The Devils are back at home and finally have a road win on their record. Can they make it two in a row?
The Time: 7:30 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - NBC SN; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (2-5-4) vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning (8-3-0; SBN Blog: Raw Charge)
The Last Devils Game: The Devils went to Boston and got outplayed for the most part in the first period. Boston scored a first, a second, and late in the period, a third goal to end the first 3-1. It looked like the Devils were outmatched again. However, a funny thing happened and the Devils started attacking more and more past the halfway mark. Call it score effects. Call it Boston taking unnecessary calls. Either way, Damien Brunner backhanded a puck that just got in the net to make it 3-2 near the end of the second. The Devils pushed for the equalizer and their big moment came late in the third. Torey Krug got tagged for a double-minor for high-sticking Brunner and during that kill, Patrice Bergeron threw a puck over the glass. On the rare 6-on-3 - yeah, Peter DeBoer pulled Martin Brodeur for this chance - Marek Zidlicky actually put a shot on net from distance. A shot that went in, believe it or not. The Devils tied it up with their third power play goal. They weren't done. Jaromir Jagr set Brunner up for a really hard one-timer that he completely botched. The puck sailed laterally right to Andy Greene, who put it top corner past Tuukka Rask. The Devils held on to win 4-3 with all four goals coming from the power play. It was gleeful madness, but this is only a recap of the game.
The Last Lightning Game: On Sunday night, the Lightning visited their in-state rivals the Florida Panthers. Early on, it looked like it was going to be Tampa Bay's night. Martin St. Louis scored 41 seconds into the game and Steve Stamkos made it 2-0 at the 4:35 mark. However, the Panthers would put up a fight. Shawn Matthias got on the home team on the board in the first to give them a shout. However, in the second period Radko Gudas re-established the two-goal lead for Tampa Bay when his shot deflected off Mike Weaver and beat Jacob Markstrom. Then there was drama. Scottie Upshall squirted Gudas with some Gatorade (or G, I guess as it's called now) from the bench and Gudas reacted by slashing the bench. Gudas got two for slashing, twenty for misconduct (regular and a game misconduct), and an ejection. With only five defensemen, one would think Florida would pour on the offense. They didn't by shots - they kept even with the Lightning - but they made a third period comeback all the same. Nick Bjugstad scored his first of the season to make it 3-2 and Brad Boyes finished off an Ondrej Palat giveaway to make it 3-3. Both teams held on for overtime and a shootout would be necessary. The Lightning got the win thanks to Stamkos, who has been historically not good at the shootout (5-for-27). Kyle Alexander has this recap at Raw Charge of how Tampa Bay survived the Panthers.
The Goal: Contain the opposition's top line. Tampa Bay has scored 39 goals this season, only one behind Toronto for the most in the East heading into Monday's games. 16 of these goals have come from the three men that make up Tampa Bay's top line: Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Ryan Malone. Malone only has the one goal but with 27 shots on net already, I doubt he'll stay there for long. You really should know all about Stamkos and St. Louis. The former has a dangerous shot from anywhere on the ice, he uses it a lot, and he's been hot with a ridiculous 22.9% shooting percentage on 35 shots. He's second in the entire league in scoring with 17 points (8 goals) in 11 games. St. Louis has been the biggest little man in the game for over a decade now and he's equally hot with a 24.1% shooting percentage with 29 shots. He's got 14 points this season with seven goals; he's not that far behind his linemate. It is imperative that the Devils contain this trio as much as possible. Stamkos and St. Louis are difficult enough to stop in the run of play; they don't need help. The Devils cannot give them free chances like odd man rushes because someone lost the puck in the neutral zone or the blueline. They cannot be left alone either at evens or on the power play. They must command full attention otherwise it could be a very long night for New Jersey.
