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Game Preview #48: New Jersey Devils vs. Ottawa Senators

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The New Jersey Devils will host the Ottawa Senators in their final home game before the All Star Game. This game preview goes into who else is returning to the Devils lineup and who's been producing for Ottawa since the last Devils-Sens game.

The last Devils-Senators game went well for Michael Cammalleri
The last Devils-Senators game went well for Michael Cammalleri
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight: Two teams with two wins in a row. Only one will leave New Jersey with a winning streak.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (23-19-5) vs. the Ottawa Senators (22-18-6; SBN Blog: Silver Seven)

The Last Devils Game: On Tuesday, the Devils returned home to host the Calgary Flames.  Early in the game, the Devils got off to a successful start. Reid Boucher hooked Adam Larsson up for a one-timer that beat Jonas Hiller high and dropped into the net off the corner of the frame.  The Flames started pouring on the pressure and would quickly convert a power play goal when Johnny Gaudreau found Sean Monahan wide open to Cory Schneider's left for a one-timer.   The Devils would even things out to end the period. They started off the second with a bang. Shortly after Andy Greene denied a wraparound attempt, the Devils countered with Michael Cammalleri leading a make-shift 2-on-1 with Lee Stempniak. Cammalleri fed Stempniak, who finished the play to make it 2-1.  On the next shift, Mark Giordano plowed into Hiller and the Devils got the puck in front. Sergey Kalinin and Boucher battled and Boucher jammed it in.  The goal held up after a referee's conference and a challenge by Calgary, so it was 3-1. The Devils were cruising along until David Schlemko took a hooking penalty. The Devils were on their way to killing it until Adam Henrique slashed Kris Russell's stick out of his hand, trying for a shorthanded shot.  The Devils survived the brief 3-on-5, but shortly after that ended, Gaudreau found Russell in the slot for a one-timer that made it 3-2. The Devils would be on their heels thanks to another penalty near the end of the second and most of the third period. But the Devils would keep the Flames a little more honest and they held up well when Hiller was pulled for an extra skater. Stempniak made a good pass to Greene, who took it up to the red line and fired in the empty net goal to seal a win.  Despite flaws, it was a fun 4-2 win. Shane recapped the game here.

The Last Senators Game: Back on Monday, the Senators went into San Jose for their fourth game on a five game road trip.  While they were out-shot early on, the Sens struck first when Max McCormick beat Alex Stalock to a long pass attempt off the boards for a score.  The Sens struck second in the second period when Bobby Ryan converted a power play goal with a low shot from above the left circle.  The Sharks had an immediate answer.  Seconds after Ryan's goal, Tomas Hertl re-directed a pass by Joe Thornton to beat Craig Anderson.  In the third period, San Jose really poured it on and got what they wanted.  Logan Couture tied it up at 2-2 and later in the period, Matt Nieto gave the home team the lead.  Then Ottawa got a fortunate opportunity in a period that they would otherwise get three shots in to San Jose's nine.  Zack Smith was denied a goal scoring opportunity on a shorthanded situation.  He got a penalty shot - his first in the NHL - and scored off a sudden stop in front of Stalock.  The game was tied 3-3 and the Sens survived overtime despite conceding a power play.  A shootout was needed and Mika Zibanejad was the only one of the shooters to score. That meant Ottawa won the shootout and the game, 4-3.  Ross A has this recap of the win at Silver Seven.

The Last Devils-Senators Game: The Devils closed out the 2015 portion of their schedule with a December 30 game in Ottawa.  The first period went fairly well for New Jersey.  Michael Cammalleri scored on a sort of breakaway after Erik Karlsson lost a puck from a faceoff in New Jersey's end to make it 1-0. Late in the first, Cammalleri struck again with a shot from the top of the right circle to make it 2-0.  The following two periods were essentially Ottawa's. Sure, they were down two but there's a fine line between a team getting more shots due to being down a few goals and just getting more shots by pinning the opposition back over and over. Cory Schneider was asked to stop them all - and he did.  #35 was absolutely crucial in the Devils' efforts.  The rest of the team (other than Cammalleri), not so much. Lee Stempniak iced the game with an empty netter to make it a 3-0 and that was it.  My recap of the win is here. For the opposition's point of view, here's Trevor Shackles' recap at Silver Seven.

The Goal: Demonstrate more discipline.  The Devils' performance against the Flames was going well until they started taking some unnecessary penalties. A hook here. A grab there. A slash of the stick. The 30th ranked power play unit of the NHL hit big and made the game closer than it perhaps should have been.  With Ottawa boasting a more potent power play unit, they could do more damage in theory.  However, it's not just fewer penalties that I want to see out of the Devils.  I want them to be disciplined to their game plan. Their power play was abysmal on Tuesday (and all month) in large part to the players completely out of sync with how they wanted to the move the puck up ice, nevermind actually getting set up on offense.  Their play after the third period began until about seven or eight minutes left in the period was mostly conciliatory to the opposition, which is dangerous with a one-goal margin.  There was little fight back, there was plenty of defense, and whatever opportunities to go forward were quickly erased with a misfired pass or a bad decision. The team in general can put up a good, strong performance when most of the players are on the same page. And they have to have the mental discipline to stay on that page when the score changes or a call happens to bring out special teams.

