Game 77 Preview: Chicago Blackhawks at New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils (42-28-6, 90 points) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (42-26-8, 92 points)
7:00 PM E.T.
TV: MSG Plus
Radio: WFAN 660 AM
Tonight’s contest features two teams in very similar situations. It’s the only regular season meeting between the Chicago Blackhawks and New Jersey Devils. Each team sits sixth in their respective conference, each team lost their top center for much of the season (both Zajac and Toews are North Dakota alumni as well) and both teams play in extremely competitive divisions: the Hawks play in the Central division, which features four teams currently in the playoffs and the Devils play in the Atlantic division, which also features four playoff teams right now. The difference between the teams is that Chicago slumped last month, while the Devils are slumping right now.
The Devils won last season’s only meeting between them and the Hawks, 5-3, in Chicago. The Hawks had won the previous three matchups, with the Devils last winning on March 17th, 2009, which was the game that Martin Brodeur broke the league’s all-time wins record for an NHL goaltender.
Lots of shots, not enough results:
The Devils aren’t a team that piles up a lot of shots on goal, but over the last two games, they’ve managed 46 and 34 shots, against Toronto and Pittsburgh, respectively. Yet despite the 80 shots in two games, they only managed to get one point over that stretch. They’re getting plenty of scoring chances, but they’re just not finding a way to finish plays. In fact, they outplayed the Penguins for much of Sunday night’s 5-2 loss, but the difference between the two teams is that Pittsburgh capitalized on their chances and the Devils did not.
After Thursday’s shootout loss to Toronto, head coach Pete DeBoer made some drastic changes to all four lines of forwards before Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh, highlighted by the addition of center Travis Zajac to the lineup. At times, all four lines looked like they had decent chemistry, and all of the lines had scoring chances, but again, they only managed two goals: a fluke goal by Zach Parise off a Sidney Crosby giveaway and a tap in for Ilya Kovalchuk on a broken play. DeBoer obviously wasn’t happy with what he saw, because the top two lines have been mixed up again.
Adam Henrique will start his first game as a winger tonight. He’ll play alongisde Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk, while Zach Parise plays to the left of Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus. Petr Sykora has also been demoted to the fourth line. As another change to the lineup, rookie defenseman Adam Larsson will not play, as for the first time in his professional career, he will be a healthy scratch tonight. The loss of Larsson to the Devils’ lineup comes at a questionable time, as Anton Volchenkov will also miss tonight’s game and Henrik Tallinder is still out with his blood clot, a long-term injury. Peter Harrold will play in Larsson’s place, and Matt Taormina will play with him, subbing for the injured Volchenkov. Martin Brodeur will get another start tonight. The full lineup is listed below.
Staying in sixth?
The Devils have been lurking in sixth place in the Eastern Conference for several weeks now, and while finishing sixth could be ideal (that is, facing the winner of the much weaker Southeast division), there are teams closing in on sixth from both directions. Last night, fifth place Philadelphia lost, and seventh place Ottawa won, which leaves Philly six points up on the Devils and the Senators just two points behind the Devils. Ottawa has one more game against the Devils on April 7th in New Jersey, which could be a huge game, and might decide which teams match up against each other in the first round of the playoffs.
Between January 21st and February 14th, Chicago did not win a game (0-8-1), and fell from the top of their division to fourth, and nearly fell out of a playoff spot. On February 16th, they snapped their losing streak in a 4-2 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, and they’ve been on the rise ever since. However, following a five game winning streak, they dropped their Sunday night game against the Predators, 6-1, in Chicago, as their goaltending issues continue. It was the first game of former Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith’s five game suspension for his hit on Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin. Sedin has since been diagnosed with a concussion, so Chicago will be without Keith again tonight in New Jersey. The Hawks will also be without captain Jonathan Toews, who hasn’t played since February 19th, as he’s been sidelined with a concussion. Toews was having a career year before the injury. One of the bright spots for the Hawks of late has been the play of ex-Devil Johnny Oduya. He’s been a huge lift to the Chicago defense since a trade from Winnipeg.
Blackhawks’ projected lineup:
Brunette – Kane – Hossa
Sharp – Morrison – Stalberg
Bickell – Bolland – Shaw
Bollig – Mayers – Frolik
Seabrook – Hjalmarsson
Oduya – Leddy
Olsen – O’Donnel
Devils’ projected lineup:
Parise – Elias – Zubrus
Henrique – Zajac – Kovalchuk
Ponikarovsky – Josefson – Clarkson
Sykora – Carter – Bernier
Greene – Fayne
Salvador – Zidlicky
Taormina – Harrold