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New Jersey Devils at St. Louis Blues: Game Preview #54

One week later, the New Jersey Devils visit the victims of a 7-1 beat down at the Rock, the St. Louis Blues. The Blues are still a rather strong team and it will still be a rather big challenge for the Devils. This preview goes into the matchup with thoughts on the game.

What we saw four times (Halak conceded four after Elliott was beaten three times) last week.
What we saw four times (Halak conceded four after Elliott was beaten three times) last week.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The road trip continues from the Bronx to Missouri for the first of three games in four nights.

The Time: 8:00 PM EDT

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (22-20-11) at the St. Louis Blues (35-11-5; SBN Blog: St. Louis Game Time)

The Last Devils Game: Yankee Stadium was technically the home of the New Jersey Devils although it was closer to Our Hated Rivals, the New York Rangers. This was the Stadium Series game for the Devils and a lot of people on NBC got to see a delay at first for glare. About an hour later, the game begun properly. The ice was bad and the players struggled quite a bit at first. But the Devils made the most of it early when Ryane Clowe sprung Patrik Elias on a one-on-one with Henrik Lundqvist. Elias beat him shortside for the early 1-0 lead. The Rangers hit back when John Moore, up on the play, was in perfect position to bang in a rebound created by Anton Stralman. The Devils punched twice as hard in response when Elias buried a great feed from Jaromir Jagr on a power play and Travis Zajac put home a loose puck off a skate in front for a 3-1 lead. Then Martin Brodeur gave up one of his worst goals of the season to Marc Staal. A first period ended 3-2 and it looked to be the close matchup one expected. The second began and the Rangers promptly took the Devils down over and over. Every offensive turnover or lost puck turned into a counter-attack. The Rangers scored five goals almost entirely on odd-man rushes. Mats Zuccarello scored twice, Carl Hagelin tallied one, and Rick Nash closed out the period to make it 6-3 New York. The Devils skaters were out of sorts, Brodeur was terrible, and the Rangers faithful were delirious in the stands. A lame third period ensued as both teams played out the game. Travis Zajac apparently fouled Derek Stepan on what was apparently a breakaway which drew a penalty shot. Stepan fired one past Cory Schneider, who replaced Brodeur for the third, to add further insult to a damaging scoreboard. Six unanswered goals to a hated rival on national television. The word "embarrassment" isn't enough in some ways. Mike was acting as media for ILWT at the game; here's his recap.

The Last Blues Game: On Saturday, the Blues wrapped up their road trip with a game against the Islanders. They didn't get off to a good start and the Isles made them pay for it. Four minutes into the game, Thomas Vanek scored his nineteenth of the season. Past the halfway mark, Kyle Okposo doubled his team's value in the game with wraparound. The Blues did cut the lead to one before the end of the first when Vladimir Tarasenko fired a screamer past Kevin Poulin. The Blues came out of the intermission with more pep and Tarasenko provided an early equalizer. He fired a wrister from the slot that just beat Poulin and made it 2-2. However, the Isles would take back the lead minutes later. Matt Martin fired a snap shot past Jaroslav Halak to make it 2-3 as the two teams hung with each other for the rest of the second. The increasingly desperate Blues controlled more of the play in the third, out-shooting the Isles 14-7. It wouldn't be until the final minute that their efforts were rewarded. T.J. Oshie curled in the slot and fired one through traffic that got through and in the net. Overtime ensued, the Blues had to kill a penalty but nearly found the answer - ultimately a shootout was needed. Kevin Shattenkirk broke the 1-1 deadlock as the third shooter for St. Louis and so they prevailed 4-3. RealBadRobot has some bad words in a recap at St. Louis Game Time.

The Last Devils-Blues Game: As a snowstorm hit New Jersey, the Devils hit the Blues last Tuesday with a goalstorm. It was a night where everything that could go wrong just about did for St. Louis and the Devils took full advantage. After a few strong minutes by St. Louis, Mark Fayne stepped up and fired a stray puck sliding through the slot, past bodies, and the outstretched hand of Brian Elliott. On the very next shift, Stephen Gionta knocked a puck close to the net, Ryan Carter took it, cut right, and lifted it past an out-stretched Elliott. Alexander Steen continued his torrid season when he slammed a rebound from an Andy Greene shot block past Cory Schneider. At 2-1, perhaps it would be a game. And then Reid Boucher chipped a puck in, got to it first, dodged a sliding Alex Pietrangelo, and fed the puck to the crease where it went off Jaromir Jagr's skate and into the net. Elliott was pulled in favor of Jaroslav Halak, but the night just got grimmer for the Blues. Ryane Clowe scored at a sharp angle on Halak's flank to convert an early power play. The next thirteen minutes were all Blues hockey but bad bounces, stray passes, and Cory Schneider ensured it would not be a game. The CBGBs finally provided some offense, drew a call, and the Devils converted on that power play when Eric Gelinas played Adam Henrique in, who picked a corner with a brilliant shot. The third began with another power play for New Jersey and this time it was converted by Patrik Elias sending a cross-ice pass right to Damien Brunner for a just about unstoppable one-timer. The game was just played out. Only one other main event happened: Eric Gelinas attempted a dump-in from the red line. Normally, this goes to the corner as the teams change. This one re-directed off a Blue, bounced off of the front of Halak's stick, up over his body, and dropped right into the net. It was that kind of night for the Blues. The Devils blew them out 7-1. My recap of the big victory is here. Over at St. Louis Game Time, RealBadRobot was understandably unhappy.

