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Game Preview #81: New Jersey Devils vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

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The New Jersey Devils will play the Tampa Bay Lightning in their penultimate game of the 2015-16 regular season. This short game preview touches on what's new with both teams since they played each other last Saturday.

Let's strive for some less of this, New Jersey Devils.
Let's strive for some less of this, New Jersey Devils.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Two more to go.

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 880 AM WCBS

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (37-35-8) vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning (45-30-5; SBN Blog: Raw Charge)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils hosted Buffalo on Tuesday night. What transpired was technically a NHL game as both teams struggled to accomplish tasks like making passes, holding onto the puck, and taking shots.  The Sabres were less bad than the Devils and so they would prevail.  Ryan O'Reilly scored a power play goal in the second period off a delicious diagonal feed by Jack Eichel.  Early in the third period, Damon Severson fumbled a pass right to Johan Larsson. The non-defensive Larsson skated into the left dot and beat Cory Schneider blocker-side to make it 0-2.  On their fifth power play of the night and with about five and a half minutes to go, Jacob Josefson scored a PPG to get the Devils on the board. There was hope. There was a possibility the Devils could salvage a pathetic performance. Then they fell apart in conceding an ENG to lose 1-3.  In a word: Phbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbt.  My recap of it - with many more words - is here.

The Last Lightning Game: On Tuesday, the Lightning visited Our Hated Rivals.  Victor Hedman and Ryan Callahan were scratched; their status remains unknown.  That said, the start was good. 21 shots on net and two goals: the first from Andrej Sustr and the second from Brian Boyle.  The second period was less than good as the Rangers crawled back into the game in terms of shots and with a goal by Derek Stepan to convert a power play.  The Rangers completed the comeback early in the third with another goal by Stepan and a goal by Chris Kreider.  The Lightning turned on the offense again to pepper Henrik Lundqvist with shots, but they could not break through.  The Lightning lost by a final score of 2-3.  Brett Frieman has this recap of the loss at Raw Charge.

The Last Devils-Lightning Game: This past Saturday featured the Devils wrapping up their road schedule for the 2015-16 regular season in Tampa Bay.  If you love penalty calls, then this game was for you as both teams combined for thirteen power plays.  If you love penalty kills, then this game was also for you as there were only two conversions out of all thirteen.  During the second period, Victor Hedman scored the lone non-empty net even strength goal when he curled into the high slot and beat Cory Schneider low.  Later in that same period, Adam Henrique ripped a rolling puck past Ben Bishop for the first of two PPGs of the night.  The second period ended 1-1 and the run of play was fairly even.  Then came the third period where the Lightning rolled the Devils and held them to no shots on net for over twelve minutes.  It did not help at all that the Devils took three straight minor penalties.  The too many men call on New Jersey, their last of the night, would be the costliest.  On that power play, Schneider stopped a long shot by Nikita Nesterov and Brian Boyle was wide open in front of the goalie for the rebound.  Boyle slid in the puck to make it 1-2. The Devils mounted a token effort to tie it up but could not do it.  Instead, they ended up conceding the ENG to Nikita Kucherov to make it a 1-3 final.  In shorts: loads of special teams, two decent periods, one crummy period, and another 'L' for N.J. My recap of the loss is here. For the opposition's side, here's Clark J Brooks with the recap at Raw Charge.

The Old Goal that Applies: Last preview, I stated that the main goal for the Devils at this point of the season was play a solid game of hockey. Tuesday's game was not it.  Do it again.

The New Goal that Applies: Discipline!  The last game against Tampa Bay and the recent game to Buffalo featured the Devils handing out eleven power plays. What's more is that plenty of them were just not good calls to take.  There were multiple offensive zone penalties and the others were just unnecessary in general.  While the opposing teams handed the Devils plenty of power plays in those games, all of the special teams play essentially shortened the bench.  It made the effort to establish some kind of control in 5-on-5 play even harder for a team that is not good at it as it was broken up.   At the least, the Devils should make a point of it to commit fewer fouls.  The last thing the team needs - and that I need to see - is another game where a big chunk of it is on the power play and the opposition out-does them due to it.

