Pregame Primer: Game Fifty Five – Devils at Stars

New Jersey Devils at Dallas Stars – 8:30 pm EST

American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas

TV: MSG+  Radio: WFAN 101.9 fm/660 am

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Dainius Zubrus – Travis Zajac – Jaromir Jagr
Patrik Elias – Stephen Gionta – Damien Brunner
Ryane Clowe – Adam Henrique – Michael Ryder
Ryan Carter – Steve Bernier

Andy Greene – Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador – Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov – Bryce Salvador 

Extra Defenseman: Eric Gelinas

Goaltender: Cory Schneider

Some thoughts on tonight’s game:  

1. Stephen Gionta slides up to the second line. Stephen Gionta is a hard-working player, but in no way is he the kind of player that should be in a team’s top six. You can make the argument that the first line of Zubrus, Jagr and Zajac needs to stay together, along with the line of Clowe, Ryder and Henrique, but it still doesn’t make much sense to put Gionta there. Jacob Josefson hasn’t been awful since his return to the lineup and Andrei Loktionov would be a better playmaking fit there as well. So is this going to be another game where the lines are switched around every period. That’s not a recipe for success.

2. Schneider gets the nod again. Though it seems like Cory Schneider has taken the reins lately, he’ll need to continue to play well if he wants to keep the number one job. There’s no doubt that Brodeur will get some games, but as long as Schneider is playing well, he’ll get the nod.  For Cory, he has to continue to block out the lack of goal scoring and just keep playing. Sure, there’s part of him that might press a bit and react to giving up an early goal, but he has to stay the course.

3. The sense of urgency needs to be there. Coming into Sunday, this team was ready to ride up the standings. Now, a 7-3 drubbing and a 3-0 road loss have them in dire need of points with other teams climbing up the standings. Though tonight’s contest is not exactly a must-win, it almost feels like one. Lose today and they’ll have to salvage a game in Nashville. The Devils are down to something like seven or eight regulation losses if they want to get to something around the 90-92 points it will most likely take to make the playoffs.

Prediction – Stars 3 Devils 1 

One would think that there would be a big sense of urgency from this team to stop this losing streak at just two games and perhaps get hot right before the olympic break. With shuffling of the lines once again, it will be tough for the Devils to generate offense. Dallas is a team that is sitting on the fringe of the playoff picture out west, so a home game for them is a huge chance to get some much needed points. 

For the Devils, if things break right and they do win, coupled with some losses, they can be tied for 4th in the Metropolitan Division and tied for 8th place in the East.

Enjoy the game, everyone!

Pregame Primer: Game Fifty-Three, Outdoor Series game vs. Rangers

NHL Stadium Series 2014- Some ticket info announced, special logos unveiled - SBNation.com

New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers – 12:30 pm EST

Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, New York City 

TV: NBC  Radio: WFAN

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Here’s our mega-post for Sunday’s afternoon tilt from the Bronx against the New York Rangers. We’ll have predictions and unit by unit breakdowns.

Jacob Josefson – Travis Zajac – Jaromir Jagr
Ryane Clowe – Adam Henrique – Michael Ryder
Dainius Zubrus – Patrik Elias – Damien Brunner
Ryan Carter – Stephen Gionta – Steve Bernier

Andy Greene – Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador – Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov – Eric Gelinas

Goaltender: Martin Brodeur 

Three keys to victory for the Devils: 

1. Win the special teams battle- The Rangers have a good power play and with the ice expected to be a little slow, anything can happen when you’re a man down. As for the Devils power play, it has been excellent as of late. If they expect to win tomorrow, they’ll need the power play to be a part of that.

2. Don’t give anything easy- The Devils allowed some odd-man rushes to the Capitals on Friday night. Against a team like the Rangers, that will spell disaster. The Rangers have quite a few players who can beat you and if they’re going to give up a goal, they’ll have to make the Rangers work for it.

3. Play Devils hockey- Maybe this one is easy, but with the slow ice and a playoff-style game expected, the game plays right in to the Devils system. Look for the Devils to slow it down and possess the puck, they’ll make the Rangers run around their own zone for periods of time. Make the Rangers defend for long stretches and it will limit their scoring chances. The Devils will look to find some of the clutch goal scoring that they’ve had from all four lines lately.

Ryan Jahnke

Defense 

With the showdown in the house that Jeter built looming less than 24 hours from now, we have to take a deeper look at the defensive end for both teams.

That means that we have to start with the marquee matchup in net, as we can now confirm that the first ever Stadium Series game between the Devils and the Rangers will see Martin Brodeur go head to head with Henrik Lundqvist. So far this year, the numbers between the two goaltenders are pretty even, with the edge going to Marty. The Devils have had Henrik’s number thus far, taking three straight against the league’s highest paid netminder. However, in the last two meetings, both of which Brodeur started, the Rangers have come closer and closer to turning the tables on the Devs. Games two and three of the series were decided by a single goal, scored by the Devils mere moments before and after the start of overtime period.

