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Game Preview #77: New Jersey Devils vs. Boston Bruins

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The New Jersey Devils will start to close out the season with six games against the Atlantic Division, starting tonight with the Boston Bruins. Learn about why the Bruins want this game, who on Boston has been productive, and more in this game preview.

The Bruins were often going forward in their last game. Let's hope that happens at least a little less tonight.
The Bruins were often going forward in their last game. Let's hope that happens at least a little less tonight.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (36-32-8) at the Boston Bruins (40-28-8)

The Last Devils Game: On Sunday, the Devils went to Carolina.  It's arguable when they actually showed up for the game. The Devils played poorly when they didn't have a player in the box, which was for quite a while since they took four penalties.  Ron Hainsey finished a feed by Jordan Staal during a 4-on-4 caused by Travis Zajac holding Staal seven seconds into a New Jersey power play.  Victor Rask scored from the high slot on one of those power plays to make it 0-2.  Scott Wedgewood did well to stop the bleeding, less so by the skaters.  Jeff Skinner sprung Rask behind an unaware Vojtech Mozik and David Warsofsky from his own end of the rink. Rask scored on the breakaway, 0-3.  Unlike most Devils games, there would be a comeback. Bobby Farnham put home a loose puck for his first goal in over two months to get the Devils on the board. Cam Ward pulled a Johan Hedberg and Kyle Palmieri set up Blake Pietila for the easy goal. Pietila couldn't finish it, but he would get his first NHL assist when Zajac slammed in the loose puck.  Two goals in less than a minute and the Devils were surging.  Until they stopped and the Canes more than settled the game down. They held the Devils to one shot for nearly ten minutes across the latter part of the second period and most of the start of the third period.  The Devils would have some offensive attempts, including a breakaway by Joseph Blandisi.  But it wasn't enough.  Seeing the Devils just pass it around in the dying seconds and not getting a shot on net in a 6-on-5 situation was somewhat appropriate.  It was a disappointing 2-3 loss, despite the hope the two goals brought.  My recap of the loss is here.

The Last Bruins Game: The Bruins visited Toronto on this past Saturday.  The Bruins have been better away from home. Would it help them end their five-game winless streak?  It didn't look that way early on when Ben Smith made it 0-1 for Toronto late in the first period.  But the Bruins would respond to put the thirtieth-place team in their place. Early in the second period, Patrice Bergeron put home a loose puck past Jonathan Bernier to convert a power play and tie up the game.   Later in the period, Bernier denied David Krejci on a slot but he had no answer for Zdeno Chara (!) scoring on the rebound.  Tuukka Rask and the B's withstood any attack from the second period on. Matt Beleskey scored an empty netter that converted a late power play, sealed a 3-1 win, and kicked off some salted beef on the ice. Mike Leonard has this recap at Stanley Cup of Chowder.

The Last Devils-Bruins Game: Back on January 21, the Devils hosted the Bruins.  Rather than go into details like usual, I'm going to quote myself from the beginning of my recap of the game:

Once again, the New Jersey Devils put up relatively little offense. Once again, the New Jersey Devils were out-played and out-done by most metrics.  Once again, the positives were few for the Devils.  All I got are these two: the Devils weren't shutout and their power play looked like one tonight.  The latter is nice, I suppose.  Unlike their last two games, though, the opponent score more than one or two goals. The Boston Bruins put up four goals to make it a decisive loss for the Devils.  The Bruins were slumping but they have kicked off this road trip in an ideal fashion.  A very good game that led to a very good 4-1 score against a bad New Jersey Devils team.

The Devils lost 1-4.  Goals were, in order, by Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner, Bobby Farnham, jimmy Hayes, and Colin Miller. The Bruins were decisive in their victory.

The Goal: Other than wishing this game was in Boston (Bruins' home record: 16-17-5, road record: 24-11-3), the Devils need to make a point of it to stay out of the box.  Over this season, Boston's power play conversion rate ranks in the top ten at 20.8% according to NHL.com. They don't concede too many shorthanded goals (only 2), they've put up 45 goals, and Corsica rates them in the top-five in SF/60 in 5-on-4 situations. Maybe they're not the best power play team in the league, but I'd say they are very good.  Most recently, a PPG helped them end their slide on Saturday so they're not really slumping.  Their one flaw is that they don't go on the power play all that often.  They rank fourth from the bottom in power play opportunities at 216 per NHL.com. So it's not as if the Bruins have been relatively fantastic at drawing calls.  But three of the four minor penalties the Devils took in the first period on Sunday didn't need to be drawn.  Zajac held Staal from behind, Blandisi tripped a defender after losing the puck, and Devante Smith-Pelly knocked a man down from behind (and then yelled at the ref to earn an extra two minutes). The Devils can't afford to be so physically aggressive and hand their opponent a significant portion of the period where they can attack with an extra skater and the Devils' already lackluster offense is not able to do so.  Even if the calls are spread out across all three periods, it's time taken away from making this game be a game.   If the Devils can avoid handing many man advantages to the B's, then that only helps their cause to get a win tonight.

Does Tonight's Opponent Want This Game?: The Bruins won one of their last six games.  Before it,  the Atlantic Division resembled the Pacific in that there were three teams fighting for first.  Now, it's a two-team race among the Florida-based squads and Bruins are watching their backs in case Detroit catches up to them.  There's never a good time for a slump; having one near the end of the season and before securing a playoff spot is really bad timing.  The B's did get an important win to stay three points ahead of Detroit prior to Monday's games.  Therefore, I don't think the Bruins will head into Newark just to get the game over with and hope no one gets hurt for the playoffs.  They would very much like two points to hold onto the guaranteed playoff spot that comes with third place in the division.  So, yes, they want this game.

