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Game Preview #67: New Jersey Devils vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning v New Jersey Devils Photo by Rich Graessle/Getty Images

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils versus the Tampa Bay Lightning. Opposition Blog: Raw Charge

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: MSGSN

First Time Seeing Tampa

This is the first time that the Devils and Lightning will play each other this season. Somehow, the NHL scheduling office got to game 66 before they realized they needed matchups between the Devils and Tampa. So, we have two straight home games against the Lightning — and when was the last time that’s ever happened with a non-division team in the regular season? After those two games, the Devils will stop in Sunrise, Florida for a game against the Panthers. Then, the following night, they play the Lightning at Amalie Arena. The Devils will see the full range of Lightning play in the span of a week — always a valuable experience as both teams prepare for the playoffs.

However, the Lightning have not been the same beast they have been during their Stanley Cup runs. I would not discount them by any stretch of the imagination, though. They simply ran the cap too high on some of their players so they could keep them well into unrestricted free agency. This is likely to blame for their middling road record, which is just a touch under .500. It is most definitely to blame for their loss of Ondrej Palat during last year’s offseason, though, and this is the first time that Palat will play against Tampa in his NHL career.

Even without Palat, the Lightning still know plenty on how to score. Brandon Hagel, acquired last season from Chicago, has a career-high of 53 points already. Alex Killorn appears headed for a career-high of 60 points this season. Nikita Kucherov already has 95 points — with 69 of those being assists. Brayden Point could easily score 50 goals, as well, while Steven Stamkos is having another fine point-per-game year. However, their secondary scoring has not been fantastic so far this season. Anthony Cirelli missed time earlier this ear, though, while the addition of Tanner Jeannot might spark something in their bottom six. While Nick Paul, Corey Perry, and Ross Colton have been good depth, they have not found usual contributions from the likes of Vladislav Namestikov or Pat Maroon.

The Key to Win Tonight

The Devils need to pull off a similar effort to what they did to Carolina on Sunday. First and foremost: the forwards need to get in close on Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is not as good as he used to be. As you can see in the save chart below, Vasilevskiy has struggled when teams get in around the crease.

This is a perfect game for Timo Meier to show what he can do around the net. There is not too much of a point settling for shots, as Vasilevskiy’s struggles are really just on those directly around the crease. By comparison, Tampa is one of the best finishing teams in the league. They have a ridiculous 10.7 team shot percentage, as most of their top six posts ridiculous efficiency with their shots. In order to beat their offense, Jonas Siegenthaler and John Marino are going to need to be on their best games tonight. Cutting down passing plays so Akira Schmid can stay set on shots will be necessary so Tampa cannot take advantage of any openings with their general pinpoint accuracy. Tampa can win a game with just 20 good shots.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of tonight’s game? Will you be watching? How do you feel about Tampa this season? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.