Seen Stamkos? No? Get ready to see way more of him than you'd like.
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM WFAN
The TiqIQ Ticket Link: If you're thinking about going to tonight's game at the Rock, then why not check out our partners TiqIQ to get some seats off the secondary market? Here's a link: New Jersey Devils tickets.
The Last Devils Game: The Devils hosted Our Hated Rivals on Tuesday night. The atmosphere was rocking in favor of the home team and Adam Henrique slamming in a one-timer five minutes into the game ensured it early on. The Devils got into early penalty trouble with eight minutes shorthanded in the first period alone, but the penalty killers and Martin Brodeur stopped it all. David Clarkson pounced on a loose puck misplayed by Rick Nash in the slot to make it 2-0 before the end of the first period and the Devils had every reason to feel good. The second period featured the Rangers coming close, Martin Brodeur being amazing in stopping all nine shots, and the Devils wasting opportunities to score. Early in the third, David Clarkson scored his second of the night off a rebound on a power play and really putting the screws to the Rangers. Chris Kreider pulled one back but the Rangers couldn't get the sustained pressure needed to beat a sensational performance by Brodeur. Clarkson was denied an empty net by Michael Del Zotto's glove but the ensuing power play sealed the 3-1 win. My recap of the game is here, with plenty of praise for various Devils.
The Last Lightning Game: While the Devils were beating Our Hated Rivals, the Lightning visited the Philadelphia Flyers. This one was a bit strange. It included Zac Rinaldo punching B.J. Crombeen while he was laying on the ice; the fight actually knocked Crombeen out of the game. It later included Vincent Lecavalier fighting Maxime Talbot which is weird since Lecavalier is not a guy who should be fighting at all. Weirdest of all: Philly got not one, but two goals out of Tom Sestito. Yes, Tom Sestito scored two on Anders Lindback. With backhanded shots. And they weren't flukes. Yes, Tim's brother Tom scored twice. The Lightning only got 22 shots on net and only one beat Ilya Bryzgalov: a third period equalizer by Benoit Pouliot less than two minutes before Sestito's second goal. The Lightning lost their second game of the row, 2-1. Cassie McClellan has a recap of the loss over at Raw Charge.
The Goal: Possession appears to be for the taking, so take it and pour on the misery. The Lightning are 6-3 and have an impressive goal differential of +17 with 40 scored and 23 allowed. However, the Bolts are about to find out that nothing that can go on forever doesn't. The Lightning are the second worst team in the NHL in Fenwick percentage in both close-score and tied-score situations per Behind the Net. They're about 42-43% in both situations, just ahead of Columbus. The Lightning skaters are mostly negative in on-ice Corsi with many below -5 according to Behind the Net. What all that means is that the Lightning aren't out-attempting their competition, they're getting pinned back more often than not. And they're giving up a lot of shots at evens; they have the fifth highest shots against per 60 rate with 31.3 in the NHL per Behind the Net. Given that the Lightning have a wicked top six on offense, it behooves the Devils to force them to play defense as much as possible if they want to win tonight. The Fenwick percentages and the SA/60 rate are big pieces of evidence that it's most certainly possible for the Devils to do what other teams have done to Tampa Bay. Therefore, the Devils need to strive to get the puck, carry it into the zone, and take open shooting opportunities to put them on net.
Now, it also behooves the Devils to stay out of the box tonight. After playing a team with one of the least effective power plays in the NHL, they will play one of the most effective tonight. The Lightning have the second best power play success rate in the league at 32.5% (13-for-40). It's not so much that they're piling on lots of shots, their 5-on-4 shots for per 60 rate at Behind the Net is below the league median and New Jersey at 44.1. But their shooting percentage is the third best in the league at 22.2%. That won't last either but with the likes of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, and Teddy Purcell on their power play units, it's not going to be awful either. The Devils got away with their calls against New York, they are more likely to pay the price tonight.
The Lightning penalty kill has also been strong this season. Their success rate sits at tenth in the league with a 85.4% rate (32-for-38). They're just above the league median in shots allowed per 60 minutes in 4-on-5 situations at 48.1 per Behind the Net (Devils are at 38.7, by the way). However, they're getting good goaltending on the PK. Anders Lindback and Mathieu Garon have combined for 89.8% in 4-on-5 situations, one of the better save percentages in the league per Behind the Net. A quick look at Tampa Bay's time on ice in special teams at NHL.com shows four defensemen (Sami Salo, Victor Hedman, Matt Carle, and Eric Brewer) and one forward (Nate Thompson) averaging over three minutes per game shorthanded. After Adam Hall and Tom Pyatt, it's a mish-mash of players sharing time. Maybe they could use more penalty killing forwards to help cut down the shots against, but that's just my guess. In any case, the Devils' power play could get some good chances tonight but I don't think the PK is a particular weakness of Tampa Bay. It's all the more reason to keep this game at 5-on-5 where Tampa Bay hasn't been all that great at this season.
