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New Jersey Devils vs Tampa Bay Lightning: Game 23 Preview

New Jersey hosts Tampa Bay in the second half of a back to back for each team. What can the Devils do to break out of a five game losing steak? Tampa Bay will be looking to do the same thing, facing a five game losing streak of their own. We'll look at what Tampa Bay will bring to the table in this game as well.

Kovy's already smiling cause he knows he's about to score a shorty.
Kovy's already smiling cause he knows he's about to score a shorty.
Jim McIsaac

New Jersey hosts Tampa Bay in the second half of a back to back for each team. It's also the second meeting between the two clubs this season, and the second at The Rock.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: Tampa Bay Lightning (9-12-1; SBN Blog: Raw Charge) vs The New Jersey Devils (10-7-5)

The TiqIQ Ticket Link: Need a last minute ticket for tonight's game? Don't go looking for scalpers. Check out our partners at TiqIQ to find some from the secondary market. Here's a link: New Jersey Devils tickets.

The Last Devils Game: The Devils concluded their road trip in Toronto by playing a solid 40 minutes and then ruining it all with a messy display over the final 20. In the first period, much went right for the Devils, except for a soft goal by Nazeem Kadri which was a sign of things to come for Moose on the night. The second period was the Marek Zidlicky show. The defenseman sprung to life, scoring two goals and tripling his even strength production on the year. The Devils took the 2-1 lead into the third period, but that was quickly erased due to more costly mistakes. Patrik Elias uncharacteristically turned the puck over in his own zone, and Jay McClement skated right in and beat Hedberg with a shot that crossed the goal line via the post and Moose's back. A penalty to Loktionov set the Devils shorthanded, and Clarke MacArthur gave the Leafs a lead they would not relinquish. Phil Kessel added a goal on an odd man rush, and you have your 4-2 final score. John wrote a much more detailed recap here which is worth reading.

The Last Lightning Game: The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Lightning 4-3 last night, extending the Lightning's losing streak to 5 games. Evgeni Malkin celebrated his return back from a concussion by scoring a beautiful goal early in the third period to erase a 2-1 Tampa Bay lead. The Penguins led the game 1-0 after 1 period via an early Chris Kunitz tally. Tampa Bay found goals from Stamkos and Taylor Pyatt in the second period to climb into the lead. After Malkin's highlight reel goal, Sidney Crosby added one of his own just minutes later to extend the Pittsburgh lead to 3-2. An empty netter by James Neal and a very late tally by Steven Stamkos rounded out your 4-3 score. Raw Charge has a recap right here.

The Last Devils - Lightning Game: Way back on February 7th, the Devils defeated the Lightning 4-2 at The Rock. The Devils found goals from 4 different players (Adam Henrique, Ilya Kovalchuk, Andy Greene, and Patrik Elias) and Martin Brodeur made 17 saves in the victory. Tampa Bay got goals from Nate Thompson and Matt Carle, and Anders Lindback stopped 27 shots in the loss. Scoring across the lineup, tight defense, great special teams play...sounds like fun. It might be worth taking a minute to read (or re-read) John's recap from that evening to remember happier times in Devil land.

The Goal: Tighten up the mistakes. First and foremost, the last two games were potential wins turned into losses by ill-timed mistakes and loose plays. All of the Devils mistakes seem to be ending up in the back of the net right now. In the Buffalo game, first it was Butler and Zidlicky giving a clinic on how not to backcheck. Then it was Larsson getting caught up ice on the second goal. In the Toronto game, Moose gave up three pillow soft goals. On the second goal, there was also a very uncharacteristic and horrid turnover by Patrik Elias which created the whole play. The fourth goal was not Moose's fault - he really had no chance on the odd man rush and perfect pass from Van Riemsdyk.

The point is, the Devils have not played horribly otherwise. This is not a team that has the firepower to be making mistakes like that and just scoring them back at will.

Tampa Bay regularly gets outshot at evens, and they give up the fifth most shots against at 5v5 in the league (31) while only generating 28.2 shots for, which is just middle of the road. The Devils are third worst in the league at generating shots (24.4 / game at 5v5), but the silver lining is that they are third best in preventing shots at 5v5 (25.1 / game). So, the differential, while negative, is not that great. The Devils still need to generate more shots on goal overall, and should be able to do so, facing another team that is weak in preventing them. Tampa Bay is also receiving below average goaltending, with just a .907 save percentage at 5v5. Goaltending has been a bit of a sore topic for Devils fans as well lately, with Moose really not being up to the task lately and Marty still out with a sore back.

