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New Jersey Devils vs Tampa Bay Lightning: Game Preview 34

The Devils are back at home in need of a win. Tampa Bay will be the opponent. There may be some or possibly a lot of snow in the area by the time this game starts. Did I mention the Devils need a win?

Jagr to Bishop 4. Checkmate.
Jagr to Bishop 4. Checkmate.
Jeff Zelevansky

The Time: 7:00 PM

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - WFAN 660AM, 101.9 FM

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (12-15-6) vs The Tampa Bay Lightning (18-10-3, SBN Blog: Raw Charge)

The Last Devils Game: Was played just last night in Pittsburgh and once again the Devils shot themselves in the foot. A horrible first period followed by two very good periods was not enough to get the job done. The Devils fell behind 3-0 in the first. During the first few minutes of the second, goals by Patrik Elias, and Dainius Zubrus made it a one goal game. The Devils basically ran over the Penguins for the remaining 36 minutes and blasted away but could not finish. A disappointing result, but they have no one to blame but themselves. John has a full recap which I suggest you read. My take is very similar. The Devils top two lines were utterly dominant for the vast majority of this game. Jaromir Jagr, Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus are just so hard to contain. It's unfortunate they couldn't finish one or two more. Same is true of the Patrik Elias, Damien Brunner, Steve Bernier line. Brunner is very active the last few games and Elias is a big part of that. This combination is working out very well. The 3rd line was not really that productive overall. Reid Boucher was largely invisible, and so was Michael Ryder. I believe John mentioned that although Boucher and Ryder came out ahead in the corsi / fenwick game, both were outshot while on the ice, Ryder by a fair margin. This was not a great line. Adam Henrique was so-so. He had some very good opportunities he couldn't finish. He also took a dumb penalty near the end of the game. The fourth line had a very strong game in their role. Jacob Josefson played very well in my opinion. So did Cam Janssen and Tim Sestito; credit where credit is due. I would expect we will see this grouping as the fourth line again on Saturday night. The defense was a mixed bag. Gelinas and Merrill were a hot mess early. Both rebounded a bit and performed much better when split up, but it was far from the best game for either. Anton Volchenkov had a great game. Andy Greene was his usual self, mostly. I liked most of Marek Zidlicky's game too. Fayne was good, aside from not wiping the Pittsburgh forechecker on the first goal. The goaltending of Cory Schneider was subpar. This was far from his best game. The entire Devils team had a bad first period, and this was a poor game by Cory.

The Last Lightning Game: The Lightning defeated the Red Wings 2-1 Thursday night in a shootout worthy of the Devils, meaning that no one could convert. Ben Bishop turned away all 6 shooters while Jonas Gustavsson turned away 5 of 6 for the Red Wings. There was only one goal for each team during regulation. Kyle Quincey put one past Bishop in the first period, while Nikita Kucherov tied the game for the Lightning in the second. Sounds like both goaltenders were strong in net, but it was a pretty low event game overall and neither had to make a great deal of saves. Clark Brooks from over at Raw Charge has a recap of the game here if you'd like some more detail.

The Last Devils / Lightning Game: On October 29th, the Devils defeated the Lightning at home by a score of 2-1. This was a sloppy game on the part of the Lightning and they seemed totally befuddled by the Devils and unable to complete simple passes. This was a very low event game, with the Devils out attempting Tampa 33-23. The Lightning mustered just 17 shots on goal despite trailing for most of the game. Adam Henrique put the Devils up 1-0 on a neat shorthanded give and go with Patrik Elias. Jagr made it 2-0 on a breakaway goal, giftwrapped courtesy of Martin St. Louis. The Devils gave up a power play goal to Steven Stamkos, but did enough to hang on for a 2-1 victory. Check out John's recap if you'd like to relive this one in more detail or watch some highlights.

The Goal: Get a damn W. I just don't know how else to say it, the Devils need a win in the worst way after having a handful of very winnable games slip through their fingers recently. Bring on those Devils that showed up for the final 40 minutes of Friday's game, please. I think that goes without saying. Whoever is in net needs to do a better job than whoever has been in net recently, because both goalies have thrown in stinkers this week. I fully expect Pete DeBoer to go back to Martin Brodeur after Schneider's poor game Friday. Not the decision I would make, but it would be tough to argue with it on a back to back set. I think the Devils will probably use the same six defensemen they did Friday, since they are the only six defensemen available right now. I wouldn't be surprised if DeBoer kept Merrill and Gelinas seperate. That seemed to work well. I may be optimistic in thinking this, but if the Devils top two lines play like they did Friday, I feel like they play their game with success. I expect the Devils lines for this game to be the same as Friday night. I could be wrong, but with three of the four lines playing as well as they did, I don't see any reason to make changes up front.

The Opponent: The Lighnting are treading water lately, with a 4-3-3 record over their last 10. Also, they are significantly a better team at home (12-3-1) than they are on the road (6-7-2). Tampa Bay is middle of the road in close score fenwick differential. Slightly behind the Devils, in fact. Not surprisingly, they do get more attempts towards and on net than New Jersey. The Lightning average 28.2 shots on net at 5v5, compared to 25.1 for the Devils.