Coming into the Stadium Series, Andy Greene and Ryan McDonagh are the defensemen to watch from their respective teams. These two have been having two of the best years of any of the league’s top defensive players. Both are playing stellar in their own zone, and both have put up some great scoring numbers. As a whole, however, Jersey’s defenders, like Marek Zidlicky and Eric Gelinas, are proving to be more productive. New Jersey’s defense has contributed 24 goals and 71 assists to the effort, as opposed to 14 and 51 from the Rangers D. What’s more, the defense for the Red and Black has found the back of the net on the power play 12 times, while Ryan McDonagh has the only blue line power play goal for New York.

In the end, it will be the Devils’ forwards that make the biggest difference in the defensive game. While both sides dress very strong defensemen, the Devils offensive players are some of the best defensive forwards going. Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, and Adam Henrique are among the league’s elite right now, and backing them up are the likes of Ryan Clowe, Danius Zubrus, Jacob Josefson, Ryan Carter, and Stephen Gionta. These men are a big reason why the Devils have allowed fewer goals than all but three NHL teams, and fewer shots per game than anyone.

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Dave Turner

Offense

The Devils are finally boasting four lines and it can’t come at a better time. With Patrik Elias and Damien Brunner back in the lineup and Ryane Clowe and Adame Henrique producing, New Jersey now has some of the depth that they had hoped for coming into the season.

Coming into this game, the biggest question mark is at first line left wing. Slated for that spot tomorrow is Jacob Josefson. After being drafted, the Devils had so much hope for the young Swede, but he has struggled to stay in the lineup. Now, he’ll get a chance to play on the top line with Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr. Playing with those two should bring out the best in almost any player’s game and the Devils are hoping that Josefson can slide in easily. He’s a strong two-way player, which should allow him to log the kind of minutes needed to be on the top line, but he’ll have to show some promise to stay with that line throughout the game.

As for the rest, the Henrique-Ryder-Clowe line has been excellent lately. This line brings a lot to the table due to the diversity of their skill sets. In Michael Ryder, there’s a pure goal scorer, someone who can shoot the puck with accuracy from almost anywhere on the ice. Henrique has found a niche playing in front of the net and is making plays. Ryane Clowe has done a nice job of using his size and toughness to win pucks in the corner and create havoc in front of the net.

Not to be forgotten is the line of Stephen Gionta, Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter. This line has a penchant for scoring clutch goals and they certainly know how to score against the Rangers. If the fourth line is able to produce, it’ll make for a much more well-rounded attack.

The Blueshirts have been paced by Rick Nash, who is on fire lately. Mats Zuccarello, who was resigned last season after leaving the club has been a strong addition to the club. Brad Richards and Derek Stepan give the Rangers a great one-two punch down the middle.

The Rangers have five players with double-digit goal totals, but have been a team that has relied on scoring from it’s entire roster. Ryan Callahan is settling in after injuries early in the season and Benoit Pouliot is dangerous as well.

With the ice expected to be slower than the “normal” ice found in a hockey arena, winning battles in the corners and creating traffic in front to bang home a rebound will be crucial for both clubs.

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Jeff OConnor

Special Teams  

Don’t look now…but all of the sudden the new jersey devils have a top-10 power play, checking in at ninth in the league with a conversion rate just under 20 percent. That’s truly working wonders to go along with leading the league in fewest penalty minutes. For what the Devils lack in consistent finish, they certainly make up here.

The PK has stayed sharp really the whole season as they rank 2nd in the circuit. DeBoers ability to trust a majority of his forwards to take care of business on the PK keeps his offensive guns rested with enough energy to play a strong third period.

The Rangers aren’t shabby on the specials either…they are 7th on the PP and 9th in PK. Especially regading the PK…Alain Vigneault should be given a lot of credit in keeping some of the success John Toroltorella had during his tenure in NY.

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Predictions: 

Ryan Jahnke – 3-2 Devils 

Dave Turner – 2-1 Rangers 

Jeff O’Connor – 3-2 Devils (SO)

Our picks vary, but perhaps the most interesting is Jeff’s pick of the Devils winning in a shootout. Considering how bad they’ve been in the skills competition this season, why not break through on the big stage. While Ryan believes that the Devils will do just enough to skate away with a tough one goal lead, Dave picks the Rangers in a low-scoring affair.

Enjoy the game everyone and stay warm!

 

(Resolute/Wikimedia Commons)

Pregame Primer: Game Fifty Two – Devils vs. Capitals

New Jersey Devils vs. Washington Capitals – 7:00 pm EST

Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey

TV: MSG+  Radio: WCBS 880-AM

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Joe Whitney – Travis Zajac – Jaromir Jagr
Ryane Clowe – Adam Henrique – Michael Ryder
Dainius Zubrus – Patrik Elias – Damien Brunner
Ryan Carter – Stephen Gionta – Steve Bernier

Andy Greene – Mark Fayne
Jon Merrill – Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov – Bryce Salvador 

 

Goaltender: Cory Schneider

Some thoughts on tonight’s game:  

1. No Ovi.  That’s right…no Alex Ovechkin tonight for the Capitals.  With the season starting to grind down, every game feels like a must-win for NJ.  With the news that No. 8 will be missing the game, it becomes even more imperative that the Devils walk away with two points tonight.  After his 35 goals, the scoring drops off big time with Joel Ward leading the way with 13 tallies.  Yes, the Caps are still a solid squad without Ovi, but the Devils absolutely need to get this game.  

