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Game Preview #34: New Jersey Devils at Boston Bruins

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After hosting Anaheim, the New Jersey Devils ship on up to Massachusetts to play the Boston Bruins. This game preview touches on one change the Devils might make and summarizes the Bruins' season so far and their many threats.

The last Devils-Bruins game didn't end so well.
The last Devils-Bruins game didn't end so well.
Al Bello/Getty Images

Apologies for the lateness and potential lameness of this preview.

The Time: 5:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 880 AM WCBS

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (16-13-4) at the Boston Bruins (18-9-4; SBN Blog: Stanley Cup of Chowder)

The Last Devils Game: Last night, the Devils hosted the Ducks.  The Ducks gave the Devils fit with their forecheck and the Devils conceded many pucks with bad clearances, bad decisions, and/or bad turnovers.  Two of them were costly. A flop of a clearing attempt by Eric Gelinas was stopped by Kevin Bieksa.  The defenseman threw the puck down low to Chris Stewart. He put the puck in front, it hit off Gelinas' skates, and trickled through Keith Kinkaid.  If that was a bad break from a bad play, then the second goal allow came from just a bad play.  With the first period dying down, Adam Larsson decided to slapshot a puck from behind the net around the boards with the Ducks lurking for a breakout play.  Corey Perry easily intercepted the puck and passed it right to Ryan Kesler in front.  Kesler took a turnaround backhander and potted in his own rebound to make it 0-2.  The Devils responded with a lot of lackluster-at-best hockey with only a few chances at Frederik Andersen in net.  New Jersey would get on the board late in the game when Lee Stempniak was sprung for a 2-on-1 and Mike Cammalleri finished said 2-on-1 to make it 1-2.  But the Devils couldn't get anything really going in the final four minutes - one shot on net - and so the score stood.  I recapped a stupid Devils performance in their 1-2 loss here.

The Last Bruins Game: On Friday, the Bruins visited Pittsburgh. The two teams faced off on Wednesday with Boston winning 3-0.  Would their be revenge?  Well, no.  Conor Sheary put Pittsburgh on the board first, but Frank Vatrano tied it up a few minutes later. Boston took the lead early in the second period with a shorthanded goal by Patrice Bergeron. The Pens said "Not so fast" as the recently acquired Trevor Daley scored not long after their power play ended to tie it up.  But the Bruins retook the lead before the halfway mark of the second with a power play strike by Loui Eriksson.  The third period was very good for Boston and they owned the scoresheet.  Fifteen seconds in, Sidney Crosby took away his team's power play that started the period with a kneeing penalty.  Twenty seconds after that, Bergeron completed his brace and made it 4-2.  Much later in the third period, Vatrano scored his second of the night to make it 5-2.  At the 15:12 mark, three minutes after his last score, Vatrano completed his first NHL hat trick.  The 6-2 score held up, earning the Bruins their eleventh road win of the season and second straight over Pittsburgh.  Cornelius Hardenbergh had this postgame thread at Stanley Cup of Chowder.

The Goal: Be smarter on the puck.  A lot of the Devils' turnovers were just mindless against Anaheim. Several made me wonder if the Devils were aware of who was in the area when they moved the puck.  The Ducks didn't take full advantage as they could have on some of them, but they were up two goals for most of that game so they didn't need to - and they were proven correct with their winning result.  Boston is a stronger team than Anaheim, if only because the team is collectively shooting at 8.3% at even strength per War on Ice. They get their production throughout their lineup, which points to how several different units can make teams suffer on a given night.  It's an obvious statement to say that a team can't cough up pucks and expect to succeed.  The Bruins can make it a lot worse than 1-2 if we see a repeat of last night tonight.  So it must be said.

The Change We Can Expect: The Devils won't reveal their lineup until before the game since they played last night. That said, the one change that we should expect is that Cory Schneider should start this one.  Kinkaid did well against Anaheim, one of the few players wearing the bedeviled NJ that I can say that about.  Yet, there's no need to play the #2 guy in two straight games.  While Schneider has been beaten quite a bit recently, I think that speaks more to how the Devils have played rather than anything Schneider is doing wrong.   As usual, I have more confidence in the one in net than the eighteen who will be in front of him.

Could we see any changes to the eighteen?  Maybe?  They did scratch Jordin Tootoo for Travis Zajac to be added to the lineup.  At no point last night did I think the team was missing Tootoo.  Though, I could see him returning to the lineup just to provide a different look.  I'd be more interested in seeing a change within the lineup, such as putting Jiri Tlusty with Kyle Palmieri and Zajac.  Tlusty looked like he was trying to do things on offense but couldn't piece it together with Stephen Gionta and Jacob Josefson, two hardly offensive forwards.  With Tlusty pressing a bit to make things happen, why not put him with a shooter like Palmieri and an all-around solid forward like Zajac?  It'd be a different look that could turn out well.  Especially if the Adam Henrique (aside: show up tonight, Adam. Thanks.) line struggles as they did last night, goal notwithstanding.

The Bruins in a Nutshell: According to War on Ice, the Bruins aren't the best possession team in 5-on-5 play but they do have good percentages with an 8.3% shooting percentage and a 93% save percentage.  Tuukka Rask has bounced back from a really rough start to his season; it's safe to say he is who you think he is again.  Don't be fooled by his 91.8% save percentage in all situations; Rask is rocking a 93.1% at even strength per NHL.com. Between the two percentages, they have one of the better goal differentials at evens (+12) despite a CF% around 49%.

