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New Jersey Devils vs. Colorado Avalanche: Game Preview #57

After a not-quite-so-good road trip, the New Jersey Devils return to the Rock to face the Colorado Avalanche. This preview goes into what's going on with both teams, what to look for, and other observations.

Let's hope for fewer Avalanche players being right up front and more of the Devils doing something similar.
Let's hope for fewer Avalanche players being right up front and more of the Devils doing something similar.
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Snow's projected to fall today and hopefully there won't be an extreme amount at the Rock tonight:

The Time: 7:30 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - NBC Sports Network; Radio - 880 AM WCBS

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (23-21-12) vs. the Colorado Avalanche (35-14-5; SBN Blog: Mile High Hockey)

The Last Devils Game: On Friday night, the Devils wrapped up their road trip in Nashville with a game against the Predators. The Preds got off to a strong start. It wasn't until Cory Schneider delayed at handling a puck behind the net that they would get upearly. Schneider lost it, he scrambled back into the net just in time for Shea Weber to fire a rocket off the crossbar and into the net. The Devils would get going later but couldn't solve Carter Hutton in the first period. The second period was similar to the first in that Nashville had the better run of play early, but the Devils pushed later on and got two breaks. Hutton couldn't hold onto a routine shot from Patrik Elias, which ended up dropping into the net for an equalizer. Later, Elias rotated down low to allow space for Jaromir Jagr to shoot close to the net. Jagr put the puck off Weber's body and past Hutton for a 2-1 lead. The Devils couldn't get a third goal and with 11 seconds left in the third, David Legwand got a break. Jagr tipped a Roman Josi shot away from the traffic and right to the open Legwand, who didn't miss the empty net he had. In overtime, the Devils were defeated when Shea Weber got a free shot in a 2-on-2 rush to beat Schneider clean. The Devils lost 2-3, here's my recap of the loss.

The Last Avalanche Game: Saturday featured Colorado hosting the Buffalo Sabres before embarking on a four-game road trip. The Avs dropped a touchdown on the struggling Sabres squad. Tyson Barrie opened the scoring in the first period and a quick-double minutes later from Jamie McGinn and Gabriel Landeskog made it 3-0 thirteen minutes into the game. Marc-Andre Cliche scored his first of the season about six minutes into the second. Matt D'Agostini converted a power play to get Buffalo on the board but the rout was already on. Nathan MacKinnon continued his awesome rookie season with a power play goal later in the second to make it 5-1. In the third, Landeskog and McGinn scored their second goals of the game. The total: 39 shots, seven goals, third straight win, 2-for-6 on the power play, and one straight up 7-1 beat down at the Pepsi Center. Here's Cole D Hamilton at Mile High Hockey with a recap.

The Last Devils-Avalanche Game: The Devils first played the Avalanche on January 16 in Denver. It's arguable that Cory Schneider really was the only one ready to excel. The Avs just teed off the Devils for two periods. Their young and super-talented forwards feasted on the Devils skaters who struggled to move the puck effectively, much less get any offense. Schneider had to be amazing over and over as the Devils were out-shot 23-11 in the first two periods. Ryan O'Reilly was the only one who beat him among those 23 shots when he got a free look in front about seven minutes into the first period. The Devils' offense appeared in the third to storm Semyon Varlamov with 18 shots. Not that the Avs didn't fight back with ten of their own, including multiple rushes up ice. But the Devils would get an equalizer when Andrei Loktionov fired a shot that touched off Reid Boucher in front and past Varlamov. Schneider would help the Devils hold onto 1-1 and head into overtime. nothing could be decided and so a shootout happened - and so you know the result. A 2-1 shootout loss. Jerry recapped the game here. Someone named c6hor8 who doesn't know how to write cleanly wrote this recap at Mile High Hockey.

The Goal: Slow and steady wins this race. Perhaps it was the travel. Perhaps it was the change in time zone. Perhaps it was the grind of the season wearing on a team such that they just have a stinker of a start. Perhaps it was preparation, or the lack thereof. Perhaps it was the other team just hitting everything. Whatever it was, the Devils were blitzed by the Avalanche in their last game. Their top forwards, such as O'Reilly, Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog, just kept flying through the neutral zone and around the Devils' end. Good thing Schneider was great because ordinarily that's a recipe for disaster. The Devils can't hope that Schneider will be as excellent again. They need to slow them down by slowing the game down. That means methodical passing, not taking too many risks on offense to "keep up," not conceding possession easily, and everyone communicating on defense. If they can be stemmed, then there can be opportunities for the Avs to be forced to defend. With an average of about 32 shots against per game, that can be rather prosperous. But if the Devils don't clog the neutral zone appropriately, then they can be in deep trouble again.