Tampa Has Other Forwards Too: The Stamkos-St. Louis combination comprises of over 38% of the team's scoring this season. This also means other Lightning players have contributed in the scoring department. Valtteri Filppula has enjoyed a very good start with the Bolts with four goals and five assists in 11 games. Believe it or not, but he actually leads the team in power play points with five (one goal, four assists) so he's another man to watch out for on the man advantage. He's the right winger on their second line, which has been centered by Alex Killorn. Killorn has some wheels and has a good start as well with two goals and five assists. Teddy Purcell is behind Filppula in points with four goals and four assists. He's usually on a different line, which should give the Devils reason to pay attention. Also, he could really do some damage on the power play too. Three of his four goals have come with the man advantage, currently the most on the team. The last forward that I want to highlight is Tyler Johnson. He was crushing it in the AHL the past two seasons and got an extended look last season with six points in 14 games. He currently has six points in 11 games along with a regular spot on the third line. With the exception of Filppula, all of these guys have over 20 shots on net and have helped support the team beyond what Stamkos and St. Louis has done. From what I can tell, this is a reason why they're 8-3 to start the season.
Tampa Has Been A Bit Hot: As a team, Tampa Bay is shooting at 9% in 5-on-5 play according to Extra Skater. This is the eighth best shooting percentage going into Monday's games and it's a bit high. I don't expect Stamkos and St. Louis to really slump but I really don't think they'll keep up a 20+% shooting percentage. I highly doubt Filppula will keep shooting over 30%. But for right now, the Lightning's collective sticks are a bit hot. And it's important because they're not all that good in terms of possession. In 5-on-5 play, their Corsi percentage is at 48.1%, which ranks 23rd; by contrast, the Devils are fifth at 53.5%. If you scale down to score-close situations, the Lightning move up in the ranks a little bit to 18th though they're still at 48.4%. The larger point is that teams have been out-attempting them regularly to start this season. On paper, the Devils should be able to be another team to do that. It hasn't been a big issue for Tampa Bay because they've been able to score so much. Hopefully, the Devils won't enjoy a possession advantage because they're losing and subsequently chasing the scoreboard.
Tampa Has a Defense: What's remarkable about the Lightning so far this season is their defense. While they're not good in possession, they've been one of the better teams in the league in terms of shot prevention. Tampa Bay's rate of shots against per 60 minutes in 5-on-5 play is 26.9 and their average shots against per game in 28.2; both are top-ten rates in the league. The Lightning have played some low event hockey and since their shots keep getting in the net, they have not had to have shoot so much. But the defensive effort has been tight. Matthew Carle leads the blueline in minutes per game, plays big minutes in all situations, and takes on the toughs, usually with Radko Gudas. The duo are low on the possession end but it hasn't cost the team. The second pairing of Viktor Hedman and Sami Salo have been better in possession and both are notable. Hedman has played more minutes at evens and plays plenty on the PK, while Salo is similar to Carle only with fewer minutes at evens. The duo has done well and I suspect the Devils' best forwards will see a lot of that top four. Andrej Sustr and Eric Brewer has been a solid third pairing this season. This is a good group of defenders so far; much better than past Lightning teams where they were all about the offense and not about the defense. If/when the Lightning's sticks get a little colder, they won't crash hard due in part to how these guys play.
Tampa Has...Goalies?: Last season, the Lightning didn't impress in net. So they went out and got Ben Bishop during the season who did well (at evens) in his nine games in Tampa Bay. In this season, Bishop hasn't been as good with a 91.5% save percentage at evens in eight games. But that's not too bad of a result so far. It's buoyed by an impressive 91.4% save percentage on the penalty kill. Anders Lindback hasn't been all that good in either category so far. He's had a rough start to this season. Provided Bishop doesn't get real bad, then it shouldn't be a big deal.
Tampa Has Special Teams Success: The Lightning have had good success rates on both ends of special teams. They don't shoot a lot in 5-on-4 situations but partially because they keep scoring. Their success rate of 23.9 is seventh in the league and not just because of one awesome game (looking at you, Devils, with your 4-for-7 in Boston pushing up the success rate to 22.5%). They've only been held scoreless on the power play in three games this season. Needless to say, the Devils must be as disciplined as possible. Lightning's penalty kill has righted itself after a rough first give games. They've only allowed one power play goal in the last six games and are right behind the Devils with a success rate of 82.6%. Their stinginess in allowing shots in 5-on-5 play hasn't carried over to 4-on-5 play; much of that success rate can be appropriated to Bishop. Despite the night in Boston (let's be real, they're not going 4-for-7 again anytime soon) and their hot streak, I'm not all that confident that the Devils' power play could make Tampa Bay pay for their crimes. Given that the Devils have been the better possession team in 5-on-5 play, it behooves them to keep the game there as much as possible.
