The night after #5 is honored in Detroit, another important game happens at the Joe Louis Arena
The Time: 7:30 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 880 AM WCBS
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (27-23-13) at the Detroit Red Wings (28-21-13; SBN Blog: Winging it in Motown)
The Last Devils & Devils-Red Wings Game: The Devils hosted the Red Wings on Tuesday night. That game was big then as it is big now, as the Devils are chasing Detroit in the standings and Detroit is holding on for dear life to that wild card spot. The crowd was especially jacked as many bought into the possibility of Martin Brodeur having his last start in New Jersey. Adam Henrique thrilled the crowd when he jammed a puck through Jimmy Howard within the game's first minute. The game would feature plenty of chances both ways. It was until Detroit's first power play that they hit back. Johan Franzen took a puck away from Dainius Zubrus, kicked it up to himself, turned, beat Andy Greene, and fired a laser over the down shoulder of Martin Brodeur at the right post. It was beautiful except it made it 1-1. The Red Wings played a sharper second period as the Devils got dumber. As New Jersey struggled to move the puck, get clearances, and cover men on defense. The Red Wings went up 2-1 when Brendan Smith slammed in a one-timer from the slot off a great pass by Justin Abdelkader. They nearly made it 3-1 on a scramble but Henrique denied a lay up for Kyle Quincey and Brodeur's hip kept the puck out. The Devils began the third with a power play and made it count thanks to Jonathan Ericsson hitting a puck out of Howard's glove and into the net - the goal was credited to Marek Zidlicky. A sweet sequence between Ryane Clowe, Jaromir Jagr, and Travis Zajac yielded a go-ahead goal when Zajac popped in a backhander off a rebound. Franzen got a second PPG that made the Devils' PK units look stupid to make it 3-3. But the Devils enjoyed the better run of play and got a late reward. Within the final minute, Mark Fayne took a shot that Stephen Gionta deflected - right past Howard. It completed a near brilliant third period that earned them an important two points. The Devils won 4-3 in regulation. My recap of the game is here. Over at Winging it in Motown, kylemcilmurray has the recap and J.J. in Kansas has the CSSI Analysis of the game.
The Last Red Wings Game: On Thursday, the Red Wings did two things. First, they hosted Colorado. Second, they honored and retired Nicklas Lidstrom's number. I loved Scott Stevens as a Devil, but Lidstrom was one of the few I ever saw that was easily better. Back to the game, Detroit struck first when Niklas Kronwall put home a backhander past Jean-Sebastien Giguere. However, just past the midway mark, Matt Duchene provided an equalizer. Shortly thereafter, Colorado took a call and Thomas Jurco converted the power play before it ended to take a 2-1 lead. While Detroit out-shot Colorado in every period, the Avs managed to tie it up in the third period. P-A Parenteau cleaned up a loose puck early in the third. Thanks in part to Giguere, the Avs held on for overtime. After power play time for both teams, Andre Benoit ended it in favor of Colorado with a powerful shot from distance. The Red Wings lost 3-2. Here's Graham Hathway's recap at Winging it in Motown.
The Goal: Stay focused and play smart. The second period from Tuesday's game is a great way to lose to a team coached by Mike Babcock. Regardless of who's missing from the lineup - and there are number of important players missing on Detroit right now - this is a team that understands and performs well with possession. They're not going to do anything particularly fancy but they are patient enough to prey upon mistakes. Whether those mistakes are coughing up the puck in your own end of the rink, doubling up on a defender, not even remotely covering men on defense, attempting risky passes/dump-ins, or boarding a guy amid a board battle, the Red Wings are adept at going after them. The Devils were fortunate to come out of that period only down 2-1 on Tuesday and they responded with a great period. Instead of hoping for the same, I believe the Devils need to avoid playing dumb hockey to begin with. A lot of is fundamentals but they matter, especially against a team that still has plenty of talent, plenty of intelligence, and coached by one of the best in the league.
The New Lines for the New Guy: On Wednesday, Andrei Loktionov was traded for Tuomo Ruutu. Position-wise, a center was traded for a winger. The lines had to have been adjusted and they were. Based on Tom Gulitti's report from Thursday's practice at Fire & Ice, Ryane Clowe has been moved up to play with Jaromir Jagr and Travis Zajac. Meanwhile, Dainius Zubrus will return to center, in between Ruutu and Michael Ryder. Clowe did play most, if not all, of the third period alongside Jagr and Zajac. They not only came up with a goal but plenty of attacking. I'm intrigued to see how they'll do for a whole game.