That begs the question, will DeBoer go for the hail mary and give rookie Keith Kinkaid his first start over the struggling Hedberg? I'm still inclined to say Hedberg gets the start, but it's certainly possible that Kinkaid will get the call based on Moose's performance last night. DeBoer was non-committal post game.

As far as the rest of the Devils lineup, I would guess that the top-9 forwards will remain the same, and possibly all 12. Matteau could play on the third and Poni the first, or vice versa. There could be a callup from Albany. There is a roster spot available to do so after Butler was put on waivers and claimed by Nashville.

On defense, I don't think there will be any changes for NJ. I think, unfortunately, Marek Zidlicky just bought us all a couple more tickets to his interpretive defense exhibition by scoring two goals last night.

What can we expect from Tampa Bay? They sport one of the worst close score Fenwick percentages in the league. (The Devils are above average). On an individual level, Tampa Bay only has three players with a positive on ice corsi value (Stamkos, Benoit Pouliot, Marc-Andre Bergeron). One of them, Pouliot, is injured and will not play. I think Pouliot usually played mostly with Lecavalier and St. Louis, so I'm not sure who will fill in for him in that spot. The other top line for Tampa Bay seems to feature Stamkos, Cory Conacher and Edward Purcell. Nate Thomson and Tom Pyatt seem to mostly play with Brandon Crombeen or Alexander Killorn. I think that leaves Ryan Malone, Adam Hall, and perhaps callup Ondrej Palat, who made his NHL debut last night?

On defense, it looks like Tampa Bay features Victor Hedman with Sami Salo, Eric Brewer with Matt Carle, and Brian Lee with either Keith Aulie or Marc Andre Bergeron. A lot of Tampa Bay's players have unusually high PDO's, and are underwater in terms of on-ice Corsi. On the surface, it looks like this is mostly the result of unsustainable on-ice shooting percentages. Hopefully, they regress towards the mean starting tonight.

The Devils should be able to control possession in this game. They dominated possession last night against Toronto, and against Buffalo. The one problem with both of those games - this domination in possession is not always turning into shots or goals. It is encouraging on some level that the possession numbers are pretty good. The Devils need to start burying their chances, no doubt about it. They were connecting at an unsustainable level during the hot run in the early season, and although I don't have the numbers, it seems like the regression has happened all at once during this five game losing streak. The reality of the situation is that things were not as good as they seemed early on, and they're not quite as bad as they seem now.

Tampa Bay has one of the better power plays in the league (7th) so it would behoove the Devils to stay out of the box. It's worth mentioning, however, that Tampa Bay is much, much better on the power play at home (28.6%) than they are on the road (12.5%).

The Devils penalty kill seems so hit or miss lately, I don't even know what to say. Sometimes they look brilliant, other times, hopeless. The power play, on the other hand, pretty much focuses just on hopeless. While sitting at 20th in the league, those of us who watch regularly know it's actually far, far worse than that right now.

If the Devils are going to win this game, it's probably going to come at even strength, by pinning back an opponent with weaker depth and possession abilities. If the Devils get leaky, either on the ice or in goal, Tampa Bay can certainly make them pay. The Devils have given up a number of odd man rushes lately, and no one is better at getting behind the defense than Steven Stamkos. This is a winnable game, just like the last two before it. I'm not going to advocate blowing up the entire ship or doing something entirely different or rash to get a win. They need to keep doing what they've been doing, but just do it better and with less mistakes. More Devils opportunities are bound to start going in the back of the net soon. In some ways, we are just experiencing the other side of all those early season victories where the Devils put up 18 or 20 shots and got 3 goals out of it. Things will even out pretty soon, and Zajac and Elias are each due to put one in the back of the net. So is Kovy, and Henrique, if he keeps playing well. Throw in Poni too. They're all due. It will happen soon enough. The mistakes, however, the blown coverages, and odd man rushes allowed- those have to go immediately. The Devils need to tighten up the loose, spotty play, and give a full 60 minute effort in a very winnable game. I guess the good news is that one team will break a five game losing streak tonight. Let's just hope it's the boys in Red and Black.

Now I'd like to know, what do you think the Devils need to do in order to break out of this slump? Please leave your answers to this question and any other thoughts about the game in general in the comments section. Thanks for reading.