Off: The Devils did not practice on Monday.  The only real news for the roster is that Cory Schneider will not play tonight.  This was first reported on Sunday by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. So it's not exactly news. Schneider had a conditioning session in Albany, he'll be back up with New Jersey today, but he will not play.

Other than that, I imagine the roster will be status quo.  It's not like anyone else that was hurt was found to be healthy enough to play today.  As far as I know and hope, no one got hurt on Sunday. I know Sergey Kalinin limped off the ice in the third period after an awkward hit into the boards; but he returned to action and played out that game.  But no one was called up, so I'm thinking he's fine.  The only change could be in net, but I'm doubtful of that. While Scott Wedgewood gave up three goals on Sunday, it's not like his team put him in many positions to succeed in those first twenty-two minutes of regulation.   With Wedgewood being hot and Schneider's imminent return, I can see the Devils giving the Wedgewood one more game - a fifth straight start - before he returns to Albany.

Changes for the Opposition: Amalie Benjamin had a round-up of the state of the Bruins' minor injuries at the Boston Globe yesterday. The long and short of it is that John-Michael Liles and Ryan Spooner will not play tonight; they didn't travel to New Jersey.  Brad Marchand, who's been sick, will travel in the hopes he'll feel good enough to play tonight.  To account for Spooner's absence, Loui Eriksson could line up at center between Frank Vatrano and Jimmy Hayes assuming the team doesn't call someone up from Providence.  A part of me hopes there isn't a call up so the Devils could really test Eriksson.  While he's not a slouch in his own end, playing an unfamiliar position behooves a team to challenge him.

The B's with the Pts: A look at Boston's stats at NHL.com shows that the absence of Spooner and potential absence of Marchand are significant.  Marchand is Boston's leading goal scorer with 34 goals and he's second on the team in shots 227.  Spooner has played on a third line role for much of the season, but he's received significant power play time. Those seventeen power play points - second most on the team - helped him earn fourteen goals and thirty four assists in spite of averaging over fifteen minutes per game and 158 shots on net.  However, the Boston roster has a few more players that will play tonight that could give the Devils lots of issues.

First and foremost, check out their ace forward, Patrice Bergeron.  He can do it all and do it very well, from defending against the other team's best line to making many appearances on the scoresheet. Bergeron leads Boston in points with 63, power play points with 23, and shots with 258.  He's got twenty-nine goals and thirty-four assists to go with averaging nearly twenty minutes of ice time per game.  While Marchand has usually been with him, he could easily have Lee Stempniak (more on him later, he gets his own section) to help support him.  The aforementioned Eriksson has been moved around the lineup, but his production cannot be denied.  As if it's easy to deny twenty-seven goals and thirty assists. Hayes has been notably productive given his spot in the lineup; he's got thirteen goals and sixteen assists. Eriksson could help him do more.  The line of David Krejci, Matt Beleskey, and David Pastrnak may not total tons of goals, but they're not a fun line to play against.  Beleskey and Pastrnak each have fourteen and twelve goals respectively. Krejci could certainly elevate them. With a team-leading 41 assists to go with fifteen goals, he's helping someone finishing plays (I'm thinking whether Bergeron, Krejci, and Eriksson were on the same unit or shared a line earlier?).   From the back end, Zdeno Chara continues to fire one of the hardest shots in the league.  He's got nine goals and twenty-five assists.  But it's Torey Krug who's been more prolific at firing shots. Chara only has 144 SOG, Krug has 219.  With three goals and thirty-four assists, Krug's been quite involved on offense - moreso than Chara.

Basically, the Bruins aren't short on producers even without Spooner and Marchand for a bit.  The Devils will likely get their best unit, the Zajac line with Andy Greene and Adam Larsson, out against Bergeron's unit.  The concerns go beyond that match-up.  Can the Adam Henrique line handle Krejci's or Eriksson's lines? More importantly, can a defensive pairing of Damon Severson and John Moore handle either line on defense?  And if John Hynes wants Henrique to challenge Eriksson in his unfamiliar position of center, then can the thirds not fall apart against Krejci's unit if/when that happens?    There's a lot of questions, but at least Hynes will have the last change to provide his answer to what Boston does when there's a faceoff.

A Formidable Foe: Tuukka Rask has been quite good for the Bruins this season.  As the Bruins do not have a back-to-back set with this game and the team needs points, I would think he'll get this start.  That means the Devils will have to contend with someone with a 92.6% save percentage at even strength, a decent-ish 86.3% save percentage on the PK, and a history of just being excellent in net.  Even if the Devils do well at even strength, stay out of the box, and move the puck like a decent NHL team, Rask alone could keep Boston in the game.  Hmm. That seems familiar.

Welcome Back, Lee: Lee Stempniak has been nothing short of good for the Devils' season.  From PTO to being the team's leading scorer by the end of February, Stempniak has been one of the many silver linings of the 2015-16 season.  Of course, his success meant other teams wanted him at the trade deadline.  Ray Shero opted to move to the traveling winger for future assets to Boston.  He will be back at the Rock and I do hope the fans give him a deservedly warm welcome. I know I will.  I do hope he does not score though.  That may be an issue since he's been skating with Boston's top point and goal scorer in recent games.  Stempniak has two goals, five assists, and twenty shots on net in thirteen games with the Bruins.  Not bad numbers. Should he skate with the top players again, he will get more in time.  Again, I hope it's not tonight. I'd like to see him back, both tonight and maybe next season; but that doesn't mean I want him to help ruin the Devils' night.

Your Take: The Devils will start to close out their season tonight with Boston.  Can they make this match-up at least a little better than the last one?  Will the Devils pull it together for what could be the last Schneider-less-and-not-on-bench night of the season?  How do you see Hynes matching up the Devils' lines and pairings against Boston? Who on the Bruins worries you the most? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.