Meanwhile, I'm not exactly plussed about Zubrus at center. I know why he's there. Adam Henrique is hot right now. Patrik Elias is similarly hot. The two have done productive things together as of late and it would be silly to tamper with that now. But this means someone has to center that line. Given that Ruutu is all about "in your face" play, then why not put him with another big body like Zubrus to win pucks from the boards? All Ryder has to do is be in a good position for them and fire away. Great. I'm pretty confident he can handle the additional defensive responsibility that comes from being in the middle of the ice. He's been a top penalty killer on the team for years and has matched up well against powerful competition before. I just hope it doesn't throw him off too much.
Why not Jacob Josefson? He could conceivably center this unit, but then the game plan changes a bit. But more importantly another winger would have to sit. I don't know who would, really. Zubrus isn't sitting. Clowe isn't. Ruutu just got here, so he's not going to sit. Brunner's just back from injury and wasn't so bad before he got stung in the first Detroit game, so he's not sitting. As much as I've loathed Ryder in the last two games, I don't think sitting him will necessarily make him better (Brunner proved this earlier this season). The fourths are just fourths so, sorry Josefson? At least he's next in line when someone's too hurt to play.
As for Ruutu: if he plays hard, doesn't take a call, doesn't play like Ryder on 'D,' and gets some shots on net, I'll be pleased.
The Other Team's New Guy: The Detroit Red Wings made one significant move on Tuesday. They acquired David Legwand from Nashville. With injuries to Pavel Datsyuk, Stephen Weiss, and Darren Helm, the Red Wings definitely needed help at center. David Legwand, at least in my view, is a good player. According to Extra Skater, he looks good in possession and a bit unfortunate on Nashville given his on-ice save percentage is below 90%. He's got ten goals and thirty assists. He's not injured. These are all good traits that Detroit can benefit from. When the Red Wings get some of these guys back, he could be moved to wing. Tonight, expect plenty out of him.
The Right Guy in Net: On Thursday at Fire & Ice, Gulitti reported that Peter DeBoer has decided to start Cory Schneider tonight and Martin Brodeur on Saturday. This is the right call. It's a back-to-back situation so both goalies should be active. This is the tougher game between the two. Even though the home game against a divisional opponent carries meaning, the Red Wings are a team to chase. The Devils did well to get a regulation win to make up ground; they can take another big step forward tonight. To do that, it's best to play the goalie who's been better at stopping pucks between the two. I like this decision.
By the way, since Howard started the Avalanche game, it could be Jonas Gustavsson in net tonight for Detroit. All jokes about his Toronto tenure aside, his save percentages are very similar to Howard's this season. We'll see if that's what they do.
The Hopefully He's OK Guy: This part of Gulitti's practice report honestly concerned me when I first saw it.
Andy Greene was out there for the start of the practice, but disappeared later. I’ll try to find out why he left.
Thankfully, Gulitti had this follow up tweet:
DeBoer said Greene had something "tighten up" during practice and he went off as a precaution. Expects him to be OK to play Friday.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) March 6, 2014
Stay healthy, Greene. He's only the best defenseman on the team and a legitimate boss on the blueline.
The Special Teams Guys: I'm hopeful the Devils' penalty killers won't picked apart like they were by Detroit. Their night down a man was uncommon this season . I'm not as hopeful in the power play. Their zone entries have been poor at best and their power play conversion was essentially an own-goal. In general, I just hope this game stays at 5-on-5. This means not piling into a Red Wing when they're facing the boards fighting for a puck, Bryce Salvador and Clowe.
The Bounce Back Guys: Niklas Kronwall and Ericsson had really tough games against the Devils on Tuesday. They're too good of a pairing to be beaten on again at evens, right? Right? At least we can expect Ericsson to not knock a puck out of his goalie's hand tonight.
Two Last Points: First, I know I glossed over Detroit in this preview. Since the Devils just played them, I refer you to the preview from that game for some more information.
Second, I wouldn't bank too much on last night taking too much out of the Red Wings. Sure, it was an emotional night as they honored one of the greatest defensemen to ever play the game of hockey. And they did play a full game of hockey. But they remain at home and if they took any lesson from Mr. Lidstrom to heart, then it's to take care of business first.
Your Take: The Devils took one big step forward on Tuesday. Can they take another tonight? What do you think the Devils need to do tonight to get another regulation win? Will the special teams be better? What do you expect out of Ruutu? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.