The Goal: Beware of the counter-attack, beware of conceding possession on offense. The Stadium Series game provided a big lesson for other teams playing against the Devils. Force turnovers or bad decisions from their forwards and have a man or two ready in the middle if you can. The Rangers hit the Devils on so many 3-on-2s, 2-on-1s, and 3-on-1s as a result of this. Speed is a factor but the Rangers didn't have as many rushes in the first period compared to the second because they couldn't get a grip on the puck as much. Any team looks fast when they hit their passes and force the other team to chase due to position. Throw in some bad decisions on defense, like a bad pinch or not committing to a man, and suddenly it's either hoping that the goalie makes a save or the offense botches it. This killed the Devils on Sunday. They can't afford to give St. Louis, a far higher scoring team than the Rangers, as many opportunities even with the superior goalie in net and come away with a desired result.

Meet the Blues - Almost as Same as Last Week's Blues: The Devils and Blues played each other last week. The two teams have played two games since their last meeting. Needless to say, the general points about both remain the same. So if you're interested in a more detailed understanding of the Blues and exactly how good they are, then please check out the preview from the last Devils-Blues game.

I will say the Blues will have someone involved tonight that wasn't at the Rock last Tuesday. Vladimir Tarasenko is now over the flu and he could make a big difference. He certainly made one with his brace against the Isles on Saturday. So far this season, Tarasenko has seventeen goals, fourteen assists, and 109 shots. He's also St. Louis' leader in Corsi percentage in 5-on-5 play according to Extra Skater. According to Left Wing Lock, the young winger was mostly with Derek Roy and Vladimir Sobotka against the Isles. He could be with them again tonight. While it's not as if he's the most dangerous player for St. Louis, the fact that he's been this productive in terms of points and driving the play makes him a threat. As if the Blues don't have enough of them.

Their Top Line Remains Tops: Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported on Monday that Alexander Steen has a fractured toe but will play tonight. I didn't even know he's been hurt. Steen has had a fantastic season so far. He's now the Blues' top scorer with 26 goals and 18 assists. Steen has a four-game point streak with two goals and four assists so far, so he's been recently hot in addition to his relative season-long hotness. He was often playing with Jaden Schwartz and David Backes. Incidentally, Schwartz and Backes are sixth and third on the team in scoring with 35 and 38 points, respectively. That sixth on the team in scoring is within ten points of the team leader speaks to St. Louis' depth at scoring. It also frees up T.J. Oshie, who's behind Steen with 42 points, on another unit. With the Devils on the road, Peter DeBoer may not get the match-up he wants for this unit. At home, I'd expect it to be Andy Greene and Mark Fayne tasked to quiet Steen and his line. I can only hope the others don't get wrecked too hard.

We Know One Goalie and The Other Better Not Be Over 40: Rutherford has also reported on Monday that Halak will start this game. You know him as the one who gave up a goal from the neutral zone last week. Jaroslav Halak will almost definitely not give up another fluke like that one. He's actually been quite good at evens. He's got the superior 92.6% save percentage compared to Elliott's 92%. A not-quite-good penalty kill save percentage of 86% plus some shorthanded goals allowed has dragged his overall save percentage down.

The Devils traveled to St. Louis on Monday so they did not practice. Therefore, there have not been any news as to what they'll do. The correct decision as to who should start this and a majority of the remaining games this season is easy though. It should be the guy who's been absolutely fantastic this month. It should be the better goalie. It should be Cory Schneider. It's not announced that he'll be the starter, but I think he will be. If he's not, then I'm utterly confused and will not be happy about it.

What I'd Like To See: In general, I want better decisions made on and off the puck from the Devils. I want them to play expecting St. Louis to not necessarily be angry, but resolved about trying to put a better effort out there. Hitchcock put it best, as reported by Rutherford on Monday, I think. He wants the team to play better, not necessarily "revenge hockey." The concept of better "puck management" applies just as much to the Devils after Sunday's horrorshow of a game as it does to the Blues' own nightmare last week.

As far as personnel, I'd like to see something positive out of Dainius Zubrus tonight. He has never been a productive player; he's at his best complementing others, particularly around the perimeter. But he only has one goal and one assist since Christmas: both in the 4-1 win over Montreal. Moreover, Zubrus hasn't registered a shot since the St. Louis game. And it was only one shot at that. Perhaps he's really not meshing well with Elias and Brunner. Maybe he needs to go back to Jagr and Zajac? Perhaps a return to creaming defenses down low and making things happen with possession dominance will yield some points? I don't know, I didn't entirely mind Jacob Josefson with those two. Then again, not being entirely mindful of a player on Sunday was enough to be one of the "better" Devils so it's not exactly high praise.

Defensively, I really would not mind switching Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas at this point. Gelinas was awful against the Rangers. The Truth was largely absent and his defense was illusion-like at times. I think a night or two off may do him some good to take a step back and recognize what better decisions could be made. While some may want others to sit, the only viable swap that could actually happen at the moment is Merrill-Gelinas.

Your Take: With this game likely featuring the bounces not nearly going all the Devils' way, it will certainly be a challenge. A win would do a lot of good, though. Do you think the Devils will be able to get one tonight? How do you think they should do it? Who do you want in the lineup? (Note: check with Tom Gulitti to see who it will be later this morning.) Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.