Another Return: Michael Cammalleri returned to the Devils lineup on Tuesday.  One more Devil will return to the ice as well.  Tom Gulitti reported yesterday at Fire & Ice that Jacob Josefson will return to action. His bone bruise in his foot has healed enough for him to play.  The demotion of Brian O'Neill means the roster space is there.  He'll be back.

While the post discusses his potential return to the power play - he's usually making passes from the side boards - I'm more interested in how he will be used at evens.  Gulitti's report noted that he would likely play with Sergey Kalinin and Reid Boucher  I think Sergey Kalinin is better suited at wing and so I would prefer to see Josefson center him and Boucher.  Either way, the move could mean Tyler Kennedy would play fewer minutes (if at all) or someone else (Tuomo Ruutu?) could be scratched in response.

Still, I'm happy to see another player on the mend and get back into the lineup. While Josefson hasn't exactly been an important forward, he is a step up over some of the forwards that were playing in his place.  He could be used on special teams again, which is also another plus.  As he hasn't played in a few weeks, my expectations wouldn't be too high as far as what he'll do but I don't think he'll be as rusty/poor as Ruutu was upon return.

A Thought: With Joseph Blandisi and Reid Boucher contributing recently, Cammalleri hopefully being healthy enough to play (he just missed practice but expected to play per Gulitti), and Josefson returning, the Devils have an actual solid set of twelve forwards for the time being. That's pretty cool.  Provided Eric Gelinas plays much better, there could even be six solid defenders behind them.  We know "Crucial" Cory Schneider is, well, crucial.  (And he's starting.) I'm actually excited thinking that this is closest to a full strength team that we've seen in quite some time.

Not So On the Mend: The Ottawa Senators' official Twitter account tweeted yesterday that defenseman Marc Methot will not play and Kyle Turris and Mike Hoffman are gametime decisions.   Per Don Brennan's Twitter account, who reports on the Sens for the Ottawa Sun, all three didn't practice yesterday.  Those would be siginificant losses.

Methot averages over twenty minutes per game per While Ottawa's defense is pretty much Erik Karlsson and five other guys on most nights, Methot isn't the worst of those five. Turris and Hoffman would be bigger deals, though.  Turris is fifth on the team in points with thirteen goals and seventeen assists. His 114 shots on net is second to Hoffman among Senators forwards and third to Karlsson.  Hoffman is third on the team in points and is also Ottawa's leader in goals.  His twenty goals, sixteen assists, and 118 shots on net would be missed.  By Ottawa, less so by the Devils.  They'll be able to match up better with Ottawa as they can key on whatever unit includes Bobby Ryan (fifteen goals, twenty four assists, leader among Senators forwards in points) and/or Mark Stone (eleven goals, twenty two assists, fourth among Sens in scoring).

Since Their Last Meeting: Keying on Ryan may be the smarter choice. In the eight games since these two last played each other, Ryan has scored four goals, picked up two assists, and took nineteen shots.  Only Karlsson has matched him with points, though all of those were assists.  If that wasn't enough, four of Ryan's six points came on the power play, with two being half of the Senators' power play goals in that timeframe.  The Devils' penalty killers should look for #6 whenever they can.

There are a few other notables per that list from Karlsson putting up a load of points should surprise exactly no one.  But with nine goals and thirty eight assists, the league's leading scorer among defensemen and fifth leading scorer among all players remains a constant threat. He just plays a ton and makes things happen. You won't miss #65 unless you're not watching the game.  Other than Ryan, only three Senators have scored multiple goals: McCormick, Zibanejad, and Hoffman each have two.  Hoffman may not play tonight.  Zibanejad is growing to become a useful player. He's been a regular of Ottawa's top two lines and the Devils should see plenty of him tonight.  McCormick is currently enjoying his first taste of the NHL.  He already has two goals and twenty shots in the last eight games.  I suppose you could call him a sparkplug of sorts.  He certainly isn't slow given how he scored his goal on Monday.  He could cause some issues among the Devils' bottom six.

The last notable is goaltender Craig Anderson.  The Senators' official Twitter account stated he would start this game yesterday. How has he performed in the last eight games? Well, sort-of OK?  He's made six appearances for an even strength save percentage of 91.6% and a penalty kill save percentage of 88.9%. The former isn't great, the latter is quite good.  Especially for Ottawa, as their penalty kill has a success rate of 76.2% this season - ranked 29th in the NHL. That may not mean anything to the Devils but should they surprise the fans at the Rock with competent and effective zone entries on their power play, Anderson has been good enough recently to stop them. I'll take getting stopped by the goalie on a power play than the Devils making it easy for the other team's PK.  The good news is that Anderson hasn't been any kind of hot since the two teams last played each other. Should the Devils put up a good attack - something we saw in most of the second period against Calgary - then they should be able to get some goals.

One Last Thought: This will be the last home game until after the All Star Break.  The next one? Our Hated Rivals on February 2.  The shortest month will be anything but for New Jersey.

Your Take: The Devils will take on the Senators and hopefully head to Winnipeg before a Winter storm and with a three game winning streak.  What do you think will happen tonight?  Will the Devils' forwards be much better now that they're close to full strength?  Who on the Senators concerns you the most tonight?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.