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New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning: Game Preview #3

The New Jersey Devils continue their four-game road trip with a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. This preview notes the Devils' lack of changes, how well-rounded the Lightning are, and other thoughts.

Tampa Bay are tonight's opponents and they are much more than just #91.
Tampa Bay are tonight's opponents and they are much more than just #91.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Sunrise was dawn to a win, but another city in the Sunshine State stands up tonight.

The Time: 7:30 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (2-0-0) at the Tampa Bay Lightning (2-0-1; SBN Blog: Raw Charge)

The Last Devils Game: It was a deflection party in the first period of the Devils' road game against the Panthers. Eric Gelinas had a long wrister touched-off by Tuomo Ruutu for an early score.  Gelinas had another long shot re-directed in to convert a power play: this time by Martin Havlat.  Marek Zidlicky had another shot that hit off Mike Cammalleri for another PPG.  In the dying minute of the period, Damon Severson flung a long wrist shot that, well, beat Roberto Luongo without deflection.  It was his first of his NHL career and a 4-0 lead.  Michael Ryder fed Ryane Clowe for a close one-timer in the slot to make it 5-0 early in the second.  Al Montoya replaced Luongo, the game became filled with penalties (the Devils conceded eight penalty kills), and Florida only got one back - a PPG by Derek MacKenzie due to some strong play by Cory Schneider. The Devils rolled to win 5-1.  Mike did the recap and you can read that here.

The Last Lightning Game: The Lightning hosted Montreal on Monday night.  They welcomed Quebec's Team with a Florida Beatdown . Victor Hedman opened the scoring early in the first; and then picked up the first of his three assists for Steven Stamkos minutes later on a power play.  Montreal did get a tip-in from Brendan Gallagher shortly after that to keep the score at a competitive 2-1.  However, the score got blown up with two second period goals by Stamkos - a breakaway where he split the 'D' at 13:15 and a power play blast at 18:14 from above the circle.   The Lightning brought more misery to Montreal with two quick third period goals in less than a minute apart: first off a sweet move by Ryan Callahan and then Ondrej Palat firing in his first of the season.  Vladimir Namestnikov got his first NHL assist on the first goal and scored his first NHL goal for the extra point.  41-17 in shots, 2-for-3 on the power play, 4-for-4 on the penalty kill, 7-1 on the scoreboard. One team came to play, the other put up the second worst performance of the day (Buffalo took that "prize").  Check out Raw Charge for coverage of that massive win.

The Goal: Play with discipline; do not give the opposition so many power plays.  The Lightning's strength is on offense. Steven Stamkos alone is a strength.  He's arguably second to Alex Ovechkin when it comes to firing the puck and being generally dangerous in offensive situations.  He's also not all that alone as the Lightning are well supported - on the power play and otherwise - by Tyler Johnson, Valtteri Filppula, Ryan Callahan, Alex Killorn, and Ondrej Palat among others.  Victor Hedman is turning into a stud at both ends and the recently-acquired Anton Stralman keeps things going.  Like Washington, Tampa Bay is one of those teams that you simply don't want to give several and/or repeated power play situations.  The Devils lost a three goal lead in their first night because of them and tested the waters but survived eight shorthanded situations against Florida.  Should the Devils want to go to 3-0-0, then I believe they have to avoid whacking at hands, throwing pucks over the glass, and other obvious and avoidable fouls that have plagued the first two games of the season as much as possible.

Two Wins, No Changes: Those hoping for lineup changes should expect to be disappointed. Tom Gulitti's report from Monday's practice at Fire & Ice indicates no changes on defense or at forward.  Whatever Peter DeBoer uses in practice the day before is a safe bet to be the lineup on gameday.  So those wishing to see #5, #12, or #16 tonight won't likely get what they want.  On defense, this is more defensible.  The worst of the bunch is the most protected by the 'C,' and I can't point to either of the other five and conclude they should sit for Adam Larsson.   Especially not Damon Severson, who is coming off a two-point night.  I would prefer to see Damien Brunner over Jordin Tootoo. Should Tampa Bay bring the offense, having another offensive player in the lineup would be useful. It would give DeBoer more options in game.  Alas, he wants to use the fourth line as he has been so that's not changing.  Until there are losses - either on the score or among the roster - expect the same eighteen skaters in the game.

