The Time: 7:00 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM WFAN
The Game: The New Jersey Devils (26-17-2) vs. the Boston Bruins (29-13-1)
The Last Devils Game: On Tuesday, the Devils returned to the Rock after a four game road trip to play Winnipeg, whom they beat in their building on Saturday. This game would turn out to be a more decisive victory. After a slow first 5 minutes or so, the Devils took an edge in the game in the first period and ended it with a goal scored by Ilya Kovalchuk on a breakaway. The second period saw the Jets come close to scoring early, getting denied by Martin Brodeur, and then allowing 3 goals before the halfway mark. Petr Sykora scored through a screen, David Clarkson caught Chris Mason unaware, and Kovalchuk converted a power play through traffic. Mason was chased and the Devils cruised through the game. The Jets would get on the board in the third period, as Tobias Enstrom scored through traffic. Patrik Elias answered that one a few minutes later from shooting a loose puck on Ondrej Pavelec's flank. How secure was the lead? Mattias Tedenby got PK time late in the game. The Devils won big 5-1; here's my recap of the victory.
The Last Bruins Game: While the Devils were beating on the Jets, the Bruins were in Tampa Bay. Believe it or not, the struggling Lightning rose above the best team in the Eastern Conference in the third period. The game featured the Lightning scoring first, the Bruins responding later, and then the process repeating with shots holding mostly even outside of the first period (Lightning were up 11-6). It wasn't until late in the third period when Dominic Moore hammered a shot from the right circle to beat Tim Thomas and make it 4-3 Tampa Bay. The Bruins were stunned and they could not respond within the final four minutes of the game. Steven Stamkos tacked on an empty net goal to serve Boston a 5-3 loss. Dave Carignan of Stanley Cup of Chowder has this short recap of the loss.
The Last Devils-Bruins Game: The Devils hung with the Bruins for about the first 15 minutes of the game. One could argue that a first period ending 2-1 against Boston wasn't so bad, given the first goal against was a fluke and the second was on an uncovered player. Then the rest of the game happened, where the Bruins simply out-classed the Devils. They just piled up the goals and dominated the skaters in the remaining 40 minutes. The Devils lost 6-1 and, in retrospect, it's a wonder they even got the one goal. My recap of the loss is right here. For an opposition point of view, here is a recap over at Stanley Cup of Chowder by Sarah Conner.
The Goal: Minimize turnovers. The Bruins are loaded with talent and depth at forward and they have one strong defensive pairing. While the forwards alone make Boston a difficult team to match up against, it is important that the Devils reduce turnovers as much as they can. The Devils players got a bit lazy with their passes and some clearances against Winnipeg. The Jets made several interceptions in the neutral zone, while the failed clearances allowed Winnipeg to generate what little offense they got that evening. While the Jets didn't do too much with them and the Devils were winning throughout the game, it wasn't a huge deal. The larger point is that the Devils helped them out and it was unnecessary. If the Devils aren't sharper there, then I can see the Bruins forwards would make the Devils pay for such errors. The Bruins are already going to be pumped up enough for this game, it is important that the Devils should not help them out by needlessly giving up the puck.
I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For the opposition's perspective, please check out Stanley Cup of Chowder.The Devils will expect a talented and tough opponent at the Rock tonight. In my opinion, the Devils also should expect an angry opponent. According to this article by Douglas Flynn at NESN, head coach Claude Julien had this to say after the Tampa Bay loss:
"We're just not competing hard enough right now," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We can look anywhere we want, mistakes or battles or whatever. It's about compete level right now. Our guys are not competing as hard as they should, and because of that we're just an ordinary hockey club right now."
When the coach is saying that to the media, you can bet on the players hearing a less nuanced version in the locker room. The Bruins haven't been playing all that well on their current road trip and it's clear that's no one was happy about the Tampa Bay game. The team will be motivated to avoid a second straight loss. Given that they're going to be in the same arena where they won 6-1 earlier this month, the motivation to succeed will be amped up even more. The Devils must be prepared for an team looking to prove a point. The non-Horton forwards on their top six will want to make a bigger impact on the game. Tim Thomas still boasts a 94% save percentage at even strength and he'll want to rebound from a not-so-good game in Tampa. For a team as talented as the Bruins, that motivation and anger will make an already difficult game even tougher.
While it's been a little over two weeks since these two teams last played each other, much of what I have written in the last Devils-Boston preview still holds true. According to Behind the Net, the Bruins are an excellent possession team with a close score Fenwick% of 52.60%, the fifth highest in the league. Also according to Behind the Net, they're second in the league in SF/60 with 32.7 in 5-on-5 situations and it's higher than their SA/60 rate of 30.7. The advanced stats at BtN for individual Bruin players are ridiculous; so many of them have been possession machines. Even the basic individual stats at NHL.com are awesome. Their entire top 6 has each has at least 31 points and 76 shots on net. None of them are on pace for 35 goals or 90 points, but they're all producing consistently to a point where they don't need one Top Scorer. They got two lines of powerful, push-the-play-forward offense and they get good support from a useful third line.