The Players: The Lightning's top line right now is Tyler Johnson centering Martin St Louis and Ondrej Palat. These guys aren't exactly tearing it up in the possession department, or on the scoresheet, although they have put up 3 goals in the past 3 games. Behind that, you have Alex Killorn playing with Teddy Purcell and Valtteri Filppula. Nate Thompson plays with JT Brown and Nikita Kucherov. It seems, on paper, like both of these lines have been just as, or more effective than the top line recently. The fourth line may be BJ Krombeen, Dana Tyrell, and [insert player here]. All kidding aside, I'm not sure, because it looks like Tampa dressed a 7th defenseman on Thursday, Mark Barberio. Perhaps he was deployed as a 4th line forward? I'm not really sure. Overall, the Lightning are missing a few key players up front. Stamkos, obviously, and Ryan Malone, one of their best possession players, is out also.

On defense, the Lightning will most likely have Radko Gudas paired with Matt Carle and they will take on the tough competition. I would imagine that Jon Cooper will try to get this pair out against either the Jagr line or the Elias line whenever possible. Behind them will most likely be Eric Brewer and Andrej Sustr. I would think that Cooper would also like to use this pair more against the Devils top competition, and protect the third pairing of Sami Salo and Matt Taormina as much as possible. Yes, Matt Taormina is back in the NHL, and it would seem likely, based on his performance Thursday and the Lightning's injuries, that he will play in NJ tonight. Ben Bishop will more than likely be between the pipes. He is having a fantastic season so far, and it could be a challenge for the Devils to get pucks past him. He is among the league leaders in wins, save percentage, and games started. He is also like 9 feet tall.

Special Teams: I did not think I would be saying this, but the Devils have a higher ranked power play than the Lightning. There's a fairly critical guy missing on that Lightning power play, which undoubtedly is hurting their effectiveness. The Lightning convert at a higher rate at home on the power play (18.2%) then they do the road (14.0%). I believe, with the absence of Stamkos, the Ligtning's top power play unit features, again, St. Louis, Johnson, and Palat up front. On the blue line, Sami Salo and ex-Devil Matt Taormina led the charge in Thursday's game. The Devils are just the opposite with their home - road conversion differential, and the disparity there is even worse. NJ has just an 11.1% conversion rate at home compared to 21% on the road. So, I'm not sure whose power play really has the advantage there in this particular scenario, despite the Devils higher ranking overall.

As we know, the Devils penalty kill is outstanding. Third ranked in the league, in fact, with an 86.7% conversion rate. Unlike the power play, the PK is even more effective at home, converting at 92%. The Lightning also have a top 10 penalty kill, 10th to be exact, and they are converting at 83.6%, with an 81.6% conversion rate on the road. With Victor Hedman out with a lower body injury, their top penalty killers will most likely be Matt Carle, Sami Salo, Radko Gudas, and Eric Brewer. On paper, it would seem that the special teams battle here would favor both penalty kills. With both kills being quite stingy, converting a power play goal could be a huge advantage for whichever team can pull it off.

Up and Down Lightning: In looking over the Lightning's past few games, its seems they either score 5 goals or 0. Hopefully we catch them on a game when they score zero.

ENERGY!!!!!!111: The fourth line brought it yesterday Yes, Tim "ENERGY!!!1" Sestito actually brought palpable and measurable energy to the ice. Last night was probably his best game ever as an NHL player. Cam Janssen played as good a game, I think, as he is capable of. He was good. He finished his hits, dislocated a few pucks from players via his hits, didn't hurt the team in any way, and kept the puck in the zone a few times. Jacob Josefson stepped in from the press box and played a strong game. He should be back in the lineup tonight. This group was a good fourth line on Friday night. They need to do it again tonight. In other energy related updates, the whole team needs to find a way to dig deep and somehow find the energy to play their game at a high level. I feel that with the proper effort and execution, this Devils team has a good chance to grab a win here against a team ahead of them in the standings that is missing a few key players and not exactly setting the world on fire lately. The key, will be finding the very elusive beast that has been a beginning -to - end full game effort.

How Many Minutes Do We Play?: 60.

Snow Game: There may be a significant amount of snowfall today in the New Jersey area. In fact, it may already be snowing by the time you are reading this (it's not now snowing yet as I write). There could also be rain and ice, potentially creating messy and hazardous conditions. As John said last night, if you are heading out to the game, exercise caution. Maybe try to use mass transit options whenever possible (that's most likely my plan), and above all else, be safe, even if that means staying home.

Your Take: Now I'd like to know your thoughts on tonight's game. What do you think the Devils need to do to get back in the win column? Would you like to see any changes to the Devils lineup? Who do you feel will be the key players tonight for the Devils? How about for Tampa Bay? Please help kick-start a snowy morning discussion on tonight's upcoming game by taking a moment to hit up the comments section and leaving your take. Thanks, as always, for reading.