While the possession values are ugly for the team, the Lightning's strength is up top and they have to be respected with 40 goals already scored this season. OK, they only have three in their last two games, but that doesn't make them any less dangerous looking on paper. Here's how the team looks in the general NHL.com summary of stats. First and foremost is Steven Stamkos. He averages 21:32 per game (you will see him a lot), he's second in the NHL with 16 points in nine games, he's tied for third in the league in goals with seven, he's one of the few Bolts with a positive on-ice Corsi rate, and he leads the team with 32 shots on net. Stamkos is absolutely lethal when he's left open on an angle; his one-timers are absolutely sublime. He can't get those looks tonight, the Devils must do more than just see Stamkos. However, it's not as simple as demanding the Devils blanket Stamkos and that's it. Martin St. Louis has three goals, eleven assists, a lot of speed, averages 21:32 per game, and can still school defenders at the age of 37. Their captain Vincent Lecavalier remains a very skilled player and he's got four goals and seven assists. He doesn't play as much as St. Louis and Stamkos with an average time of ice of 17:33, but the Devils will see plenty of him. Their secondary forwards have been led by Teddy Purcell in the past; while he's only got two goals on 22 shots (that should improve), he's also got eight assists. If you're familiar with the Lightning, then you know about those four players.
There are two other forwards of note beyond the Lightning's top three players and Purcell. Rookie winger Cory Conacher has been the definition of a pleasant surprise. He's got five goals and seven assists in nine games. While I doubt he's going to keep it up - no way he's a 27.8% shooter - he's someone the Devils will need to be aware of beyond the Lightning's top three forwards. The Lightning have protected him to a point but he's been shining as of late. Ryan Malone has played quite a bit this season but he's only got four goals and one assist for his troubles. He's a physical player and can definitely use his strength to make plays happen on offense, though the production hasn't blossomed yet.
On defense, Guy Boucher has relied on the quartet of Victor Hedman (the only defenseman with a positive on-ice Corsi rate), Matt Carle, Eric Brewer, and Sami Salo. Each have averaged over twenty minutes per game, each has at least five points, and each are used to playing against the other team's best. Hedman and Carle are a bit more offensive and will likely see the best the Devils have tonight. Beyond those four, it's not that impressive. The blueline as a whole has been porous in terms of allowing shots this season, so I think Devils forwards will be able to get past them. However, if they have good games, then don't be surprised if it's suddenly a challenge.
In the net, the Lightning have received quality goaltending. Anders Lindback has been Tampa Bay's #1 goalie and he's got a healthy 91.8% save percentage at even strength. It's not exceptional, but it's pretty good and far better than Dwayne Roloson. Mathieu Garon has been very good in his two appearances given his overall save percentage of 93.9%. According to Peter Pupello at the Lightning's official website, Lindback will start tonight's game. As tempting it is to discount him for giving up two goals to Tom Sestito, that would be a poor move. Look at this way, no other Flyer actually beat him on Tuesday.
I don't think the good times will last forever for Tampa Bay. Their poor possession is going to catch up to them, their power play won't remain super effective, their goalies won't be so strong on the PK, and their lack of depth in spots - which could take another hit if B.J. Crombeen doesn't play tonight, a possibility per Pupello's report from practice - can undercut them despite a very strong core up front. That all said, they will present a challenge to the Devils tonight. As much as I have said that it's in the Devils' best interest to stay out of the box, try to take advantage of possession, and try and limit Tampa Bay's top players, they still have to go out and do it.
The Devils only held an optional practice on Wednesday so it's unclear if they'll make any changes to their line up from the one the Rangers lost to on Tuesday. With a home-and-home against Pittsburgh coming up this weekend, I could see Martin Brodeur starting tonight and Johan Hedberg would get one of those two games. Either goaltender would be a good choice. Moose has been great in his two appearances and Brodeur's coming off a wonderful performance. I'm more concerned on how the skaters will play in front of him. Peter DeBoer will have the benefit of the last change; regardless of how he uses it, I want to see all three defensive pairings not just be forced back at evens. Andy Greene and Adam Larsson got pinned quite a lot against the Rangers. As much as I know they were dealing with an opposition's top two lines and while up a few goals, I'd like them to get the puck out more and towards offense as opposed to dump-and-changes. I'd ask the same out of Bryce Salvador, but I understand my demands should have limits.
I also want to see more offense out of the top two lines, which requires not passing with shooting lanes at times. Assuming the top two lines doesn't change, I want more out of Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, and Dainius Zubrus. More shots, more attempts, and more time in the other team's end of the rink. I'm not going to get hung up on one when it's all three who could and should be putting up more towards the net. I'd also like some more consistency from Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique, and David Clarkson beyond Clarkson shooting it when able (and he should, dude's still hot). This six can do some real damage, they just need to get closer. If the CBGB line and the combination of Bobby Butler, Jacob Josefson, and Krys Barch/Kovalchuk's second shift can beat out their depth, then all the better. The Lightning have bled shots so I would think the chances would be there. They just need to take them, something they didn't always do against the Rangers on Tuesday. A good forecheck would help in conjunction with the possession game, something DeBoer thinks can improve according to this post-practice post by Gulitti.
As a final point, you may want to look at Raw Charge's preview tomorrow. I've answered some questions they had about the Devils, so check that out.
What do you think the Devils will do to their lineup tonight? What do you want them to do with their lineup? What do you want them to do in general to the Lightning other than the obvious (score more goals than them)? Can the Devils limit the Lightning's top players like Stamkos, St. Louis, and Lecavalier? Will they also keep Conacher in check too? Which team will be the better team in possession? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.