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Game 61 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

The New Jersey Devils will be looking for a result, not unlike Ilya Kovalchuk here looking for someone to pass it to. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
The New Jersey Devils will be looking for a result, not unlike Ilya Kovalchuk here looking for someone to pass it to. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
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The Time: 1:00 PM EDT

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

The Game: The New Jersey Devils (35-21-4) vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning (27-28-6)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils honored long time play-by-play announcer and legendary broadcaster Dr. Mike Emrick, better known as "Doc," on Friday night. They also hosted the Vancouver Canucks. The Devils put a very solid effort against a very good Canucks team. They kept the Sedin line relatively quiet. They out-shot the Canucks despite their own misgivings on offense. They played as well as one could expect. There was just this one problem: Cory Schneider. Vancouver's goaltender stopped almost everything, holding on to a 2-1 lead from halfway through the second period onward. Unfortunately, there are no points for a good effort. My recap of the loss is here.

The Last Lightning Game: The Lightning went to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins in a Saturday afternoon game. Let's go over the positives. The Lightning hung with the Penguins in shots, leading in them 35-34. The Lightning, uh, scored a goal. That's really it for positives. The rest was pretty much one giant negative for Tampa Bay. The Penguins scored eight goals against Dwayne Roloson and just beat on the Lightning all game long. Shots aside, the Penguins scored five at evens, two power play goals out of two opportunities, and a shorty. It was as euphoric for Pens fans as it was horrific for Bolts supporters. Cassie McClellan's recap at Raw Charge was short and 100% appropriate.

The Last Devils-Lightning Game: Back on December 12, 2011, the Devils visited Tampa Bay for a game that nearly made Devils fans scream as well. Maybe they did anyway. The Devils scored early thanks to a Dwayne Roloson error and a tip-in not too long afterwards made it 2-0. The Lightning battled back to answer both goals before the end of the first period to make it 2-2. The visitors blew the game wide open with a three goal second period that saw Roloson pulled for Mathieu Garon after another soft goal. Garon was damaged early as he was beaten on a two 2-on-0 breakaways. Then the third period came and it nearly all went away. Steven Stamkos scored on a power play to give the Lightning life and he scored in a empty-net situation in the game's final 34 seconds to make it 5-4. Harrowing as it was, the Devils did kill off the final seconds; but they nearly blew that third period lead. The Devils played to the edge but escaped Tampa Bay with a 5-4 win. The performance caused me to remark that this season's team just doesn't make things easy in my recap. As for an opposition-based perspective, Clark J Brooks highlighted Tampa Bay's inconsistency in his recap over at Raw Charge.

The Goal: See Stamkos, cover Stamkos, stop Stamkos. Steve Stamkos is the most important player on the Lightning. With all of their flaws and warts, Steven Stamkos is the one true and undeniable bright spot on the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.

2011-12 - Steven Stamkos 61 43 30 73 5 50 8 0 9 21:22 217 19.8

He leads the NHL in goals and was tied with Evgeni Malkin for the league lead in points before Saturday's beatdown (Malkin scored 3 goals and an assist). I'd go as far as to say that Stamkos has the best shot in the league. That's his best gift. He's great when it comes to getting into space and making good passes to his teammates. But when he has the puck on offense, Stamkos' is simply lethal. He's clinical at finishing plays, be it a flashy one-timer from the circle or a less glamorous garbage goal amid a scramble in the crease. He cannot be left open at any point of the game; he will make you pay for it. Stopping Stamkos is a difficult task, but it's possible. The Devils managed to stop the Sedins, Burrows, and Kesler on Friday. Now they have to repeat it. If they can do it, then it'll really help the Devils win today's game. If not, then they have to hope he can be limited.

I will discuss that along with other thoughts on this game after the jump. For an opposition's perspective, please check out Raw Charge.

The Tampa Bay Lightning currently lead the NHL in goals allowed with 208. Their closest competitors in that department are the lowly Blue Jackets with 198. Even before the Malking crowned the Bolts, Tampa Bay has been lit up for goals left and right this season. The team's goaltending performance has left a lot to be desired.

2011-12 - Dwayne Roloson 28 1451 8 12 2 91 3.76 757 666 .880 .892 1
2011-12 - Mathieu Garon 43 2235 19 16 4 108 2.90 1095 987 .901 .909 1

I'm going to pretty confident in guessing that they'll start Mathieu Garon for today's game. Roloson just played on Saturday and allowed eight goals. I believe the only way he'll see minutes in Newark is if Garon gets hurt or he gets lit up. It also helps that Garon has been the better goaltender, not that his stat line is all that inspiring.

Of course, goaltending is only part of the problem with the Lightning. For all of the talk about their 1-3-1 system. I don't think they're really succeeding with it. According to Behind the Net, the Lightning are far from a positive possession team with a close score Fenwick% of 48.68 and Fenwick%s with a lead hovering around 40-42%. The team hasn't been sieve like with shots against, their 5-on-5 SA/60 rate is a decent 29.2. However, look at the other numbers for Tampa Bay in that row at Behind the Net. The goaltending plus their 5-on-5 SF/50 rate of 27.2 really has hurt the team's effectiveness. Their impressive 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 9.8% is undercut by a terrible 5-on-5 save percentage of a 90.1%. Their play in 5-on-5 situations shows some great stats completely neutralized by some terrible stats.