Does the Opponent Need This Game?: No.  The Lightning may have lost to Our Hated Rivals but they have clinched second in the Atlantic Division on that night. They will play whoever ends up in third place between Detroit and Boston. They cannot fall to those positions. They cannot catch Florida for the division lead anymore.  These last two games really are just games the Lightning have to go through before the playoffs begin.  If they can give someone important on their team a night off or two, then this would be a good time for it. With Anton Stralman (fractured fibula) and Steven Stamkos (blood clot) out for months, the Lightning cannot really afford another significant player to get hurt before the playoffs.  No one wants to go into the postseason on a losing streak - something the Lightning could end up doing should they lose this and the next game - but being banged up is arguably worse.  That all said, there's no real point to this game for either side other than whatever pride brings out when the puck drops.

It'd be cool if the Devils played like they cared a little compared to Tuesday's stinker of a snoozer.  But I'm not getting my hopes up.

What the Lightning May Look Like: the Devils got to see the team without Stamkos as he was held out of last Saturday's game.  It resulted in Kucherov lining up with Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. They got the nickname of "The Triplets" as all three are quick, skilled forwards.  They gave the Travis Zajac line a lot of difficulty that night. Given that John Hynes hasn't really changed the lines beyond moving one or two players around, I fear the Zajac line as it is - Reid Boucher, Zajac, and Kyle Palmieri, may suffer again.  Given the state of the team, why not just put Adam Henrique with Zajac for a game and let them be a power line that can better handle those three? Especially if Ryan Callahan and Victor Hedman sit again.  The Bolts were off on Wednesday so that's up in the air.

That's right, Callahan and Hedman did not play in Manhattan. Here's the lines and pairings they did use according to Left Wing Lock.  Without Hedman, Nesterov moved to play with Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn got Slater Koekkoek (pronounced like coo-k coo-k) as a partner. Without Callahan, there were the Triplets carrying the load, Valteri Filppula skated with JT Brown and Cedric Paquette as Jonathan Marchessault skated with Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namesitikov.  With 41 shots against the Rangers and the fact they lost by one, I wouldn't say the Lightning are entirely awful without those players.  In the long run, missing Stralman and Stamkos definitely hurt and the wound only gets deeper if Callahan and Hedman can't go for the playoffs.  For tonight, provided the Triplets are on form and the other Lightning players are playing a decent game, the Lightning may be fine.   More so if Ben Bishop is behind them to make plenty of stops - as he's done all season long.

The News Out of New Jersey: I miss Tom Gulitti and his reports from practice already.  Anyway, two separate articles from Rich Chere of NJ.com.  This one about Patrik Elias confirms that while he did not practice on Wednesday, he will be in the lineup tonight.  The bottom six is the place to be for him given he's still working off rust built up by his long layoff due to injury.   The other one about Cory Schneider assessing his season includes the news that Keith Kinkaid will start this game and Schneider will start the season ending game on Saturday.  I'm fine with that.  Kinkaid has proven himself capable of weathering a storm given his starts prior to Schneider's return. If there's been one refrain from this season, then it's that goaltending really isn't the issue for this team.  It's all about the skaters.

Speaking of skaters, I'm wondering if we'll see Mike Sislo tonight at all.   Renaud Lavoie of TVA tweeted that Sislo was placed on waivers yesterday. He does not have to be demoted right away. This could be a transaction to allow a demotion in the next few days; presumably after the season ends.  Still, the Devils have plenty of healthy forwards to take a spot as needed.  Joseph Blandisi, who was scratched on Tuesday, comes to mind as one who could step in for Sislo on a line with Elias and Sergey Kalinin.

One Last Thought: Just be better than Tuesday's game.  That was a really difficult game to watch; just give The Rock something to appreciate on Fan Appreciation Week, Devils.  That's all I ultimately am asking for with that game still in my recent memory.

Your Take: The Devils will play their penultimate game of the season against a playoff-bound Tampa Bay team that can't move anywhere in the standings.  This is another pointless one but hopefully it'll be a NHL-quality game unlike Tuesday's matchup.  What do you think will happen? Will the Devils play a better game than they did on Tuesday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.