The Time: 7:00 PM
The Broadcast: TV - MSG; Radio - WFAN 660 AM, 101.9 FM
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (29-25-13, 71 pts) at The Tampa Bay Lightning (35-24-7, 77pts); SBN Blog: Raw Charge
The Last Devils Game: The last Devils game was a huge disappointment and will be a largely contributing factor in the relative brevity of this preview. In case you missed it, a 3-1 lead turned into a 5-3 loss against the Panthers. John wrote about it.
The Last Lightning Game: The Lightning overcame an early 2-0 deficit against these very same Panthers and took at 4-2 lead into the 3rd period. They managed to hang on for a 5-4 victory and snapped a 5 game losing streak in the process. There's a recap over at Raw Charge if you want to hear about Ryan Callahan's first goal as a Bolt and other goings on.
The Last Devils Lightning Game: In one of Martin Brodeur's best performances of the year, the Devils shut out the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Rock back in the middle of December. Devils goals came from Brunner and twice from Zubrus. John has some strong words of praise for Martin Brodeur after this game, deservedly so.
The Goal: The same as every game. Win. The Devils playoff chances will take a severe bruising with anything short of a victory tonight. Don't make so many boneheaded mistakes this time, for starters.
Even Strength: Tampa Bay is a top 10 possession team at even strength, and they play slightly more high event hockey than the Devils (who doesn't). Both teams are very good at suppressing shots. The Devils shooting percentage at 5v5 is 21st; Tampa Bay is at 12th and .5% separate the two teams. Tampa has some strong and dangerous forwards even without Martin St. Louis. Of course, everyone knows Steven Stamkos. Looks like in the last few games he has played with Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn most recently vs Florida. I get the impression that prior to that game, he mostly lines up with Teddy Purcell and Alex Killorn since the trade. I'm interested to see if Purcell will be back on the Stamkos line or if the Bolts will keep Tyler Johnson there. Speaking of Tyler Johnson, he is certainly someone for the Devils to keep their eye on. There's a lot to like about his game, and he seems to be running particularly hot right now with 4 goals in his last 5 games. Tyler Johnson seems to have played a lot with Richard Panik and J.T. Brown in previous games on what I assume could be the third line. Last game Teddy Purcell played with Richard Panik and Tom Pyatt, and the three fared pretty well, so maybe they will stick with this and keep the streaking and talented Johnson with Stamkos? Our old pal Ryan Callahan is on a line with Valtteri Filppula and Ondrej Palat, and all this line could be very dangerous. All three players have been very productive lately.
On defense for the Lightning, Matt Carle will probably be paired with Radko Gudas now that Gudas is back in the lineup. Victor Hedman seems to spend a lot of time with Sami Salo. The bottom pairing has varied a bit from game to game but lately has included Eric Brewer and Michael Costka. For the Devils, this is a pure assumption on my part, but I am expecting the exact same lineup, with, of course, Martin Brodeur in goal. We shall see. I don't see any reason to change the Tuomo Ruutu - Travis Zajac - Jaromir Jagr line. Dainius Zubrus - Patrik Elias - Damien Brunner may be starting to come together. Could Ryder finally sit on offense? Will Gelinas get back in the lineup in place of Volchenkov? I doubt it. My money's on same lineup.
Special Teams: The Devils appear to have the advantage here in special teams play. First off, New Jersey no longer has the top ranked penalty kill in the league. That honor goes to Pittsburgh, by the slimmest of margins. A close 2nd place is certainly much better than 25th, which is the ranking of Tampa Bay's PK this season. I have no idea how they are performing lately, but hopefully the Devils recently scorching hot at times power play can take advantage, as they often do against the league's less effective penalty kills. The Devils own the 4th ranked power play in the league now, and 2nd ranked since January 1st. This sounds fantastic. I have some potential concerns about the sustainability of the Devils power play success. I hope I am wrong, but the underlying numbers are a bit concerning, and they are riding a borderline absurd shooting percentage. Shameless Plug: I'll have more details about this in a mid-day post today, so make sure to check that out. The Tampa Bay power play is middling. Like the Devils, their success is based largely off their high shooting percentage. I'm hopeful the Devils can win the special teams matchups on both sides.
Your Take: Well, that wraps up the preview for the next in what could be a continuing series of "the (new) most important game of the year". Assuming the Devils can win a couple more here, starting with tonight. What would you like to see? What can the Devils do to get this win? Will "Vintage Marty" show up? Will Michael Ryder finally score a goal? Please discuss freely in the area labeled "COMMENTS". Thanks for reading.