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Game 81 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Detroit Red Wings

I just chose this picture of Martin Brodeur giving a Cane "the business" for kicks. You know, kicks.  Brodeur will start tonight against Detroit.  Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-US PRESSWIRE
I just chose this picture of Martin Brodeur giving a Cane "the business" for kicks. You know, kicks. Brodeur will start tonight against Detroit. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-US PRESSWIRE

The Time: 7:30 PM EDT

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

The Viewing Parties: North Jersey - Blackthorn Restaurant in Parsippany; South Jersey - Bar A in Belmar

The Game: The New Jersey Devils (46-28-6) at the Detroit Red Wings (48-27-5)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils hosted the Islanders on Tuesday night in a game where both teams put in lackadaisical performances. Patrik Elias scored early in the game, Matt Moulson answered with a goal of his own, and then there was a lot of work put in for very little result. The second came with a power play that the Devils didn't look terrible in. In fact, Travis Zajac finished off the flowing move to put the Devils 2-1. The Isles tried to respond in the second, didn't, and then just sort of took the third period off. I know this because it took them 15:40 to get a shot on net in the third period of a 2-1 game. The Devils weren't exactly pressing the issue, losing the puck far more often than keeping it. Ilya Kovalchuk sealed the unimpressive win with an empty net goal. At least it helped secure sixth in the East. My recap of the win is here.

The Last Red Wings Game: The Red Wings visited St. Louis on Wednesday night. The game was like anything you would expect out of a rivalry game. Heated emotions, a high level of intensity, and oodles of pace. The two teams went at it like it was a playoff game. For the first two periods, the goaltenders Brian Elliott and Jimmy Howard reigned supreme. They stopped all of the shots they faced. The third period is where the scoring showed up and the game got dramatic. First, Ryan Reaves got tagged with a major for boarding. What does St. Louis do on the kill? Well, David Perron stripped his man in the neutral zone, went in on a breakaway and scored a shorty. The Blues doubled their lead after the successful kill when Andy McDonald beat Howard on his flank. Yet, the Red Wings would storm right back into the game. The Red Wings pushed and Johan Franzen got them over the threshold with two third period goals to come from behind to tie it. After a rousing overtime, a shootout was needed. Howard stopped all three Blues, while Todd Bertuzzi - Detroit's third shooter - beat Elliott with a sick top-shelf shot to complete the comeback win. The Red Wings won 3-2; Jeffhancock41 of Winging it in Motown has a recap of the victory in this post.

The Goal: Don't get cute with the puck and force bad passes. The Devils don't have a whole lot to play for tonight. They can't finish lower than sixth in the East and they only can move up is if they win out and Philly loses out. That prize is Pittsburgh in the first round and nobody wants that. Therefore, I'm not really concerned about whether the Devils will win or lose tonight. I am concerned about the performance. A big reason why the Devils looked so bad against the Isles on Tuesday was that the forwards collectively decided to go for big, cross-ice passes. While such a pass is great if it hits the target, it's lost possession. The Isles didn't care to do too much with it; but a far more talented team like Detroit would relish those turnovers and hit back much harder on offense. While I don't care about the final result of the game, I do want the Devils to at least sharpen up their passing and not make it any easier for the Red Wings to do what they want. If they can do that, then I'll feel a bit better about the team's performances going into the postseason.

Should you want more information, opinion, and analysis about Detroit, then you need to go to Winging it in Motown and get knowledge. For some more of my thoughts on tonight's game, then please continue on after the jump.

As noted prior to the jump, the Devils don't have a lot to play for tonight. The Red Wings, on the other hand, have plenty to play for tonight. They need to hold off Chicago, who is one point behind them in the West, and they can catch Nashville in the standings. They can most definitely get home ice and they really should push for it. The Red Wings have the best home record in the league at 31-6-2. That's not a typo: 31-6-2. You can be sure that they want to carry that into the postseason; especially since their road record is only 16-21-3.

