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Game Preview #10: New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning

The New Jersey Devils will wrap up their season series with the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. This post previews the third and final game between these two in the 2016-17 season.

Tampa Bay Lightning v New Jersey Devils
Namestnikov! Moore! For the last time this season? Apparently so!
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Welcome to the last game this season between these two teams. Yes, really.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (4-2-3) at the Tampa Bay Lightning (6-4-1; SBN Blog: Raw Charge)

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+ 2 ; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN

The Last Devils Game: On Thursday, the Devils went back to Sunrise to play the Panthers. The game was filled with pace, had a bit of beef, and eventually goals. In the first period, Aaron Ekblad hammered in a power play goal. The Devils own power plays weren’t bad but missed the net a few times. In the second period, Denis Malgin beat Cory Schneider on a shot that perhaps the goalie should have stopped to convert another power play. Meanwhile, the Devils acted like they were down two goals and proceeded to attack, attack, and attack some more. New Jersey would get on the board with a power play goal of its own: a blocked shot led to a loose puck that Travis Zajac hammered past James Reimer. It looked like the comeback was on. However, in the third period, Florida swarmed as the Devils’ offense swooned. One such shift resulted in Jaromir Jagr taking players to school and then feeding Vincent Trocheck for a goal Schneider wasn’t going to stop at all. But the Devils had an instant response. A missed shot by Nick Lappin was picked up behind the net by John Moore and Moore passed it to P.A. Parenteau, who slid the puck through Reimer’s legs to make it 2-3. With just under four minutes left in regulation, Beau Bennett beat Keith Yandle to get into space in Florida’s end. Bennett made a pin-point pass to a rushing Pavel Zacha, who fired it top-shelf past Reimer for his first NHL goal and to tie up the game. Overtime was necessary, as with the last Devils-Panthers game. Unfortunately, the game ended similarly to that one. A lost puck on offense yielded a 3-on-1 rush for Florida. The puck carrier, Trocheck, fired one shot, collected his own rebound, and impressively went around Schneider for game winning goal. The Devils lost 3-4 in overtime, remaining winless on the road. My recap of the loss is here.

The Last Lightning Game: Tampa Bay also played on Thursday; they hosted Boston. The visitors went off to a roaring start. Brandon Carlo scored just over four minutes into the first period. Minutes later, Ryan Spooner converted a power play to put the home team down two goals. The Lightning would cut the deficit in half when Viktor Hedman scored a PPG of his own about 75% through the first period. David Pastrnak restored the two goal lead relatively early in the second period. That lead did not last so long as Tyler Johnson scored a power play goal about four minutes after that. Johnson would make another mark on the game when he tied up the game for the Lightning around mid-way through the third period. Overtime would be necessary and it would be tense as each team took a penalty during the five-minute period. But both goaltenders stood tall to force a shootout. They remained tall as the shootout took ten rounds to complete. Unfortunately for the home fans, Jimmy Hayes scored in the tenth round to make it a 3-4 shootout loss for Tampa Bay. Bethelhub has this recap of the loss at Raw Charge.

The Last Devils-Lightning Game: On October 28, the Devils hosted Tampa Bay for the first and only time this season. The Devils had a good start to the game. Adam Henrique was able to corral the puck heading into Tampa Bay’s zone and fired a great shot by Andrei Vasilevskiy for an early 1-0 lead. Later in the first, Damon Severson was down low as Henrique fired a hard shot at the net. Vasilevskiy stopped it, but Severson was at the right place and the right time to fire in the rebound to make it 2-0. The Lightning stormed the Devils early in the second to try to get on the scoreboard. But the Devils saw it through and would manage to go up another goal in the middle frame. Nick Lappin found Devante Smith-Pelly in the slot, battling with Braydon Coburn. DSP was able to get his stick down to re-direct Lappin’s pass past the goalie to make it 3-0. A little later, the Devils kept up their attack and it seemed like they would score a fourth goal before Tampa Bay would score one. That didn’t happen. Tyler Johnson scored on Schneider’s left flank to make it 3-1 early in the third. Despite the Devils’ offense largely fading away, a late penalty kill, and over three minutes of Tampa Bay playing with an extra skater (which the Devils excellently defended), the score would stand. The Devils beat the Lightning 3-1. My recap of the win is here. For the other side, Achariya had this recap of Tampa Bay’s loss at Raw Charge.

The Goal: Don’t relax the attack at even strength in the third period. This seems like an odd goal to have since the Devils managed to get a point against the Panthers by scoring two third-period goals. However, the Devils were fortunate to get the chances that they did. In even strength play in the third period, while losing for most of that period, Florida out-attempted the Devils 21-10 and out-shot them 14-7 according to Natural Stat Trick. In all situations, it was more even; but most of that period was at 5-on-5 and it came down to the Devils scoring on their two chances while the Panthers were denied on all eight of theirs. That may not happen on most nights. In the game against Tampa Bay, the even strength play was similarly one-sided as the Lightning out-attempted the Devils 14-6 and out-shot them 8-3 per Natural Stat Trick. Granted, the Devils were playing with a lead so some of that is forgivable. But with Johnson’s early goal in that period, the opportunity was absolutely there for Tampa Bay to get back into the game. The Devils will have to play to the score to some degree; but they cannot have their offense wilt in the final third period with or without a lead. They’re not always going to convert on their scoring chances and Schneider isn’t always going to stop there. The best guard against losing a lead and the best way to eliminate the opposition’s is to keep generating chances. If the Devils can do that for the third period as well as the first and the second, then they may get that elusive road win tonight.

Familiar: The Devils just played against Tampa Bay last week. And two weeks before then, too. To that end, there’s not a whole lot to preview about them. If you want a more general overview of what they’re about, then check out last week’s game preview that Devin wrote. Here is a quick summary.