Supplementing their even strength results is their incredible power play.  The Bruins are currently ranked first in the NHL with a conversion rate of 29.2%. They're better at home with the man advantage than on the road and 26 of their 101 goals this season have come from the power play.  With a 59.4 shots for per sixty minute rate - sixth best in the NHL per War on Ice - they're not just riding hot sticks to succeed on their man advantages.  Needless to say, the Devils would be wise to be as disciplined with their sticks and bodies as they were last night. The Bruins can and will make teams suffer if given opportunities with an extra skater.

The Boston penalty kill has not been as impressive.  It's not bad. Their success rate of 80.6% puts them right around the league median. The issue is that they're on it quite a bit.  They're tied for the sixth most shorthanded situations at 115.  Both Rask and backup Jonas Gustavsson have been far from excellent in PK situations too, so they've conceded quite a few (22) goals. In theory, the Devils power play may find some success provided they can get set up and take more than one good shot on net.  They will have to be careful. The Bruins are tied for second in the league with six shorthanded goals.  Since it's not uncommon for the Devils to lose pucks and get caught going back with the man advantage, they'll have to be sure not to lose pucks easily by their blueline.

Overall, this is a pretty good team.  I'm sure the Bruins' faithful would like the possession to be better and the PK to be a bit stiffer.  But this is a squad that has been able to do well at evens. Rask has returned to his normal, dominant form. Their power play makes them frightening.  The one thing I can't figure out is why they're so much better on the road than at home.  Their road record is one of the best at 11-2-2.  Their home record is just 7-7-2.  Weird. But with the way they've been playing as of late, their home record will likely improve.

So. Many. Threats.: Unlike the Ducks, the Bruins have many productive players. Eleven of them have at least ten points already. Five of those eleven are shooting better than 10% with Zdeno Chara coming real close at 9.3% - which is impressive given defensemen are usually taking shots from distance.  That group of eleven doesn't even include the recent hotness of Frank Vatrano, who put up a hat trick on the Penguins on Friday. A quick peek at the lines at Left Wing Lock shows that the Devils will have to deal with a deep group of forwards and some solid defenders.

Starting up top, the main man to know and worry about is Patrice Bergeron.  Think of Zajac with more offensive ability. That's pretty much Bergeron, who's used and generally succeeds in all situations. He leads the team with eleven goals and twenty one assists. He's tied with Mike Cammalleri - who snapped a five game goal drought last night - and three others for tenth in the entire NHL in scoring.  He will be a threat throughout the night.  His linemates have been Brad Marchand and Brett Connolly.  Connolly hasn't been used this much early on, but he's chipping in points and he's got five goals and seven assists.  Marchand is a known pain in the you-know-what.  When he's not drawing calls and taking some real bad ones, he's putting up offense. He's Boston's leading goal scorer with fifteen goals and second only to Bergeron in shots with 95.  Like Bergeron, he's used in all situations as evidenced by his three power play and three shorthanded goals.

Their second unit can be just as threatening, if not moreso.  David Krejci has been enjoying a bounce back season as he's second on the team in points and one away from tying last season's total.  He's got nine goals and twenty one assists; his 63 shots on net means he's not shying away from firing pucks himself.  He's been in between Loui Eriksson and Matt Beleskey.  Eriksson has been the hottest shooter on the team with a shooting percentage of 21.4%. His power play goal on Friday was his twelfth of the season and his fifteen assists puts him third on the team in scoring.  Beleskey has had a tougher time finding the net this season than last, but I suppose that was to be expected given his ridiculous 2014-15 stat line.  Still, he's got four goals, eleven assists, and 62 shots so he's not a just getting carried.  It's still a productive line the Devils will have to contend with.

And if you think the Devils' bottom six is a concern in general, then Boston's third line could give them real match up issues. Ryan Spooner centers the third line and he's been very productive relative to his ice time.  While he's averaging less than 14 minutes, he has eight goals and fourteen assists.  He helped Vatrano get his hat trick, who will likely be on his wing tonight. His other wing is Jimmy Hayes, who has a pleasant five goals and ten assists with about the same ice time as Spooner.  That's a third line that's more than just chipping in a point here and there. Not an easy group to deal with.

If that wasn't enough, then check out their blueline. Chara has been feeling it with five goals, thirteen assists, and leading the team in ice time yet again.  While he only has 53 shots, Chara's cannon is certainly a concerning weapon when he gets to use it.  Torey Krug has not been as successful at shooting as Chara has this season, but he's been far more prolific.  His 92 shots on the team are third only to Marchand and Bergeron and he's one point behind Chara to lead Bruins defensemen in scoring.  Krug has played a lot of minutes on the power play with Chara in a distant second behind him; both are ones to watch out for among Boston's units. The rest of the defense isn't as impressive, but Dennis Seidenberg, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller, and Adam McQuaid have seemingly been doing a good job.  The team certainly isn't bleeding shots at evens.

The main takeaway from this essay within a preview is that the Bruins have several players that can make it a long night for the Devils.  Match ups will definitely not be easy and they'll only favor Boston more if the Devils lose the puck as much (or even half as much) as they did last night.  Whereas the Ducks have been relatively cold and not so deep, the Bruins are the opposite in both regards.  Good luck, Devils.

Your Take: Again, apologies for the late and rushed game preview. What do you think of this match up for the Devils? What changes would you like to see John Hynes make for the Devils?  What about the Bruins impresses and/or worries you?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.