Game 61 Preview – Your New Jersey Devils vs Tampa Bay Lightning
New Jersey Devils (35-21-4, 74 points) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (27-28-6, 60 points)
1:00 PM E.T.
TV: MSG +
Radio: WFAN 660 AM
This Sunday afternoon game features the Devils and Lightning. This is the third of four meetings between these two Eastern Conference teams. The Devils won each of the prior two, both of them in Tampa Bay: 4-2 and 5-4. Martin Brodeur will be in net, which comes as a surprise to many, since the Devils also play Monday night at Madison Square Garden. Brodeur has beaten the Lightning 35 times coming into this game. After a horrific performance by the team and Dwayne Roloson on Saturday in Pittsburgh, Mathieu Garon will likely start against the Devils.
Can’t solve Cory Schneider:
The Devils didn’t play their best game of the season on Friday against the Vancouver Canucks, but they certainly had their chances. In total, they harassed Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider all night, with 31 shots, many of which were very good scoring chances, but Schneider had an answer for all but one David Clarkson shot, and had tremendous rebound control all night. Zach Parise led the way with 7 shots on goal. Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson each had 5 shots on Schneider, including Clarkson’s career-high 24th goal of the season.
Other than beating Schneider, though, the Devils played a very good game on Friday, following a ceremony to honor long-time play-by-play announcer Mike “Doc” Emrick. Vancouver had six of the game’s first eight shots, but the Devils outshot them, 29-10 the rest of the way. The Devils held the Sedin line (Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows) to a total of two shots on goal. Martin Brodeur had little chance on either Vancouver goal, and he made some impressive saves, including one where he came out to prevent a Canucks breakaway, Dominek Hasek-style. Brodeur was beat once on a rebound to a pinching Aaron Rome and a shot by Mason Raymond that re-directed past him after hitting Andy Greene.
The Devils had a pair of power plays, and didn’t get much going. That may have had something to do with Kurtis Foster not being in the lineup, as he was held out due to a trade to Minnesota. They also killed off the Canucks’ only power play of the game, so special teams were not much of a factor at all. The one part of the game that the Devils struggled in all night was their inability to win face-offs. As I discussed in last night’s recap, Manny Malhotra dominated the Devils’ face-off men. At one point by my count, Malholtra won six straight draws. The Devils only won three of 21 draws in the first period, and just 19 of 61 all night.
Still, despite their inability to score goals and struggles in the face-off circle, the Devils should feel good about the way they played, and their position in general. Although the Penguins’ win over the Lightning on Saturday jumped Pittsburgh over the Devils, New Jersey is still fifth in the Eastern Conference and is 9-2-1 since the All-Star break. A win over a struggling Tampa Bay team would certainly keep them headed in the right direction.
It’s also worthy to note that Martin Brodeur will face the Lightning, as well as the Rangers on Monday. He hasn’t started games on back-to-back days this season. I personally find it strange that Johan Hedberg isn’t starting on Sunday.
A new face in town:
It was announced mid-game on Friday and discussed at length previously: the Devils acquired defenseman Marek Zidlicky from Minnesota for Kurtis Foster, Nick Palmieri, Stephane Veilleux and a pair of draft picks. If you want to read more about the trade, be sure to read Ross O’Shea’s piece from Saturday. Zidlicky did not arrive in Newark early enough to practice with the team on Saturday, but he did skate at the Prudential Center after practice with fellow Czech countryman and friend Patrik Elias, along with defensive coach Larry Robinson. Zidlicky will wear #2 and is expected to play on Sunday. He gives the Devils a much-needed puck-moving defenseman and will certainly help the power play out.
Speaking of defensemen, the Devils expect to get rookie Adam Larsson back in the lineup for Sunday’s game. Larsson has been sidelined with a bruised back after taking a hard hit by Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban on February 2nd. Including that game, the Devils went 8-2-1 without him. With Larsson, Zidlicky and Andy Greene, the Devils now have three legitimate defenseman who can help create offense, which is something that has been lacking in New Jersey for many years. General Manager Lou Lamoriello has certainly set the Devils up for a potentially long playoff run this spring.
About the Bolts:
The same can’t be said for the Tampa Bay Lightning, regarding a playoff run. The Lightning, who took the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last spring, but sit 12th in the conference currently. Despite Steven Stamkos leading the league with 43 goals this season, the Lightning have been extremely inconsistent this season. They have also given up the most goals in the entire league. They gave up 8 goals in a loss in Pittsburgh on Saturday, led by Evgeni Malkin’s hat trick for Pittsburgh.
Nothing has gone right for Tampa Bay defensively this season. Their defensemen have been struggling, they get beat to pucks and sometimes, as Malkin proved on Saturday, beat one-on-one too often. In addition, Dwayne Roloson has not played nearly as well as he did last season. Garon has only been slightly better for Tampa Bay. Even though the Lightning have explosive offensive players, such as Stamkos, Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, they can’t score enough goals to make up for their defensive woes. It’s been a frustrating season for Guy Boucher’s Lightning after the expectations that they had after last season’s success, and playing in a weak division. The Devils can’t look past this game, though, because Tampa Bay can score goals if you’re not careful, and the Devils might have their sights set on Monday night at Madison Square Garden already.
Lightning projected lineup:
Connolly – Stamkos – Malone
St. Louis – Pyatt – Purcell
Smith – Thompson – Wyman
Angelidis – Hall – Wallace
Brewer – Hedman
Clark – Gilroy
Mikkelson – Gervais
Devils projected lineup:
Parise – Henrique – Kovalchuk
Sykora – Elias – Clarkson
Ponikarovsky – Zubrus – Bernier
Carter – Josefson – Janssen
Greene – Larsson (if he plays)
Volchenkov – Salvador
Fayne – Zidlicky