The Lightning’s attack will be led by Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. They’re not just Tampa Bay’s leading scorers; Stamkos (7 goals, 6 assists, 41 shots on net) and Kucherov (3 goals, 10 assists, 24 shots on net) are tied for second among all skaters in the NHL in points prior to Friday’s games. Per Left Wing Lock’s latest line combinations, you can expect those two together with Ondrej Palat. The second line features speed, skill, and youth, led by Tyler Johnson and supported by Alex Killorn and the winger I wished New Jersey drafted years ago, Brayden Point. Killorn has been especially productive with six goals out of 23 shots this past season. Beyond those two lines is a bottom six filled with experience, two-way play, and solid depth from the likes of Ryan Callahan, Valtteri Filppula, Brian Boyle, and Vladislav Namestikov.

On defense, the main man to know is Victor Hedman. He’s Tampa Bay’s do-everything-and-do-it-well defenseman. The Devils’ best players and others will see a lot of him if only because he averages over 24 minutes per game to lead the blueline. The offensively skilled and one-time Devils-tryout Anton Stralman will usually be on his right on defense. It’s a very good first pairing and the Devils will have to contend with their skills in both ends of the rink. They’re supported by Jason Garrison and his hard shot, Andrej Sustr, Slater Koekkoek, and Braydon Coburn.

Special teams have been a success for Tampa Bay based on success rate alone. Their power play conversion rate currently stands at 26.7%, the third highest in the entire NHL. At home, the Lightning are 5-for-19 and they went 2-for-4 in their recent shootout loss to Boston. So they’ve been recently productive. The Devils would be wise to avoid taking unnecessary calls that gives the Tampa Bay power play a chance to act. The Lightning penalty kill has been similarly excellent. Their success rate is 88.2% and while their killing rate was better on the road, allowing only two goals out of fourteen shorthanded situations at home isn’t too shabby either. While Boston was able to succeed for one PPG on Thursday, it’s been an area of strength for the Lightning.

If there’s a problem for the Lightning - and a solution for the Devils tonight - it’s in net. Ben Bishop has been bad. His overall save percentage is below 90% after seven appearances. His even strength save percentage is a woeful 89.4%. Bishop is too good of a goaltender to have those numbers last throughout a season. However, it means he’s been vulnerable as of late. The Devils haven’t faced him yet; they saw Vasilevskiy in their previous two games. His percentages have been better and he did face Boston on Thursday. Maybe the Bolts will make it 3-for-3 and use their #2 goalie more while Bishop sorts it out.

The Last Week of Lightning: One other point to know about the Lightning is that this past week has been a roller coaster of sorts. Since losing to the Devils 3-1, they got routed by Our Hated Rivals, 1-6; they dominated the Isles, 6-1; and most recently lost to Boston in a shootout, 3-4. It’s not like the Devils will be taking on a hot team tonight, so that should help their mindset as they look to win their first road game of the season. Jonathan Drouin picked up an upper body injury during the Islanders game. He was out for the Boston game. He won’t play tonight either; Roger Mooney of the Tampa Bay Times tweeted that out on Friday morning. That’s one less offensive threat at forward for the Devils to worry about, not that Tampa Bay will be hurting much given that they have Stamkos, Kucherov, Killorn, Johnson, and Palat among others.

Cory Today, Keith Tomorrow: Andrew Gross at Fire & Ice did not have a lot of information from Friday to report. Only the scratches from Thursday’s game skated. However, Gross did confirm that Cory Schneider will start tonight’s game and Keith Kinkaid, who skated on Friday, will start Sunday’s game. This is the first of a back-to-back set of games for New Jersey. I’m encouraged that the plan has been set and that the plan isn’t to use Schneider in both games. I think Schneider has been very good so I have no concerns from him for tonight.

There aren’t any other changes announced tonight. Given that this is a road game, I am concerned at how Ben Lovejoy, John Moore, and Kyle Quincey will handle their likely difficult matchup. Those three have been highlighted (lowlighted?) for poor defensive moments in this young season and with good reason. Moore-Quincey got bodied by Florida on Thursday. I don’t know if throwing in a relatively inexperienced defenseman is the answer, but I wouldn’t mind Vojtech Mozik coming in for a game. Given that Mozik has a right-handed shot, replacing Quincey for a night may be the logical move. It remains to be seen whether the pairings from Thursday night remain.

Likewise at forward, it remains to be seen whether Michael Cammalleri and P.A. Parenteau remain at their offwings. While Cammalleri didn’t have the greatest of nights, the unit of Taylor Hall, Travis Zajac, and Cammalleri actually did well in the run of play at 5-on-5. Parenteau was no slouch at left wing and even scored a goal. I could see that continue. I’d be curious to see where Nick Lappin ends up. He ended the Florida game on a line with Parenteau and Adam Henrique, replacing Kyle Palmieri for the period. I doubt Palmieri will start on a fourth line; but if Lappin plays well and Palmieri doesn’t do much, we may see another switch like that again. We’ll see if it happens.

One Last Thought: Mike’s post about the team’s road heavy schedule for the next two months is worth a look. Not just because all of the posts on this site deserve some of your attention, but because it’s very relevant in light of the fact that the Devils are still searching for their first road win. Taking points here and there is well and good in some situations. But the ‘W’s need to come at some point. Let’s hope it is tonight, or at least this weekend.

Your Take: The New Jersey Devils will finish up their games against Tampa Bay this season in this first half of a back-to-back set. The season series is tied at 1-1. Who do you think will win it? Will it be the Devils? Will it be the Lightning? What do you think the Devils need to excel at (other than scoring goals) to succeed at the Amalie Arena tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on the game here. Devin will handle the recap tonight. Thanks to Devin for that and thank you for reading.