Oh, and that entire top six will play tonight. Brad Marchand finished a five game suspension for clipping Sami Salo. Much has been and likely will be made about how he won't change his reptuation, but Marchand will likely rejoin the excellent Patrice Bergeron and team leading scorer Tyler Seguin and continue playing excellent hockey. Peter DeBoer may want to use the Patrik Elias line against them. Or maybe he wants to use them against David Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Nathan Horton, who's coming off a 2-goal, 6-shot night in Tampa Bay. Whoever gets these two lines will have a long night. Especially the Devils line that also gets the pairing of Zdeno Chara (24:23 ATOI, plays the toughest competition on the team, 7 G, 20 A, 120 SOG, 6'9" Has A Posse) and Johnny Boychuk.
The Devils' bottom six won't be unscathed either. In the notes of this post-game article by Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe, Rich Peverley is expected to be available tonight. If he his healthy and suits up, he'll be on the third line with Chris Kelly and possibly Benoit Pouliot. Given Kelly's 13 goals and Peverley's 7 goals and 22 assists, that's a unit that can definitely chip in. The Jacob Josefson unit better be ready to be sharp in their own end since they'll likely see this group at some point. That's an especially tall order for Josefson as tonight will be only his second game back from injury. Hopefully, he doesn't make too many errors.
It's not all bad news for New Jersey. After all, they did win big over a team they're competing with in the East. They have every reason to look for revenge for the last game against Boston. Patrik Elias specifically said they need a better effort against the Bruins, according to this post by Rich Chere at NJ.com. We can be confident that Elias will do something. He is coming off a three-point performance (1 G, 2 A) and currently has a six game point streak where he earned four goals and six assists. We can have faith in Ilya Kovalchuk, who has seven goals and 35 shots in his last six games. Martin Brodeur will get the start tonight as Chere noted in this post. It makes sense to me, Brodeur has only allowed two goals in his last two starts, a big rebound from that awful night in Calgary last week. The defense as a whole has been solid, so they have reason to feel confident going forward. Yes, it'll be a challenge, but the Devils are in a good spot as any to give the Bruins a competitive game.
I would also be on the lookout for #14, Adam Henrique. Henrique got through Wednesday's practice and he'll be a gameday decision according to Peter DeBoer in this Chere article. That he got through all of practice is a good sign that he could be ready to play. That would definitely help, as he's been quite productive and a solid penalty killer among traits. If he does, then he'll center Zach Parise and Kovalchuk and Dainius Zubrus can go back to right wing and boost the Elias line. Look for how he moves and how involved he gets on offense. Hopefully, the groin won't cause him problems and he can generate opportunities for Parise, Kovalchuk, and himself. If not, then expect to see the same top two forward lines as on Tuesday.
The bottom six looks to be shaken up per Chere's report from Wednesday's practice. Mattias Tedenby and Eric Boulton were swapped out, David Clarkson moved down to the third line, and Cam Janssen was placed back on the fourth line. I'm not really a fan of Tedenby shuttered out of the lineup, especially when Janssen was put back in. I know Boston has a "tough" fourth line, but those guys can sort of play hockey. Janssen really can't. Tedenby can be slotted back in his spot on the third line, Steve Zalewski can drop to the fourth, and Janssen can remain scratched. I'm not sure I like Steve Zalewski sticking on at left wing in place of Tedenby, either. Then again, it's not like either player has chipped in much on offense in recent games. Who knows, maybe there will be some gameday changes. The bottom six can't be fully discounted as Boston does have enough depth at forward such that a junk line is basically asking to be picked apart by the B's.
As a last point, I don't personally see this game as a measuring stick. I don't think a single game in the regular season can really serve that function. If the Devils win, then it would be great. Yet, it's not going to change too much beyond perception. Yes, I want the Devils to beat the Bruins and if they can do so in a decisive fashion, I would be elated. However, it's not going to change the realities of what the Devils are all about this season. Their struggles (lack of shooting, consistent goaltending, the power play) and their strengths (the penalty kill, an excellent shots against rate, a not-awful shooting percentage) remain what they are regardless of this result. Likewise, the Bruins won't become an "ordinary team" if they lose this game. They will still be the most talented team in the Eastern Conference and a powerful opponent for anyone in this league. We can and should focus on how the Devils perform, but the goal isn't to look good against a great team. It's to get points in the standings. Anything out of this one would be great in my view.
That's my take on tonight's game, now I want to know yours. What do you expect the Devils to get out of tonight's game? Will the Devils extract some revenge or will the Bruins make their mark on the Devils to avoid two straight losses for the first time since December 8? How would you handle Boston's top two lines if you were Peter DeBoer? Can the Devils get around the Chara-Boychuk pairing and get success on Thomas? Please leave your answers and other comments on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.