Not that all not-change is bad.  The top three lines have been productive.  Gelinas and Jon Merrill have been OK.  Cory Schneider should start tonight's game, which is generally a very good thing.

Build Up Play: The New Jersey Devils scored ten goals against goaltenders in two games. That's great.  However, half of those goals involved a deflection of some sort.  Four of those by Devils, one off a defender's skate.  Bounces definitely make the difference and I'm not begrudging that they happened.  It's just that kind of production is even less sustainable. So I would love to see the Devils do more of the work seen in the other goals: making clean zone entries by carrying the puck, being fully aware of the situation, and finding the open man for shots.  Don't mistake me: if the Devils get more goals off tip-ins and re-directions, that's all fine.  I just want to see them create more goals intentionally than get them off fortune.  That will only further the confidence of the team's offensive capabilities.

More than Just Firepower: Tampa Bay is considered to be player in the Atlantic Division this season.  Don't take my word for it; Rob Vollman found them to be predicted to finish second in the division from an amalgamation of hundreds of predictions in this Dobber Hockey post. That's because they are more than just Steven Stamkos and His Amazing Shooting Prowess.  As noted earlier, Valtteri Filppula, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Ryan Callahan (dumb contract aside), and Alex Killorn are a very fine supporting cast.  Plenty of play-driving, attack-minded players in that bunch. Once Jonathan Drouin gets cleared to play - and that might be soon according to this Tweet by Eric Erlendsson of the Tampa Bay Tribune - then the Bolts may have another weapon up front.   Add another if Brett Connolly bears out to be a player.  They even have a fourth line that - get this - isn't for physical play or spelling guys.  You'll see Vladimir Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, and J.T. Brown instead to provide energy through attacking.  The Lightning certainly have a powerful crew of forwards. They're going to feel especially good after dropping seven on a division rival.

But consider the back-end.  Victor Hedman and Matt Carle were very good last season.  The blueline has been bolstered by the acquisitions of Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman.   Per War on Ice, Garrison and Stralman were positive in terms of possession for their respective teams. That's a potential positive for a Tampa Bay defensive effort; guys who can help not only make stops but help play going forward. Those two look good so far.  That makes a solid top four, keeping Radko Gudas and His Questionable Hits and Andrej Sustr to more limited minutes; which puts them in better positions to succeed.

Behind all of them, the Lightning are still banking on Ben Bishop.  He was good last season.  Problems arose when he wasn't playing.  Evgeni Nabokov was acquired to be the new back-up and the team signed draft pick Andrei Vasilevsky.   That's not exactly a massive upgrade, but Nabokov had better save percentages than Anders Lindbeck last season.  Bishop did play against Montreal.  Eric Erlandsson reported in the Tampa Bay Tribune on Monday that Nabokov is expected to start this one. That makes sense; starting a goalie in back-to-back sets isn't usually a smart idea.  However, that will be no easy task for New Jersey. Nabokov arguably will have a better defensive core and an deeper, more talented set of forwards than he had in Long Island.   He wasn't straight up awful there either, though I would recommend the Devils testing him whenever possible.

Essentially, this is the first opponent of the season where the opponent is simply well-rounded.  I would not bank on the Devils going up by three goals early on short of a combination of an awesome burst of offense, fortunate bounces, and generally excellent play.  I think this is the first real test of the season, despite Tampa Bay coming off a game the night before.  I'm looking forward to see what the Devils can do against a better class of an opponent.

Yes, That Last Sentence was a Dig: In your face, Flyers and Panthers!

Closing with an Obvious Statement: I want a Devil to keep an eye on Stamkos at all times.  If the Devils are going to get beat, I'd rather not have it be from their best player getting free reign to do as he likes.  He had 12 shots last night while putting up a hat trick for his first three goals of the season.  I don't think he's going to be tired after that.

Your Take: With a stronger opponent - strongest on the road trip - coming off a Monday night game, tonight would be a good time make a statement with a result. Will the Devils leave Tampa Bay with something in the standings?  Who do you expect to lead the way for New Jersey?  Can the Devils not hand their opposition five or more power play situations?  You've seen Stamkos, can the Devils contain him and his crew?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.