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Game Preview #42: New Jersey Devils vs. Boston Bruins

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The New Jersey Devils will face the Boston Bruins in Newark before embarking on a four-game-in-seven-nights road trip. As this game preview explains, both teams are banged up and have not been playing well recently.

Do more of this tonight!  A lot more, if you can!
Do more of this tonight! A lot more, if you can!
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Another series fi-no, they play again in March. Nevermind.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (20-16-5) vs. the Boston Bruins (20-14-4; SBN Blog: Stanley Cup of Chowder)

The Last Devils Game: On Wednesday, the Devils went into Montreal.  They left with very little.  Montreal brought an attack and the Devils brought an attack-like substance.  OK, it wasn't a beatdown but it wasn't a sharp performance at all from New Jersey within the first forty minutes.  The Canadiens, on the other hand, struck for two goals. They converted a power play near the end of the first period; Max Pacioretty re-directed a feed by Tomas Plekanec though Brendan Gallagher and Cory Schneider.  Late in the second, when the Devils power play decided to answer the question "What was worse than nothing?"  The answer: a shorthanded goal. Sergey Kalinin made a bad pass to Damon Severson; Paul Byron picked it up and went off to the races on a 2-on-1; Severson slid on his stomach out of position leaving Byron to make an easy play for Torrey Mitchell to re-direct it past Schneider.  There would be a sign of hope in the third period. Fifty seconds in, Adam Henrique got a touch on a shot by Andy Greene that went through Mike Condon.  At 1-2, would the Devils battle valiantly to get a tie?  Would they get a late one after a stretch where Montreal played well like the last time? Would they get anything on the board again? No, no, and no.  The score stood at 1-2. My recap of the kind-of lame loss is here.

The Last Bruins Game: The Bruins hoped to bounce back from a Winter Classic thrashing by their hated rivals.  Their next game came on Tuesday when they were hosting the Beasts of the East in Washington. That was going to be unlikely on paper. In reality, it didn't happen.  Washington dropped two games in a row and they were insistent on not making it three. Andre Burakovsky opened the scoring off a feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov with just under five minutes left in the first period.  Kuznetsov doubled Washington's lead with a power play goal past the halfway mark of the second.  Loui Eriksson got Boston on the board with under five minutes left in the second; yet Washington solidly out-shot the B's in each of the first two periods. Boston upped their game down a goal - what a concept - and put more rubber on Braden Holtby.  However, Washington would strike again: Marcus Johansson made it 1-3 against Boston with under ten minutes in regulation.  Hope rekindled when a shot by Patrice Bergeron hit off Justin Williams and the re-direction beat Holtby to convert a power play. Boston kept trying to swarm Holtby with pucks and bodies, but the goalie stayed strong. The Bruins lost again, this time by a 2-3 score.  At least the effort was better than how they did in Montreal. 

The Last Devils-Bruins Game: Back on December 20, the Devils went up to Boston just after losing to Anaheim the night before.  Boston got off to a good start and Loui Eriksson made the Devils pay for leaving him open in the slot early in the first period. The forward made it 0-1 for Boston.  The funny thing was that the Devils actually responded well to the goal and attacked more in the first period and early in the second.  Andy Greene tied up the game when he re-directed a pass by Lee Stempniak to beat Jonas Gustavsson. The Devils put on the pressure, but Boston slowly and eventually clawed their way back into the game.  While shots ended up even in regulation, Boston had the better run of play as the second rolled into the third period. Cory Schneider was called upon to be great - and he was. Just at the end of regulation, John Moore was whistled for interference. Boston came close to ending it in overtime on the ensuing power play but Schneider was just on another level at the time.  Boston continued to dominate New Jersey in OT after the power play and Schneider was the main reason the game required a shootout. Alas, the shootout would be the Devils' downfall. Ryan Spooner scored for Boston, no one else did, and so the final score was 1-2.  My recap praised Schneider and noted that it wasn't a game completely carried by #35. Over at Stanley Cup of Chowder, there was a recap for this one - and it's by Gus Booth so go read that.

The Goal: Defer less, shoot more.  The Devils shouldn't just take every single open look that's given to them. All Boston would do is just let them take hopeful shots from the points and watch as most of them get blocked, go wide, or get stopped in traffic.  But the Devils should make a concerted effort to pass less and shoot more.  In the Montreal game, we got to witness shifts where the Devils would get a 3-on-2 only to have it turn it into nothing with two drop passes. We witnessed good possession shifts die because someone wanted to make an extra pass to the side of the perimeter, creating an easy clearing attempt against the Devils.  We witnessed a team that was only down by one or two goals (the two goal lead didn't last) and just not push the play forward enough to take shots.  With the state of the Devils' roster and the harsh reality that they don't have a lot of offensive talent, the message from John Hynes must be clear.  Just fire away. Don't over think it. Don't worry about dissing a teammate by not passing it elsewhere. Just fire. They may not be the best shots, but it's a lot better than potential shots not being taken.

Since the Last Game: The Devils have hit a recent snag with two straight losses, though that is preceded by three wins, which was preceded by a loss on Boxing Day and a win before Christmas.  That convoluted sentence means the Devils went 4-3-0 since these last two played.  Boston fans wished the B's did that well. Since beating the Devils, the Bruins have won one (1) game. And it wasn't that big one at Gillette Stadium either.  Boston lost five of their last six and find themselves in a precarious position in the Atlantic Division.

