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Game Preview #63: New Jersey Devils vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Tonight, the Devils look to close out February with a win against a talented Lightning team. This post will preview tonight's game.

Larsson, Stempniak, and the Devils take on the Lightning tonight.
Larsson, Stempniak, and the Devils take on the Lightning tonight.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (30-25-7) vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning (34-22-4; SBN Blog: Raw Charge)

The Last Devils Game: Last night the Devils suffered an extremely frustrating 6-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. As the title of John's recap mentioned, the Devils earned a "F-Minus Again" in what was truly a poor performance by the entire team. In addition to lackluster play, the Devils did manage to hit a few posts and have a goal disallowed due to the "Intent to Blow" rule. I don't think it's necessary for me to torture anyone else with more words about this game. I'm just happy there is a game tonight so we can move on.

The Last Lightning Game: Tampa Bay defeated Arizona 2-1 on Tuesday for their fourth victory in a row. Steven Stamkos opened the scoring with an even strength goal in the 1st period with Ryan Callahan and Alex Killorn picking up the assists. Cedric Paquette beat Louis Domingue on a penalty shot in the 2nd period. Jordan Martinook would get the Coyotes to within one goal in the final frame but it would prove to be too little, too late. Andrei Vasilevsky made 29 saves as the Lightning outshot the Coyotes 36-31. Clark J Brooks has the full recap over at Raw Charge.

The Last Devils-Lightning Game: Believe it or not, this is actually the first time these teams are meeting this season. They will then meet again for 2 games in April.

The Goal: Produce a professional performance. Last night the Devils put in one of their worst performances of the season. It goes without saying that they can't afford to drop points this easily at this time of year. The coaches know it. The players know it. The fans know it. The Devils can't afford another slow start where they get pinned back in their end for most of the 1st period again. I'm not expecting or demanding a "60 minute performance" since it's near impossible due to the natural ebb and flow of a hockey game. What I do expect is players to show better defensive responsibility, crisper breakouts and passes, and more offensive chances than they had last night. I realize this is no easy task against a talented Tampa Bay Lightning squad, but at the very least, the effort has to be better tonight.

Tampa's Fowards: Nikita Kucherov leads the Lightning forwards in assists (25) and points (49) but is sidelined "day-to-day" with a lower body injury. According to Left Wing Lock, the Devils are likely to see Tampa Bay line up with a top line of Alex Killorn - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan and a second line of Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Jonathan Marchessault. Stamkos anchors the top line and leads the team in goals (26) and is second in points (47). Killorn has 30 points in 59 games while Callahan has 23 in 59. Johnson is the main threat on that second line with 24 points in 47 games while Palat has 18 in 40 and Marchessault has 15 in 32. The bottom 6 is expected to be Cedric Paquette - Valterri Filppula - J.T. Brown and Vladislav Namestnikov - Brian Boyle - Erik Condra. According to Corsica, the Paqutte, Filppula, and Brown trio has been solid in possession and positive in expected goals as well as actual goals for. The fourth line of Namestnikov, Boyle, and Condra has seen similar success in a small sample. Needless to say, the Devils defense has to be on point tonight.

Tampa's Defense: Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman are likely to be the top pairing for Tampa Bay. Hedman has 6 goals and 30 assists in 59 games while Stralman has 9 goals and 18 assists in 60 games. According to Corsica, both players have strong possession numbers and positive expected goals and goals for numbers. The middle pair of Braydon Coburn and Andrej Sustr also have solid numbers with Coburn's a bit more on the positive side. Matt Carle and Nikita Nesterov are expected to occupy the third pairing for Tampa Bay. Their numbers reflect what you would expect out of a third pairing and this should be the combo that Devils target to create offense.

Possible Line Up Changes: With this being the back end of a back-to-back after a poor performance, it's not out of the realm of possibility that some changes may occur. Perhaps Bobby Farnham will draw back into the line up to help provide an energy boost (and maybe a timely goal) in the Devils bottom 6. The pair of Jon Merrill and Damon Severson struggled last night which could lead to Seth Helgeson being brought back in to add some physicality for the Devils. Given that the Devils had plenty of defensive issues last night, I seriously doubt we see Eric Gelinas tonight. I also wouldn't be surprised to see no changes with the hope that the team takes last night's loss in stride and moves on from it with a solid performance tonight.

Likely Goaltending Matchup: Cory Schneider only played the first period last night as he made 8 saves on 11 shots while receiving little support from his teammates. I'd expect him to get the start tonight to put last night's game in the past. He'll come into tonight's action with a .926 SV% and a lead-leaguing 37 Quality Starts after 52 games started. Ben Bishop has started 44 games for Tampa Bay this season and has a .923 SV% and 28 Quality Starts.

Your Take: How do you think the Devils will respond after last night's debacle? What potential line up changes do you think may happen tonight? What else will you be looking for? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!