Last season, Boston won all four games against the Devils. We hope that won't happen in 2013, though hope is the key word in that phrase.
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (3-0-1) at the Boston Bruins (4-0-1, SBN Blog: Stanley Cup of Chowder)
The Last Devils Game: The Devils went up to Montreal on Sunday and had to grind out an improbable point out of the game. The Devils opened the first period up with a turnover by Marek Zidlicky, ended with their third penalty kill of the night, and went into intermission down 2-0 on the scoreboard (an open Ryan White on a rebound, Brendan Gallagher finishing a two-on-one) , 16-7 on the shot count, and 27-14 in shooting attempts. It was all Canadiens with plenty of assists by the Devils' defense. The Devils found some brains and sharpened up their play with the puck and clawed back into the game. They pulled within one in the second period when Patrik Elias deflected a Mark Fayne shot and didn't get pinned back nearly as much or allow several odd man rushes. Montreal retook the two goal lead when Brandon Prust knocked a puck in mid-air past Martin Brodeur, but the Devils did respond. David Clarkson converted a 5-on-3 off a Patrik Elias feed and Dainius Zubrus knocked in another Elias pass right in front of Carey Price for an equalizer. Elias had a hand in every single goal, played great, and that assist to Zubrus was his 900th career point. The Devils got through to overtime, but a late power play for Montreal was converted by Andrei Markov off a missed shot by Rene Bourque (of course, he missed) so the Devils lost 4-3. Given how awful they were in the first, I stressed how big getting a point at all was in my recap. The team certainly didn't deserve it.
The Last Bruins Game: The Bruins went on the road to take on the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night. The Bruins got off to a good start as any. Brad Marchand scored a shorthanded goal fairly early in the game. Minutes later on a power play, Zdeno Chara lit the lamp to double their lead. Carolina did get on the board with a tip-in from Jamie McBain later in the first. Boston extended their lead later in the second period with a score from Nathan Horton. However, the home team rallied late with two goals in the final three minutes of the second: one from Jeff Skinner and the second from Eric Staal. The teams remained deadlocked in the third despite Boston's best efforts to break the game wide open. Their heavy shooting was rewarded with just under two minutes left in the game. David Krejci finally got one past Cam Ward to put the Bruins up late. An empty netter on a power play sealed a 5-3 road win for the B's, keeping them undefeated in regulation for the year. Stanley Cup of Chowder has all the coverage of the game in this stream with this game recap by ecozens.
The Goal: For the love of all that is good and beautiful in the universe, start off well in this game. This game is going to be challenging enough for the Devils. The Bruins are a very good team with depth and they'll enjoy favorable matchups all night long. The Devils cannot afford to have a first period like against Philadelphia, Washington, or (especially) Montreal where they get rolled in possession and shots. Obviously, some early goals would be great but they're not going to come out of Boston with any results if they're going to frequently cough up the puck, chase Bruins skaters all around their own end to little reward, and just dump-and-change instead of getting offensive possession early in the game. If the Devils can play a solid game at both ends in the first period, then they will be in a better position to hang with Boston tonight.
Of course, the Devils could stand to improve in other areas. Discipline would be a plus as the team has given at least four power plays per night so far in this short season. OK, the fourth one against the Islanders was almost right at the end of the game, but the larger point is that the Devils have taken multiple calls for restraining and stick fouls in each game this season. Boston's power play hasn't been all that effective. Phunwin broke down their lack of success at Stanley Cup of Chowder if you want the full details. It was written prior to their 5-3 win over Carolina that featured two power play goals on seven shots. Maybe it's a sign of progress. Either way, even if the Devils' penalty kill remains strong, giving Boston plenty of opportunities to do nothing but pin New Jersey back and attack is going to be foolish. I understand that there will always be calls, but I believe the ones the Devils have been taking can be avoided with cooler heads and better positioning.
It's important that the Devils not try and help Boston because Boston has been quite good at helping themselves. I understand the season is still young and so really population sizes make for extreme stats. That said, everyone not on Boston's fourth line has been a positive possession player at even strength according to Behind the Net. And as we know from last season, Shawn Thornton, Christopher Bourque, and Greg Campbell are way better than whatever fourth line Peter DeBoer will put together tonight. Now, Boston hasn't been incredibly dominant when it comes to Fenwick percentages per Behind the Net - the Devils are actually slightly ahead of them in tied-score situations - but they're pretty good relative to the league in close score situations. Already this season they have averaged 31 shots per game while only allowing an average of 27.8 shots per game. This is a team that has had little issue at getting forward and attacking their opponents. They just dropped 38 shots on Carolina, with 18 in a tied third period where they ultimately succeeded.
In terms of the personnel, many of the Bruins from last season are back. This means they're stacked on three lines. Just look at the lineup they used against Carolina, as reported by Fluto Shinzawa at the Bruins Blog at Boston.com. A first line of Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Horton is a physical, powerful, and productive unit. Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, and Brad Marchand all lead the team in on-ice Corsi and they just ooze skill. They'll drive the play whenever the Lucic line doesn't. They have a solid third line in Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly, and Chris Bourque that can hold their own. That's a very strong top nine and Claude Julien will be able to get some amazingly favorable match-ups. The lines led by Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias will be challenged enough, but I'm sure the Boston coaches are going to love catching any part of the Devils' bottom six on the ice.