That record is not just a run of awesome results. Detroit has been significantly better at home than on the road this season. Just look at possession. According to Behind the Net, their overall close-score Fenwick % is one of the best in the league at 54.52%. They're only behind Pittsburgh and St. Louis. When it comes to close-score Fenwick % at home, Detroit owns non-blocked shooting attempts at a remarkable 58.03% - the best in the NHL. They're not a bunch of scrubs on the road; but the Red Wings really make a point of it to own the puck at even strength. It should be no surprise. Detroit is coached by Mike Babcock, who's known for saying that possession is everything.

And possession is everything for Detroit. Just look at the individual player's on-ice Corsi rates at Behind the Net. Only two players have a negative rate and they aren't even regular players. Thirteen different Red Wings have rates over ten and eight of them are actual regular players you may know like Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Johan Franzen, and Henrik Zetterberg. You know, their stars. In contrast, the Devils have no regular players at such a high rate - and the Devils are above average in possession as a team.

Needless to say, Detroit has been excellent in 5-on-5 play. Just look at the splits at Behind the Net. They have one of the higher SF/60 rates in the league at 31.9 as well as one of the top shooting percentages in the NHL at 9.1%. In terms of keeping pucks out, the Red Wings have one of the best SA/60 rates in the league at 26.2 (tied with New Jersey, actually) and the goalies, led by Jimmy Howard, have put together one of the better team save percentages in the NHL with 92.2%. In 5-on-5 play, the Red Wings are just a dynamite team.

Special teams, on the other hand, are another story. The Red Wings have only converted 16.2% of all of their power plays, the 21st best conversion rate in the NHL. Detroit does generate a lot of shots in 5-on-4 play (SF/60 of 50.9), so I suspect they're really unlucky more than anything else. Perhaps the same goes for their penalty kill. Also ranked at 21st in the NHL in terms of success rate (81.1%), the Red Wings haven't allowed a lot of shots in 4-on-5 situations (SA/60 of 47.0). Given that the Red Wings have excellent players with good support all around the lineup, I'm not surprised that the underlying numbers aren't as bad as their success rates.

Still, if the Devils want to push for a win tonight, then getting this game away from 5-on-5 situations as much as possible seems to be the way to go. Even on the PK, the Devils may be able to attack. We know they tend to create a shot or two on a kill and the Red Wings are tied for third in allowing shorthanded goals with ten.

2011-12 - Henrik Zetterberg 80 22 46 68 15 45 3 0 4 259 8.5
2011-12 - Valtteri Filppula 79 23 42 65 20 14 3 1 1 137 16.8
2011-12 - Pavel Datsyuk 68 18 48 66 20 14 4 0 5 160 11.3
2011-12 - Johan Franzen 75 28 27 55 22 40 11 0 10 207 13.5
2011-12 - Jiri Hudler 79 25 24 49 11 42 2 0 2 124 20.2

As far as the particulars go, you need to know that Detroit really does score by committee. They have eleven players with at least ten goals, and nine of them are forwards. Fourteen different players, including ten forwards, have at least 100 shots on net. All-around forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk really stand out in production, but there are contributions all throughout the lineup. Valtteri Filppula has been excellent this season. Johan Franzen has been powerful and threatening - especially on the power play with 11 PPGs. Jiri Hudler has had a very good season as well as four goals and two assists in his last five games. Veterans Danny Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi have chipped in as well. The defense definitely helps out with Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall each getting at least ten goals; Ian White bombing away from the point with 194 shots; and Kyle Quincey, who has been averaging at least two shots per game as a Red Wing and will likely return to the lineup after serving a one-game suspension. This is a far cry from the Isles; the Devils can't just keep Datsyuk and Zetterberg from doing damage and be done with it. This is a Detroit team that has provided scoring from any line or even from the blueline.