Similar to New Jersey, the offense has dried up in this timeframe. Only six different Bruins players have scored goals in these six games (number of goals in parentheses): Patrice Bergeron (4), Jimmy Hayes (3), Matt Beleskey (3), David Krejci (2), Loui Eriksson (1), and Adam McQuaid (1).  While that list includes Boston's best forward and three other players that the Devils don't want to just let roam around, that's not really all that much.   This isn't to say others are dropping the ball; assists to create goals do have some value.  Yet, there's a bit of feast or famine and it hurts when Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Ryan Spooner, Brad Marchand, and Frank Vatrano are averaging two or more shots in this set of games and they all have zeroes for shooting percentages. Granted, Boston has lost some players due to injury and suspension; but the point remains: there hasn't been a lot of lamps lit outside of that one crazy win against Ottawa. Compounding the problem is their goaltending. As good as he is - and that's really, really, really good - Tukkaa Rask has been cold.  He's played in five out of six of these games between this one and the last with the Devils. His stats: a chilly 89.4% save percentage at evens and 87.5% on the penalty kill.  The latter isn't bad but, again, when there's few goals coming to help, it's a bad combination.

Dissimilar to New Jersey, we know from the past that the Bruins have several talented players such that this run of six games won't last forever.  Chara and Krug shoot and create so much from the back that they're bound to get a few in soon.  Eriksson is too good of a shooter to just score so infrequently. The goals will come, especially since he's playing with Bergeron. Krejci will get better.  Marchand is suspended but he'll get back to producing and being a pain on the ice in no time. Spooner and Vatrano will get opportunities and will finish them in time provided they're not discouraged from shooting.  Whereas the Devils still have too many fourth-line caliber players at forward, the Bruins are better off and they'll be better for it in the long run.

The B's Who Are Missing: That said, the Devils may want to take full advantage of the state of Boston's roster. Not only are they slumping, but there's some names in the lineup that aren't available. Let's go over them.

Brad Marchand is serving a three game suspension, so he's out.  Krejci was out for the Caps game on Tuesday; it is doubtful he'll play tonight.  That means more minutes for Bergeron - and it also means more and potentially longer shifts for the All-Star.  McQuaid is now on IR as a result of taking a nasty hit from Zach Sill; the team called up 19-year old David Pastrnak in response per this Thursday post by Kevin Paul Dumont at the Boston Globe. Pastrnak may provide a spark to a struggling offense in theory.  While he only has two goals and two assists in ten games, he did put up 24 shots and with the other absences, it may not be a bad idea to give him a larger spot on the roster.  The loss of McQuaid hurts a defense that already has been playing Colin Miller and Kevan MillerThe latter is not very good on defense according to this Stanley Cup of Chowder post by Paul Wheeler. The Devils would be wise to pick on him when they can.  Going back to the larger point, the Bruins aren't at full strength. Neither are the Devils, but between that and their slump since beating New Jersey in a shootout in Boston on December 20, this is an ideal time to strike.

Let's hammer that point home a bit more. Look at their lineup at Left Wing Lock from their last game. The centers behind Bergeron are Landon Ferraro, Joonas Kemppainen, and Max Talbot.   That's hardly a tough group and it speaks to why Bergeron is averaging close to 21 minutes of ice time in the last six games. Bergeron is great but he can't play the entire game.  Their wings are more potent; the addition of Pastrnak could mean he's on the first line with Eriksson and Bergeron.  No disrespect intended, but that's more dangerous than Brett Connolly with them. Down on defense, Krug will likely have a different partner with McQuaid out; Chara with the lesser Miller should be sight as one's really good and the other is Kevan Miller; and Dennis Seidenberg is still getting minutes. Consider all this with a cold goalie tandem of Rask and Gustavsson and most teams would want to take on this version of Boston.

Unfortunately, there are the Devils tonight.

The Injury List Grows: The big news from yesterday was that Mike Cammalleri was put on injured reserve. This was retroactive to December 30, so he could be activated at anytime. Yet, I don't think they would put him on IR if the team thought he could play tonight.  Putting someone on IR creates a spot available on the roster.  Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice yesterday reported all this and also noted that while a call up could be coming but one has not been made yet. The reason for that is because there's other player's status. John Moore left the Montreal game early with an injury. David Schlemko was a late scratch for the Montreal game.  While some may want to see a forward called up from Albany, a defenseman may be more likely.  That will depend on how Moore and Schlemko are doing.

I believe the full total of injured Devils right now are: Patrik Elias (IR), Mike Cammalleri (IR), Jacob Josefson (IR), Tyler Kennedy, John Moore, and David Schlemko. While Cammalleri, Moore, and (occassionally) Schlemko are the only ones who have played significant minutes, this has forced the Devils to go deeper into their lineup.  If the last two games have taught us anything, it's that the Devils' offense was lacking when these players were healthy and now it's even worse.  And while Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas had good games in Montreal, the defense is potentially poorer with two NHL defenders sitting.

Right now, the Devils will live and die on whether A) Travis Zajac, Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique, and Lee Stempniak are producing anything, B) the make-shift bottom-six provides anything at all, and (not or) C) Cory Schneider is Cory Schneider.  We can bank on C. A and B, not so much. Especially with Lee Stempniak just looking off and Adam Henrique not contributing much even though he finally scored a goal.  Should Zajac have another one-break-and-he-misses or Palmieri has a quiet night or the Bergeron line wins their expected matchup against the Zajac unit, it's going to be a really hard game no matter how well #35 plays.

As the Devils didn't practice yesterday, there's no word yet about what they'll do with their current roster. We'll find out later today.

One Last Thought: As poor as the team has looked in the last two nights, it'll be worth coming out to this one.  After this game, the Devils embark on a road trip of four games in seven nights before returning home for only two more home games this month.  If you like seeing the Devils live, then it's relatively scarce in this month.

Your Take: Neither team is an ideal state. Perhaps this game will inspire one to get closer to one.  What do you think will happen tonight? Who will come out of this one with a win?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.