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New Jersey Devils at Boston Bruins: Game Preview #15

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Winless in three, New Jersey Devils take on the Boston Bruins, who have won four straight games. This preview notes Boston's beat-up blueline, returning Devils, and why Boston is so difficult to defend among other points.

Let's see something more of like this tonight, New Jersey.
Let's see something more of like this tonight, New Jersey.
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

One more road game before coming home to Newark; another back-to-back set in November.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (6-6-2) at the Boston Bruins (9-6-0; SBN Blog: Stanley Cup of Chowder)

The Last Devils Game: The unexpected happened on Friday night in Detroit.  Bryce Salvador took a shot and it led to a goal by Steve Bernier.  That happened early in the game.  The Red Wings proceeded to dominate the Devils for much of the first half of the game.  Salvador took a penalty just before Jordin Tootoo's minor penalty ended, so the PK got an extension.  In that extension, Jakub Kindl's shot was re-directed inadvertently by Adam Larsson for an equalizer.  Shortly thereafter, Brendan Smith took a long low shot that got through traffic in front and past Cory Schneider's toe.  The score was 1-2 but the play was largely in control by Detroit, thanks to the Devils struggling to do basic things like string two or three passes together.  Johan Franzen made Salvador look stupid for a second PPGA of the night and a 1-3 score. Score effects took hold in terms of possession, but Niklas Kronwall scored off a bank-shot from the endboards. The fluke made it 1-4 against New Jersey.  Tootoo would provide a consolation goal off a rebound.  It was early enough in the third that a constant attack by the visitors could have made the game interesting. Alas, it was one of only six shots on net in the period by the team down in the score. The Devils lost the third in a row, 2-4.  My recap of that game is here, and no one - myself included - was happy about it.

The Last Bruins Game: Thursday night saw the Bruins hosting the Edmonton Oilers.  Believe it or not, but the Oilers put up a fight.  Boyd Gordon scored his first of the season to convert a first period power play.  The Bruins would equalize late in the first thanks to a sweet top-shelf shot by Reilly Smith.  Yet, the Oilers and Bruins would match each other almost shot for shot in the second period.  Edmonton broke through early in the third with a score by Mark Arcobello.  However, a few minutes flipped the game upside down.  Loui Eriksson scored at 11:03 off a somewhat broken play in front.  Keith Aulie took a holding call within that minute and the Bruins made them pay.  Patrice Bergeron got around Nikita Nikitin, who hauled him down.  Bergeron still got a pass off to Carl Soderberg in the slot, who scored on the one-timer.  3-2 Boston and they got another power play.  They made that one count when Dougie Hamilton slid a wrister from the right circle past Ben Scrivens.  Milan Lucic added an empty netter to make it a 5-2 win, on the back of three goals scored within three minutes in the third period.   The win was Boston's fourth in a row. Sarah Connors at Stanley Cup of Chowder has this reaction post of the win.

The Goal: Tape to tape passes, please.  What's made the play of the last few weeks so difficult to watch was witnessing various Devils players just fail to complete passes cleanly while going forward.  This includes some of the zone exits, which were glorified clearances as opposed to exits a team could build off of.  This includes the first pass in the opposition's end.  Often, when the Devils would be able to carry it over the blue line, the puck carrier would just botch that first pass in someway that would kill any attack at best and lead to a counter-attack at worst.  Most importantly, this includes the neutral zone.  Struggles here mean more opportunities for the opposition to attack in addition to fewer ones for the Devils.  Should the Devils want to stop the bleeding of attempts, shots, and goals against, then it starts with better puck movement the middle.   If the Devils can achieve this, then they have a better shot at ending Boston's winning streak.

The Bruins Would Be Unimpressed With Your Injury Situation: The Devils aren't the only banged up team in this game.  Based on what the Bruins' official account tweeted on Sunday, defenseman David Warofsky did not practice and is expected to be out.  That Warofsky was in the lineup at all speaks to the state of their blueline.  Zdeno Chara, Torrey Krug (he may be coming back tonight, but who knows), and Kevan Miller have been out injured, with neither expected to return tonight.  Losing Chara and Krug hurts, especially from an offensive standpoint.   A lot more work has been given to Dougie Hamilton and Dennis Seidenberg as a result.  Past that pairing, well, it's asking a lot of Adam McQuaid, Joe Morrow, Warofsky, and Zach Trotman.  With Warofsky being out, Matt Bartkowski steps in.  That's not a blueline that should scare anyone past Hamilton-Seidenberg.   At least the Bruins still have strong two-way forwards, led by one of the best in the league in Patrice Bergeron; as well as Tuukka Raskwho doesn't have eye-popping numbers but is still quite capable in net.