The Tampa Bay special teams have been hurting too. Their success rates aren't good. The Lightning power play currently sits at 26th overall with a success rate of 14.6% and their penalty kill has been successful 79.4% of the time, which ranks 25th in the league. Digging deeper, it doesn't look much better. The Lightning's SF/60 rate in 5-on-4 play is relatively low at 44.2. They're actually behind the Devils in that stat; it's the fifth lowest in the league. Moving on to 4-on-5 play, the Bolts' SA/60 rate isn't too bad at 52.5. It's a bit above average, but again, their goaltending has really hurt them.

At least they can score, right? Well, not really. Stamkos has been a GSM. However, he doesn't have a lot of support when it comes to scoring. The Lightning only have four other players who have at least 10 goals outside of Stamkos, and Vincent Lecavalier has been injured and will not play tonight. That hurts their offense. Martin St. Louis (19 G, 35 A) continues to show that age is just a number with him. He's almost as threatening as Stamkos. Teddy Purcell (17 G, 26 A) has been enjoying a great season as he's matched his career high in goals already. Purcell's been hot with 7 points in his last three games, so the Devils should defintiely look out for him. The last man is Ryan Malone (10 G, 17 A), who's picked up an assist in four of his last five games. Beyond that group, there really isn't anyone of note. Five defensemen follow these five forwards in total points and the top point-getting defender, Marc-Andre Bergeron, is also injured. If the Devils can keep Stamkos, St. Louis, and Purcell quiet, then Tampa Bay will be forced to rely on their depth players to pick up the slack. That's something the Devils should hope happens. It's easier said than done, but it's not impossible either.

Overall, I'm not seeing Tampa Bay as a really good team. This is not a playoff-caliber team in my opinion. This isn't to say that the Devils should walk all over Tampa Bay. Just because they have poor team stats in many categories this season doesn't mean they won't perform well today. Their PP could get hot, for example. Maybe Eric Brewer and Viktor Hedman will shut guys down. Who knows, perhaps Garon will do his wall impression today. Their big guns could just carry the team on offense; Stamkos and St. Louis can certainly turn the tide of a game.

That said, if the Devils performed as well as they did against Vancouver, that may be enough to get a good result today. I do hope Patrik Elias has a better afternoon with passing the puck. I'd like to see Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk wreck their competition (it's likely going to include Brewer and/or Hedman, if I were to guess) and pound the net with shots. The same goes for David Clarkson, who was also a shot machine against Vancouver. I definitely want to see more faceoff wins and a better power play effort; both are possible given their best faceoff taker (Stamkos) winning 47.6% of their draws and the Lightning PK not being very successful.

What will also help the Devils is that they'll get at least one new face on defense compared to who was on the blueline on Friday. The Devils recently acquired Marek Zidlicky and Adam Larsson practiced with the team on Saturday based on Tom Gulitti's report at Fire & Ice. The team sent Peter Harrold down to Albany, so at least one of these two will play. I figure that Zidlicky definitely will since he was playing as of late, recent scratches aside. It's unclear who he'll play with since he came out at the end of practice. Larsson is definitely a possibility based on this post by Gulitti. He's been practicing, he says he feels good, and Peter DeBoer hasn't ruled him out. I'd rather have Larsson get back onto the ice against Tampa Bay rather than later this week against the Rangers, Boston, or Washington. Either way, Zidlicky is definitely an upgrade over Foster and Larsson would be an improvement over Matt Taormina. I think Taormina has done OK since being called up. I don't know whether DeBoer will keep seven defensemen, but the fact he hasn't been sent down yet is a good sign. I'd prefer to have Taormina line up in place of Cam Janssen, but who knows if we'll see that.

It's also unclear as to who will start this game for New Jersey. Gulitti guessed it could be Johan Hedberg since DeBoer has split back-to-back games with both goaltenders. However, Moose told Gulitti he wasn't sure he would start this one. I hope he does. His last start was against St. Louis back on February 9, and I think it's fair to say that we'd rather see Martin Brodeur start against the Rangers on Monday. It's a good situation for Moose to get back in the net. I hope he'll get it today.

I've got one last point for the Devils. The cannot afford to sag in the third period. The Devils have played two games against Tampa Bay and one of the big takeaways from each game was that the Devils went into the third period with a significant lead and nearly blew it each time. The Lightning are a team that still is probably thinking that the playoffs are a possibility. On a more base level, they're probably thinking they got embarrassed by the Penguins and they want to send a message that they're not the doormats Evgeni Malkin & Co. made them out to be. They're going to be angry and they're going to want to prove a point. From both perspectives along with the other two Devils-Lightning games from this season, the Lightning are not going to be fazed by being down in the third period. Should the Devils get a lead after the first 40 minutes, they need to be careful with it and keep the Lightning honest. And if the Devils are down in the game, then they need to just hit the Lightning hard in attack because teams have and will get goals against them.

That's my take on today's game, now I want to know yours. Will the Devils get back to their winning ways against Tampa Bay? How should the Devils set up on defense with the possible debut of Zidlicky and the possible return of Larsson? How do you think the Lightning will come out after an 8-1 loss in Pittsburgh? Can the Devils keep Stamkos quiet? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on today's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.