2011-12 - Nicklas Lidstrom 68 11 23 34 22 26 4 0 0 144 7.6
2011-12 - Niklas Kronwall 80 15 21 36 0 38 7 0 4 134 11.2
2011-12 - Ian White 75 7 25 32 22 22 0 0 0 195 3.6

Even if their offense falters, it'll be a real challenge to get through Detroit's defense. Nicklas Lidstrom remains the commander from his own end. He leads the team in average ice time at 23:07, he plays in all situations, and he goes up against the toughest competition every night. Lidstrom is 41 and he continues prove that his age really is just a number every night. If nothing else, Devils fans, watch Lidstrom closely if only to see a legend of the game do his job. It's more than just Lidstrom as Detroit has some very good defensemen in addition to the legend. Ian White does fairly well as a two-way defenseman; he's been fantastic against the toughs this season. Kronwall does a bit of everything very well including throwing big hits. He's been particularly productive, leading the Detroit blueline in points. Brad Stuart is more of a defensive defenseman, but he's done quite alright as a 20-minute defender. Looking at the advanced stats for their defensemen are a lot like their forwards: there's a lot of goodness here.

2011 - Jimmy Howard 55 3236 35 16 3 115 2.13 1442 1327 .920 6
2011 - Ty Conklin 15 805 5 6 1 44 3.28 378 334 .884 1

Even if the Devils get through the Detroit skaters, there's always a goalie to be worried about. For Detroit, that goalie is Jimmy Howard. As you can see from his statline, he's been quite good. He has a very good even strength save percentage at 93%, so he can definitely has the capability of giving the other team fits. The Red Wings played last night, so the Devils may not see Howard at all. They could decide to start their backup, Ty Conklin. Conklin hasn't been as good as Howard in spot duty. His overall save percentage is ugly thanks to some horrid special teams. Still, an even strength save percentage of 90.8% means that he really is the weaker of the two. Should you desire a Devils win, then Conklin starting would help their chances.

What of the Devils? Who did they decide to replace Jacob Josefson? According to Tom Gulitti's report from Wednesday's practice at Fire & Ice, it appeared that man would be Stephen Gionta. Yeah, that was underwhelming to type. However, he really is not the answer. In this second post after practice, Gulitti reported that both David Clarkson and Cam Janssen say they plan on playing tonight. Since Gionta was called up in case either player couldn't go tonight, the news that he was returned to Albany on Wednesday afternoon means both Clarkson and Janssen will play tonight. With respect to Josefson, we're back at square one. I don't think there is no immediate answer as far as who is replacing Josefson for the post season. I do think the fourth line will likely consist of Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier, and Janssen and they'll worry about the playoff roster later.

Normally, I'm not a fan of the inclusion of Janssen since he brings nothing to the table. Since the result of tonight's game doesn't matter, I'm not going to complain too much. I will if he's getting minutes after April 7. If I were in control, then I'd actually use this game to get Adam Larsson back in the lineup and roll with seven defensemen. When either of the two goons plays, they eventually get benched as Ilya Kovalchuk or Zach Parise takes an extra shift in their place. Since whether the Devils win or not is immaterial at this point, then I don't see the problem with Larsson getting back into games. Sure, tonight would be a big challenge for him; but it's better to do it now than in the playoffs. If DeBoer insists on a full fourth line, then Peter Harrold can surely do some spot duty at wing.

That doesn't appear to be the case. Outside of Gionta taking part in practice, the Devils lineup appears to be the same except Martin Brodeur will start tonight's game. It looks like Larsson will be scratched again. That's unfortunate. The upside is that Clarkson is back in the lineup. I thought he was missed on Tuesday against the Isles. I'm looking forward to see how he does against a top defense. As for the rest of the team, I just want to see a clean performance. I want to see good passes, good awareness, and good positioning. I want to see Kovalchuk have a better game along with many of the other players (e.g. Petr Sykora, Dainius Zubrus, Alexei Ponikarovsky, etc.) The Red Wings are an excellent team and provided they don't get blown out, I don't care much whether they win this or not. It's all about performances (and staying healthy!) for the next two games; so let's hope the Devils provide a good one to build on going into the postseason.

Now that you know my take on tonight's game, I want to know yours. What do you make of the Detroit Red Wings? Who on Detroit concerns you the most? Who on the Devils do you want to see have a good game tonight? What do you want to see out of the Devils tongiht? Do you care if the Devils win this game or not? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.