The Bruins are no slouches on defense. The massive stud that is Zdeno Chara still leads the blueline. He can bring the pain, get stops, and bomb hard and fast shots from distance. I don't know if Julien will have him out there against the Zajac or Elias lines, but it may not matter. He and Johnny Boychuk can handle anyone. The second pairing features the solid Dennis Seidenberg and the rookie Dougie Hamilton. Like Adam Larsson last season, Boston has been given Hamilton an average of 18 minutes per night and he's proven himself quite well. Therefore, as Shinzawa reported earlier on Monday, Boston's going to keep him for this season. While he's a rookie, I don't think he's going to be so easily exploited. Aaron Johnson and Andrew Ference made up the third pairing. In total, Chara carries plenty weight but he does it so well. So far it's been more than fine this season. Again, they haven't allowed a lot of shots yet and more impressively, they're perfect on the penalty kill this season. That's right: perfect. This is a good defense.
The Devils' offense will have their work cut out for them. Even if they win some shifts against Boston's impressive array of forwards and their good defense (I'd think they'd have to do it away from Chara), they'll have to go up against Tuukka Rask. Anton Khudobin got the start and the win in Carolina, so Rask is expected to start tonight. In his four other starts this season, Rask has a save percentage of 92.5% and has allowed only eight goals. That's quite good and he'll come into this game rested.
When you put the whole Bruins roster together, it really doesn't matter that much that their power play hasn't been so productive in my eyes. They're a very strong team. That's why I'm so insistent about the Devils not making careless errors by ways of giveaways, getting caught out of position, and/or taking penalties. I expect the Bruins to do more than enough on their own. The Devils can't afford to help them out.
It is in this sense that I understand the Devils' decision to give Moose his first start of the season. As Tom Gulitti reported on Monday at Fire & Ice, Johan Hedberg will get the start tonight. It'll be his first start since April 3, 2012. Needless to say, he could be a bit rusty tonight. Given the opponent, he's going to get the chance to shake it off really quickly. Martin Brodeur has played as well as anyone could have asked him to so far this season. While the Devils will have a back-to-back set this weekend, it makes sense to me for the team to give the #1 a rest for a more winnable-on-paper game this Thursday. I'm not saying the Devils have no chance tonight, but I'd rather get a goalie back in form against a team they'll likely struggle with anyway like Boston. He'll get a lot of work, the expectations aren't all that high (pro-tip for Moose: don't play the puck outside of the net unless it's safe), and if the Devils get a result, it's a feat. Therefore, I like this decision.
I also like the decision made by the team to send down Mattias Tedenby to Albany. As Gulitti also reported on Monday, the team has no issue with his effort but has an issue with his lack of control. I don't know if I would say he's trying to do too much. Not a lot has shown up on the scoresheet or the event summary from Tedenby. I guess it's a case of trying too hard and achieving too little. In any case, he hasn't done much despite starting in the top six. No one can say he hasn't been given a shot; but he didn't do nearly enough positive things to stay. As thin as the Devils are at wing, keeping a player who's been poor doesn't help. I would like to see Bobby Butler called up to replace him in the roster. He's been in the NHL before, he's been Albany's top scorer this season with 16 goals and 10 assists in 36 games, and he's a winger. We shall see who it is later today. If it's someone like, say, Tim Sestito, well, just roll your eyes and/or palm your face.
As noted in the report of Tedenby demotion, Gulitti also reported that the Devils held an optional practice on Monday. This means it's a mystery as to what the lines may look like for tonight isn't known. You can bet on the Zajac sticking with Ilya Kovalchuk (and I hope both do much better tonight than they did in Montreal), Patrik Elias will still have David Clarkson on his right, and the CBGB line will remain as-is. I'd like to see Adam Larsson get in a game just be back on the ice. I wouldn't mind seeing Jacob Josefson start on one of the top two lines. While he was bad against Montreal, he's done a lot more in the other games to justify a bigger role for the time being. He was pushed up there in other games, so he's not unfamiliar with the concept. I'd also like to see no goons but that seems to be a unicorn wish at this juncture. Of course, this all remains to be seen.
Just to reiterate, I don't have a lot of confidence for this game. I know that's not what I'm supposed to say, but it's how I feel about tongiht's game. Boston's too talented in their depth and they're going to get some great match-ups unless the Devils turn in a great performance. We haven't seen one of those yet this season; at least not since the solid game against the Islanders on opening night. Maybe we'll get surprised with one tonight. I would like such a surprise; but I'm not holding my breath. Will I be proven gloriously wrong? Do you think I'm overstating the strength of Boston, and if so, why? What do you make of Hedberg getting his first start in ten months tonight? What should we expect from him? How would you want the Devils to approach the Bruins tonight? Will they at least take better care when they have the puck? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.