Tampa Has a Really Good Team Right Now So Taking Them Lightly is Really Stupid: In case you haven't figured that out from this preview so far. Sure, the Devils did just knock off a really good Boston team but they needed good fortune from Boston making some big mistakes and then having to make the most of it on a situation they otherwise stunk at all season. It's not impossible but I wouldn't bet on similar heroics happening in a second straight game. It's questionable whether Tampa Bay will stay this good, their low possession rate suggests some trouble in the future. But right now, for this very game, they are arguably one of the best teams the Devils will face so far this season. I know the players and coaches won't underestimate them. Neither should you.
Everyone's Favorite #6 Defenseman Returns: Eric Gelinas had two very good games last week. He was sent down to Albany on Sunday. There was consternation. Uproar. Anger. Laments. On Monday, Gelinas was recalled and practiced with Adam Larsson as if nothing changed. That happened because something did change. Tom Gulitti reported on Monday at Fire & Ice that while Bryce Salvador is back from grieving a death in his family, he has been placed on IR with a fractured foot. In this follow up post from Gulitti, the injury itself is not serious but he'll be out for another week or so. This will give Gelinas a few more games to play and Lou more time to figure out a long term solution assuming there should be one, so to speak.
I do think Gelinas earned a third game, but I would keep expectations low regardless. He's got a great shot and he looked really good but I'm hesitant to put him (or any young player) on a pedestal after a few games. Yes, he has potential but a team with two wins doesn't need potential, it needs results. I'll be frank, I'd like Gelinas to do well but I'm not going to bank on him to be the difference maker tonight. That's going to be on the shoulders of Andy Greene and Mark Fayne, who will likely end up seeing a lot of Stamkos and St. Louis. It's going to be on the backs of Anton Volchenkov, who could have a handful against Tampa's strong power play for penalty kills, and Marek Zidlicky, whose questionable nature with the puck at times could end up being costly. The forwards as a group didn't do all that great of a job against Boston in 5-on-5 play and they should do better tonight. Martin Brodeur needs to be on point and it would be great if he can have a game without giving up even one soft goal. So on and so forth.
My main point is that it's going to take a real good team effort tonight for the Devils to get a win. Gelinas can certainly help out and I hope he does. But short of a totally awesome performance, I don't think his third appearance alone will give the Devils the win. At the end of the day, raging about which guy gets limited minutes and comparatively weak competition when there are larger issues elsewhere (e.g. goals, this team needs more of them and to stop giving up so many of them too) seems pointless to me. It's also why I'm not terribly concerned about the long-term solution at the moment.
No Other Changes: Basically, what you saw in Boston is what you'll see tonight. There were no other changes in practice per Gulitti's post other than Salvador being moved to IR. Travis Zajac will center Dainius Zubrus (get more involved) and Damien Brunner (keep shooting) for a second game. Michael Ryder (it would be cool if he showed up tonight, by the way) and Rostislav Olesz (I have no complaints) will go with Adam Henrique. Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby, and Peter Harrold are expected to be scratches. Ryane Clowe is still out. Martin Brodeur will be back in net as Cory Schneider is on IR. He could be ready for the weekend so if Brodeur wants more minutes, then he's got more incentive to have a good game tonight.
Your Take: The Devils will close out October with a very good opponent at home, some new goal song that I'm so very sure that the fans totally and legitimately decided, and either with two or three wins on their record. The month will thankfully end at least. However, November begins very quickly with a back-to-back set. It really never is easy in the NHL.
Still, a game awaits and who knows, perhaps the Devils will rise to the challenge. Do you think they'll do it? Who on the Devils do you think needs to lead the way to accomplishment? Can Stamkos-St. Louis really be quelled? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.