Still the season's not even one-and-a-half months old and the Bruins have already used ten defensemen. So don't expect too much sympathy in terms of players out hurt. If anything, this is more incentive for the Devils to get their puck movement issues in order.  Regardless of Krug's return, being able to attack the lesser names over and over would be a big plus tonight should they want to snap the Bruins' winning streak.

Besides, New Jersey May Be Getting Healthier Soon: Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat returned to practice on Sunday and they will travel to Boston, as confirmed in this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. The lines Gulitti reported in practice had both in their original positions before they got hurt.  Cammalleri was on the wing of Travis Zajac along with Jaromir Jagr and Havlat was with Patrik Elias and Michael Ryder.   As both practiced with currently active players - and in Cammalleri's case, the penalty kill - I would expect both to play tonight.  The Devils really could use their additions.  Cammalleri can be a cannon; an upgrade over the big grinding winger who has been in his spot since (Dainius Zubrus, Ryane Clowe).  Havlat has shown to be good on the puck, which can help make things happen for Elias and Ryder.  The top six is stronger with them than without them.

Their potential return has not meant the potential end of Jacob Josefson or Damien Brunner.  On the contrary, the duo were practicing as part of a line with Zubrus.  I don't have a lot of confidence in that unit because Josefson and Brunner did little in their last few games.  But they'll each get an opportunity to do so.  No, the room was created due to Mike Sislo returning to Albany on Sunday and Tootoo being moved from the four lines.   This means Steve Bernier, who I also thought had one of the good games in Detroit among Devils skaters, get another game.  With Adam Henrique and Ryane Clowe out, these are the best twelve forwards and I think they are being utilized in a reasonable fashion.   Let's hope they can effectively pass the puck among them.

Further, the Bruins Have Managed With a Banged-Up Blueline Due to their Scoring by Committee: That's right, the Bruins have talent throughout the lineup but they don't have a scoring ace.  Sure, Patrice Bergeron is as effective as a two-way player as anyone in the world right now.  But from a production standpoint, the team has nine players with seven points or more already.  Just look at the list of skaters by scoring.

Bergeron is one of them; he only has two goals but leads the Bruins with 46 shots on net.  I think he'll shoot better than 4.7% in time.  If not, he can continue to feed the irritatingly talented Brad Marchand, who leads Boston with five goals out of 37 shots.  Or Reilly Smith, who has been off to a fine start to his third NHL season.  Either way, that unit will be a threat. Carl Soderberg leads the way in total points; he's been effective with Loui Eriksson (also with fine production to start the season) and Matt Fraser.  By the production alone, they have to be respected.   There is a powerful unit consisting of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and rookie Seth Griffith.   Lucic is a monster when he gets going and Krejci just does a lot of things well.  Despite the fact that Krejci played against Edmonton, his status is unknown for tonight based on this report from Boston's official website. That could be another blow to the Bruins' forwards, but the report notes that Chris Kelly is ready to step in.  And even if he doesn't measure up to Krejci, Lucic is still a powerful man to deal with.   The larger point is that Boston doesn't need a one or two players to have eyebrow-raising point totals.   Their strength is that they have three lines that can do real damage in a game and that's difficult to defend no matter who you are.   It's also another reason why the Devils have to maintain better control of the puck because conceding pucks freely to the likes of the Bruins is just asking for trouble.

Anyway, Your Regular Reminder that Taking Penalties is Bad: New Jersey's success rate on the penalty kill is dead last at 65.5%.  Boston's success rate on the power play is 22.2%, which is a top-ten rate in the NHL. That's all that has to be said about that.

Also, Your Lack of Surprise at This is Desired: Tom Gulitti confirmed that Schneider will start this game. I don't think anyone should be surprised to read that.   To be fair, I'm not sure what game would be good for Keith Kinkaid to start.  I'd prefer it to be one of the back-to-back sets.   It could be tomorrow night against Minnesota.  It could be later this week.  But with the Devils struggling to get any points, is now the time to give someone their first NHL start?

Your Take: The New Jersey Devils begin a busy week with a tough road game against a hot team.  Getting Cammalleri and/or Havlat back would be big.  But if the team doesn't improve in their execution, the results may not change.  Will the passing be better tonight? Can the Devils take advantage of a weakened B's blueline while not getting torched by their strong forwards?   Please leave your answers and other thoughts for tonight's game in the comments.  Thank you for reading.