letang, Paul Martin, and Zybnek Michalek.  (Not to mention that this requires the team to make breakout passes and passes through the neutral zone to get into Pittsburgh's end. You know, the very aspect of the game that undercut the Devils against Montreal on Saturday.)   Still,  I think the Devils need to push at them early on.  The last two Devils-Penguins games saw the Penguins hang back and stifle New Jersey as much as possible in the neutral zone and at the blueline itself.   In order to break that, the Devils need to surprise them; coming at them strong early would do just that in my opinion.  If the Devils can do that, then they have a means to generate some offense, which will hopefully lead to goals.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump.  Please check out PensBurgh for any Pittsburgh-based analysis.

Since the Devils played the Penguins four games ago, I would like to direct you to the last Devils-Penguins preview to get an idea of what the Penguins are all about.   While they have clinched a playoff spot, they still have a long shot at winning the Atlantic Division over their most hated rivals in Philadelphia. Plus, they want to ward off Tampa Bay from taking the #4 spot in the East and home-ice in the first round of the postseason.  They most certainly have something to play for.


What might be new from Pittsburgh?  Well, the power play has been a bit of an issue in Pittsburgh. Devils fans can sympathize and/or roll their eyes since New Jersey's (14.4%) has been less successful than the Pens' (15.3%).   Rob Rossi in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review called for a specialist on Sunday.  According Sam Kasan's report from Pittsburgh's practice at the team's official website, the team did work on it on Monday and apparently made some changes.  We'll see what tweaks they made and whether they'll be tangible.  If it doesn't, they can at least be proud that their penalty kill is the most successful in the league as of this writing at 86.4%.

What should we expect in terms of a gameplan? I would think head coach Dan Bylsma will want to use a similar strategy from the last two Devils-Penguins games since it A) kept the Devils from scoring and B) got them 3 out of 4 points of those two games.   Expect Ilya Kovalchuk to see plenty of Jordan Staal's line tonight.  Expect big minutes from Letang, Martin, and Michalek.  Expect to see a lot of bodies in the neutral zone.  Though, a certain someone on the Devils may force him to change his hand.

I am referring to, of course, the return of Zach Parise to the Devils' lineup.  He got through Saturday's game just fine and practiced on Monday. Since he's back, Jacques Lemaire will likely shift his lines.  According to Tom Gulitti's report of Monday's practice, Parise was lined up with Jacob Josefson and Dainius Zubrus, while Mattias Tedenby got bumped to play with Patrik Elias and Brian Rolston.  Expect to see experimentation like this given that it's the end of the season and the Devils don't have much to play for beyond pride and spoiling some team's night.   Should the team much better than it did on Saturday night, these lines may force Bylsma change his focus away from the Travis Zajac, Kovalchuk, and Nick Palmieri unit; which would open space for them.

Of course, if the team still struggles (I would hope not after what Lemaire called "one of their worst games" this season, per Gulitti on Monday) or a certain line are getting pounded in a match-up, Lemaire will mix things up.  How Bylsma will react to that could very well be important in how this game will go. He hasn't faced up against Lemaire changing lines in-game all that much this season, so it would certainly be a recent change for him.   It's going to be more important if the Devils skaters can complete at least two-to-three passes going forward or off a breakout, sure; but I don't think it's a meaningless wrinkle if it can get NJ a better match-up in-game (e.g. drawing Staal away from Kovalchuk).

As far as the lineup for the Devils is concerned, a third of the regulars are still out. Anton Volchenkov and Colin White didn't practice on Monday, they aren't traveling with the team, and so they will not play tonight.  Lemaire confirmed this in this post by Gulitti on Monday.  Therefore, expect Mark Fraser and Jay Leach to get soft, limited minutes while Andy Greene and Henrik Tallinder takes a heavier workload tonight. Just like the last Devils-Penguins game, only with more available bodies on defense. That's going to be a point of concern, especially if Tallinder or Greene show any signs of struggling out there.

Also, in that same post, Gulitti reported that Martin Brodeur will start tonight and that Lemaire plans to split the starts between Brodeur and Johan Hedberg for future games.  I have no problems with this plan.  Again, the final four games not meaning much allows for such a move. Besides, Moose's last start showed that he hasn't forgotten to play the position.  Brodeur will be fine tonight - he did have a shutout the last time he was in Pittsburgh - and Hedberg should be fine for Wednesday night.

In any case, tonight begins the first of four games just to play out the string for New Jersey. Do you think the Devils will put in a full effort regardless and do whatever it takes to win? Would you be disappointed if there is no victory? Will you be unhappy if this game goes like the last Devils-Penguins game (I certainly would be - it was bad)? How do you think the game will go anyway?  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.