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Game 71 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Colorado Avalanche

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There weren't enough Devils around the opposition's goaltender against the Flyers on Tuesday, so here's a picture of what that looks like.  Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE
There weren't enough Devils around the opposition's goaltender against the Flyers on Tuesday, so here's a picture of what that looks like. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Game: The New Jersey Devils (40-25-5) vs. the Colorado Avalanche (37-30-4)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils finished off their season series with the Philadelphia Flyers with a game in their building on Tuesday. The first period wasn't so bad, but the Flyers took the game over in the second period with possession, shooting attempts, and shots on net. Martin Brodeur valiantly did what he could, but he could not prevent Sean Couturier from potting in a loose puck to put the Flyers up 1-0. Brodeur was beaten a second time early in the third when Jakub Voracek knocked in a loose puck at the crease. What were the other skaters doing? Losing the puck on passes, getting pinned back, wasting power play opportunities, and generally getting worked over. Ilya Bryzgalov picked up the easiest of his three consecutive shutouts in a poor 3-0 loss by New Jersey. My recap of that game is here.

The Last Avalanche Game: On Wednesday, the Avalanche visited Buffalo. Almost every game from here on out is a must-win for Colorado and they're certainly are doing it in a dramatic fashion. The Sabres went up early, but Jamie McGinn continued his torrid pace of scoring with a first period equalizer. Drew Stafford put up a shorty minutes later, but within the final minute of the first period, David Jones scored on his stomach to make it 2-2. Gabriel Landeskog put the Avs up in the second period with a power play goal; but that lead didn't last as Marcus Foligno tied it up later in the second and the Sabres went up 4-3 on Alexander Sulzer's first goal of the season early in the third. The Sabres were one seconds away from victory but Jamie McGinn dramatically knocked in a trickling puck from Ryan O'Reilly's shot with 0.7 left on the clock to tie it up. Wow. And you thought the Devils had some heartbreakers. Colorado piled on the shots in regulation with 41, but overtime was a more muted affair. A shootout became necessary and Peter Mueller was the only goalscorer. The Sabres' playoff dreams took a hit, and Colorado can keep on dreaming with two more points with a 5-4 win. Derek B of Mile High Hockey has this recap of this exciting win.

The Last Devils-Avalanche Game: Yes, these two teams did play each other earlier this season, though it was a night to forget for New Jersey. Back on November 30, the Devils kicked off a four game road trip in Denver and were just pathetic. There were far too many turnovers and bad decisions by the Devils and the Avs made them pay the price over and over again. Colorado scored three in the first period, the Devils looked respectable fort a bit in getting one goal back (thanks Ilya Kovalchuk), and then the Avs went right back to kicking the Devils around the ice with three more goals. Matt Evans had the recap for this late game over at here; believe it or not, there aren't a lot of positives in a 6-1 loss. Derek B got right to the point in just the headline of his recap at Mile High Hockey: the Avs buried the Devils.

The Goal: If the Devils want to bounce back, then they would be wise to get their power play going again. It goes without saying that after putting up 17 shots in a game, especially a game where you're behind on the scoreboard, the Devils have to get more pucks to the net. I'll say it again anyway. The Devils have to get more pucks to the net tonight. It won't be easy since the Avalanche have been above average team in terms of Fenwick %, they have an excellent SA/60 rate in 4-on-5 situations, and an above average SA/60 rate in 5-on-5 situations. They've generated plenty of shots of their own, too, which would help keep NJ at bay. All the same, the Devils have to put up a better effort to get pucks to the net.

For the opposition's point of view, please visit Mile High Hockey. I have a few more thoughts about tonight's game after the jump.

In addition to wanting to see a better overall offensive performance, the power play was absolutely pitiful in Philly where the Devils nearly spent more time chasing pucks around and trying to set up than getting set up for shots on net. It definitely contributed to that low shot count. It's important the Devils do this because for some reason, the Avalanche goaltenders have been poor at stopping shots on the power play this season. Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastian Giguere have been quite good at evens but they're not even close to 89% in power play situations. Varalamov is particularly stinky at 83.6%. While the Devils have won many games without a good power play, I think they need to at least not squander opportunities. Again, Colorado has been a relatively great SA/60 in 4-on-5 situations (41.0), so it won't be easy. Those Avalanche PK units have done a great job in preventing shots. Still, getting some power play success would go a long way towards getting "W" tonight.

So would keeping the Avs' top line at bay. Their top unit features the very productive and effective Ryan O'Reilly along with possibly the best rookie in the league in Landeskog. According to the team's basic stats, O'Reilly and Landeskog are #1 and #3 in scoring on the team, respectively, and they both take a considerable number of shots. In fact, Landeskog set a team record in SOGs - yes, an organization that has Milan Hejduk, Peter Forsberg, and Joe Sakic and this rookie set the record. Anyway, the numbers at Behind the Net show that both players take on the toughest competition and drive the play so much better than everyone else on the team at evens. Not even Adam Henrique can claim that. In short, they are effective and therefore a priority for the Devils to stop. The third man on the line is Steve Downie, who has been quite productive with 2 goals, 9 assists, and 23 shots on net in 10 games - and only 8 PIM. It's a very formidable first line and if the Devils need to match power for power, then that's the group to do it against.