I'm Sorry: Apparently, in my preview of the last Devils-Avalanche game, some Avs fans took exception to calling their favorite team Toronto West. I'm sorry that I saw a team that has been regularly out-shot and regularly out-attempted at evens; has a low Fenwick% in close-score situations; and currently relies on high shooting percentages and their goalies extremely well and compared that kind of team to Toronto. My bad.

But seriously, the Avalanche do carry some more weight into this game. Weight by fire, to be specific. They won their last three games and they're coming off a big blowout win. Nathan MacKinnon has seven points over a four-game point streak. Gabriel Landeskog has a five-game point streak worth seven points. Matt Duchene has four points in a three-game point streak. Jamie McGinn has three goals and five points in his last three games. Their confidence should be high going into this game. Given how they sped through the Devils a few weeks back, I'd expect a similar game plan. Hopefully, Peter DeBoer getting the last change can help that out; though it is more crucial that the players put in a more mindful defensive effort.

There May Be Peter: On Sunday, the New Jersey Devils practiced with one exception. Tom Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice that Anton Volchenkov did not participate with a lower body injury he picked up in the Nashville game. It doesn't appear to be a serious injury as Gulitti reported later on Sunday that he will skate today. If Volchenkov feels OK, then he'll play. If not, then Peter Harrold will be put back into the lineup. Tonight could be Harrold's first game since December 7, 2013. While Harrold is probably the definition of an non-flashy defender, it wouldn't be the worst thing ever for him to play. Volchenkov trying to play with whatever his lower body injury may slow him down more than usual. Harrold probably could do a better job at moving the puck than Volchenkov. He's also experienced enough to know how to come in after not playing for a while and not screw it up. Given the recent errors by other defenders (Eric Gelinas, who's been sent down because of them; Bryce Salvador, who's drawn the ire of many fans), a defender who knows not to screw it up badly should be welcomed. He won't be, but that's how I see it. (And before you ask: Why not Adam Larsson, then I remind you to read up on waiver eligibility. Only Larsson, Gelinas, and Merrill doesn't have to go through waivers; they're not going to send someone that isn't those three down to bring someone up if there aren't other injuries.)

Incidentally, that the choice is between Volchenkov and Harrold is good news for Jon Merrill. It appears his spot isn't in doubt for the time being. Likely because he hasn't been a basketcase in his own end of the rink in recent weeks like the other rookie defenseman. The lesson: Be solid and you're good.

Where's Paul?: Paul Stastny was listed as day-to-day with an ankle injury as of Friday per Adrian Dater of the Denver Post. He didn't play against Buffalo. It remains to be seen whether he'll play tonight. If he does, it makes the Colorado offense a bigger challenge. Stastny has been one of the Avalanche's top scorers alongside Duchene, Landeskog, O'Reilly, and MacKinnon. I mean, just look at their team by scoring. Even if he doesn't play, the Avs do have the forwards to pick up the pace. McGinn's goal scoring has been a welcome benefit and John Mitchell has picked up points in a larger role.

Cory Versus...Not Varlamov?: Gulitti also reported on Sunday that Cory Schneider will start today's game. Some fans may not like seeing DeBoer tell Gulitti that he has "no hestitation" to play Martin Brodeur. I say, actions speak louder than words. It's not coincidence that Cory Schneider will receive his fourth straight start. If Brodeur's playing anytime soon, then it could be against Edmonton on Friday but beyond that, it's clear to me who's really #1 on New Jersey now.

The Devils may catch a break and not have to face Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov has been absolutely impressive for the Avs with a 93.1% even strength percentage and an 89.2% shorthanded save percentage. Varlamov has had more than just a few games where he's been a key reason why his team were in the game. The Avalanche will play in Rangerstown tomorrow so Patrick Roy may choose to go with his back-up. Jean-Sebastian Giguere certainly hasn't been bad. But a goalie with a 91.6% even strength save percentage provides more hope for the Devils to beat him than the guy rocking one above 93%.

Who to Pick On: Given that the Avs concede about 32 shots per game on average, it could be just about anyone. The possession stats at Extra Skater highlights those Colorado defenders who have been particularly awful in the attempts for/against ratio. Tyson Barrie and Nick Holden have been their best pairing. The rest, not so good. Depending on who they activate, I would love to see Jaromir Jagr, Travis Zajac, and Dainius Zubrus (they're back per Gulitti; I have a post later today will show why that's good for Zubrus) get shifts against Jan Hejda, Nate Guenin, and/or Ryan Wilson. I'll settle for them challenging Erik Johnson and daring him to be better than, well, Jack Johnson.

Your Take: What do you think will happen tonight? Will the Devils be able to slow the Avalanche down? Can they quell the force that O'Reilly, Duchene, MacKinnon, and Landeskog can bring to the rink? Can the Devils put up a good amount of pucks on net to hopefully get more than two in the net? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.