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

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The New Jersey Devils come off yet another long gap in the schedule looking for a win against a struggling and somewhat depleted Tampa Bay Lightning.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at New Jersey Devils Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: New Jersey Devils (2-5-2) vs the Tampa Bay Lightning (5-4-2)

The Time: 7 pm

The Broadcast: MSG+

It’s finally game day again here in Jersey after yet another long wait between games. Hopefully no one’s gotten too used to the light schedule though, as after tonight we’ll kicks off the start of a grueling 15 games in 30 days schedule throughout the next month. After a disappointing loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Friday, the Devils will be looking to bounce back and set a good base to build on for the coming games.

The Tampa Bay Lightning haven’t been to the Rock since early last season. We all remember how the Lightning’s regular season went last year, and everyone who hasn’t managed to induce voluntary amnesia of the Devils play last season remembers how that went, so I’m not going to mention how those games went. Instead lets talk about how they wiped the ice with the Rangers last night!

Oh. Nevermind. They didn’t do that. They lost 4-1. Well, that bodes well for us by comparison.

Tampa has been decent this season but nowhere near the level of dominant they were throughout the majority of last season. They’re actually playing with one of the worst team CF%s in the league (I mean, so are we, but still). Their powerplay is decent at 24.1%, but their penalty kill is pretty atrocious. Even the Devils who had an awful start to the season for both special teams are currently at a 75% PK, while Tampa is a but lower at 69.4%. Their PK save percentage is also one of the worst in the league (again, so is ours, but shhhhh) which is odd considering their 5v5 goaltending is the best in the league. We likely won’t see their starter, Vezina trophy winner Andre Vasilevsky, who played last night, but their backup Curtis McElhinney is no slouch in the crease either with a .955 sv% himself.

Not at all-Great Expectations:

Tampa lost a few players in the game last night who might not return for them tonight. Former Devil Pat Maroon dropped the gloves early in the first period last night and took a decent shot to the head from the Ranger’s Michael Haley, He was pulled from the penalty box by the training staff, presumably for concussion protocol, and it was later announced he would not return to the game. Joining Maroon in the first aid room would later be top defenseman Victor Hedman, who disappeared from the bench at some point during the second period and did not return. Anthony Cirelli was already out for Tampa Bay, so its likely we’ll see a relatively depleted Lightning lineup at the rock tonight.

I’m going to put some lines here, but they may or may not be completely inaccurate. I’m not really sure Jon Cooper could tell you what the lines are going to be just yet, considering by the end of last night’s game the Lightning had deployed a grand total of 9 different lines. Here’s a bit of a conglomeration of what they usually do plus what they seemed to like last night:

Killorn - Stamkos - Kucherov
Palat - Point - Johnson
Paquette - Gourde - Joseph
Call up? - Verhaeghe - Witkowski
McDonagh - Cernak
Sergachev - Shattenkirk
Coburn - Rutta
McElhinney

As for the Devils roster:

Hall - Hughes - Palmieri
Zacha - Hischier - Bratt
Coleman - Zajac - Simmonds
Wood - Rooney - Hayden
Severson - Subban
Greene - Vatanen
Butcher - Tennyson
Schneider

Butcher has returned from injury and will replace Mueller in the lineup. Replacing Butcher on IR is Connor Carrick of course so Tennyson will likely be sticking around the lineup a bit longer. Bratt comes back into the lineup and Gusev comes out this time. Per the team Gusev is sitting tonight both as a form of maintenance (he’s played almost every game since the start of preseason) as well as some education— he’ll be joined in the press box by Patrick Elias. The expectation is Elias will have some insight and recommendations for a fellow European player making the NHL transition and be able to coach Gusev somewhat during the game. Boqvist is again in the box and will likely benefit from the teachings of the goat as well.

The Devils haven’t played the best games lately in terms of pace or scoring chances, but that’s going to have to change if they expect to take a W tonight. Tampa has taken some blows to the roster and are coming in on a back to back, but they’re still a loaded team with high-octane offensive talent and incredibly solid goaltending. Brayden Point, whatever line he’ll end up on, has stunning breakaway speed so the defense will need to be aware when he’s on the ice because if they get stuck down in the offensive zone and he gets the puck, they’re not catching him. Nikita Kucherov is playing without a spring in his step lately but his finishing ability is still lethal. Play sloppy in the defensive zone—leave the back door open, drift away from your man, miscue with your partner on who’s covering who—the puck will find Kucherov and he’ll find the back of the net with it, so the Devils will need to be aware and play smart in their own end. Cory Schneider has been teetering on the edge of concerning lately— tonight will be a huge game for him to prove himself and maybe even steal a game for his team. We might need him to, since its unlikely the team putting up the lowest shot attempts per game in the NHL is going to run up the score against a .955sv% goalie.

Your Take: Who needs to step up tonight if we want to come away with a win? Will we see any first goal of the season’s tonight? Leave your thoughts and any other predictions in the comments below, and thanks for reading!