Of course, the Devils will need to get the most out of their full roster when it comes to defense. The Avs have been scoring by committee this season. Seven forwards have at least 10 goals with Colorado: O'Reilly, Landeskog, Paul Stastny (#2 in scoring), Milan Hejduk, David Jones (who recently scored a goal on his stomach), Jay McClement, and Matt Duchene, who will play tonight according to this Wednesday post by Adrian Dater of the Denver Post. Newcomers Downie and Jamie McGinn have 2 and 7 goals respectively in their short time with the team along with averaging at least a point per game. While O'Reilly and Landeskog stand out among the group, the rest are not to be trifled with.

As far as the defense goes, it's clear how head coach Joe Sacco uses his defensemen based on the numbers at Behind the Net. Jan Hejda and Ryan O'Byrne are defensive pairing. They have highest Corsi Rel QoC on the team and they often start their shifts in their end of the rink. They don't push the play forward, but that's not really their main role. Erik Johnson and Shane O'Brien are a two-way pairing that it's faces mid-level competition, eats up a lot of minutes, and each has a solid on-ice Corsi rate. Johnson loves to bomb shots from distance as his 135 shots leads the Colorado blueline by far and O'Brien is the closest to Johnson with 97. Their third pairing comprises of Matt Hunwick and Ryan Wilson, who both have performed seemingly well against weaker competition. It's not a bad group of defenders, as evidenced by their above average SA/60 rate of 29.1 prior to the Buffalo game. The Devils will need to work to find some success. I did notice in

As a whole, Colorado will be desperate tonight. They're on the playoff bubble in the West and it's not looking good for them. An idle Tuesday saw their one-point hold on eighth place turn into eleventh place by the end of that evening's games. They're directly battling with L.A., Calgary, San Jose, and Phoenix for the final two spots in the Western Conference and those four teams have at least one game in hand on Colorado. They battled like crazy in Buffalo, put up 41 shots on net in regulation, and scrambled to force OT where they won it. In short, the Avs need as many points as possible in their last 10 games and help from other teams to get into the postseason. With that in mind, I figure they're going to be fired up regardless of the fact that they played beyond 60 minutes last night in Buffalo. After all, it's now or never for the Avs and they know that - fatigue or no fatigue.

Even so, I figure they're going to go with a goaltender Devils fans should recall quite well: Jean-Sebastian Giguere. Since Semyon Varlamov played against the Sabres, it's probably the back-up's turn. This is actually a good thing for the Devils. Varlamov has been very hot in 2012 as highlighted in this post at Mile High Hockey by David Driscoll-Carignan. With that in mind, I'd rather see the veteran Giguere in net. Sure, he does have a superior save percentage for the season at 92% overall and 92.6% at even strength. However, Giguere hasn't exactly sparkled in his last two starts with 7 goals allowed on 58 shots. Hopefully, the Devils will make a point of it to make Jiggy get with it.

The Devils didn't practice on Wednesday and it's probably for the best. The Devils are in the middle of another four-in-seven week, which will be followed by a back-to-back to start next week. A little rest after six straight games against Atlantic Division teams isn't a bad idea. Hopefully, the time off allows some players to reflect and recharge for tonight. It would be good to see, say, Adam Larsson perform to a point where he won't be held to less than 16 minutes per game. Likewise, it would be good to see some more shooting attempts from other players outside of Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson and more attempts across all three periods - including Kovalchuk and Clarkson. A day off could just give the other skaters a reason to bring down the nerves to help out their passes and other puck movement actually hit their mark more often. I'm reaching, admittedly.

I don't have to reach to point out which New Jersey Devil has been consistently great. Martin Brodeur continues to play rather well in net. Brodeur has allowed two or fewer goals in each of his last five starts and four of those saw him only getting beaten once - and some of those were just flukes. Actually, he has only allowed three or more goals in just five games since the All Star break. This is not a flash in the pan for Brodeur. I just hope he gets some better support by the guys in front of him, particularly for all three periods. The Devils have sagged in the second period of recent games, win or lose, for some reason. Even if the Devils come out well and get a lead, it wouldn't help if they allow the Avs to get back into it and force Brodeur to be the primary, secondary, and tertiary reasons why the Devils keep said lead for a large part of subsequent periods.

In any case, that's my take on tonight's game. Now I want to know yours. What kind of effort do you think we'll see from the Devils? How many shots do you think they'll get on net? Will the power play show up? Will the puck movement improve? How about the Avs? Do you think playing last night against Buffalo affect them? Can the Devils stop Landeskog (now at 20 goals) or even McGinn (6 G, 2 A in 8 games) right now? Will the return of Matt Duchene light them up? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.