2. Bad Defense.  The Washington Capitals defense is really bad.     They allow 33.9 shots per game, which is second-worst in the league.  They also allow the 7th most goals per game in the league, at nearly three goals a contest.  The Ovechkin Effect will definitely sway in the Devils favor…one or two goals might be enough tonight.   

3. Beware Neuvirth.  Michal Neuvirth is 4-1-3 with 1 ShO, a 2.06 GAA &  .927 save % in 8 games against New Jersey all-time.  Sometimes goaltenders that the Devils only see every once and a while are the trickiest ones to solve.  

Prediction – Devils 2 Caps 1

It certainly feels like the Devils have some good vibes going for them.  They’ve played really well for a long time now.  With a top player out for the opposition, I’d normally have the gut feeling that they would overlook their opponent and turn in a disappointing performance.  Not tonight.  I think the Devils keep do what they’ve been doing…finding some goals here and there, while limiting their opponents chances to the outside.

Enjoy the game, everyone!

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Pregame Primer: Game Fifty One – Devils vs. Blues

New Jersey Devils vs. St. Louis Blues – 7:00 pm EST

Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey

TV: MSG+  Radio: WFAN 101.9-FM, 660-AM

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Reid Boucher – Travis Zajac – Jaromir Jagr
Ryane Clowe – Adam Henrique – Michael Ryder
Dainius Zubrus – Patrik Elias – Damien Brunner
Ryan Carter – Stephen Gionta – Steve Bernier

Andy Greene – Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador – Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov – Eric Gelinas

Goaltender: Cory Schneider

Some thoughts on tonight’s game:  

1. Very few weaknesses in St. Louis.  They do a lot of things well.  Their goaltending is great.  They don’t allow many shots to begin with and their special teams are both in the Top-5 of the league.  They do take a lot of penalties, however.  They are tied for 26th in the NHL as they average about 13 PIM/game.  The Devils as you know, take the fewest amount of penalties in the league.  Stay out of the box and force St. Louis to tire themselves out.  

2. Seriously…score goals when Cory is in net.  Schneider has been absurd over the last few games with a .966 save percentage and a 0.94 GAA, but just a 2-0-2 mark.    If they can get out to something as realistic as a 2-0 lead, they can lean on Schneider to take them the distance to a victory.  That’s a big if…

3. If you can get ‘em, get ‘em early.  If they don’t, they might pay.  The Blues have a goal differential of +31 in the second period and +27 in the third period.  Both are good enough for first in the entire league.   

Prediction – Blues 3 Devils 1

The Blues simply have no flaws in their game.  For such a great defensive team, they still score a bevy of goals.  They have a model most Devils fans wish their organization could replicate.  I don’t see the Devils playing bad, just see St. Louis pouncing on a few Jersey mistakes.  Who knows though…the Devils always seem to bring their best when they play the best.

Careful if you’re driving in for the game!

Pregame Primer: Game Forty Eight – Devils at Canadiens

New Jersey Devils at Montreal Canadiens – 7:30 pm

Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec

TV: MSG+  Radio: WFAN 101.9-FM, 660-AM

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Dainius Zubrus – Travis Zajac – Jaromir Jagr
Ryane Clowe – Adam Henrique – Michael Ryder
Ryan Carter – Stephen Gionta – Steve Bernier
Reid Boucher – Mike Sislo

Andy Greene – Mark Fayne
Jon Merrill – Marek Zidlicky
Bryce Salvador – Anton Volchenkov – Eric Gelinas

Goaltender: Martin Brodeur

Some thoughts on tonight’s game:  

The Devils visit Montreal in their first road game.

The Devils visit Montreal tonight.

1. Montreal doesn’t score a lot either, but they play great defense.  Yes, the Devils have the fourth-worst offense in the league but the Canadiens are by no means a power house.  They check in at 21st in goals/game with a mark of 2.48.     They might as well be mirror images of each other in the defense department.  The Devils allow 2.34 goals/game while the Habs allow 2.26, with both teams in the Top-6 in that category.  It should be a tight contest.

2. Next two are tough.  The Devils need to play these next two games like they’re do or die.  Montreal is a great team and so is Colorado.  Phoenix will wait after them and while they’ve lost three in a row, they’ve still got a solid record that has them in the hunt.  NJ needs to come away from this road trip with 5-6 points.  Anything less, and they could be in a bit of trouble as we had towards the 50-game mark.  More than 5-6 and life will be pretty good for Pete DeBoer and company. 

3. Seven defensemen a good strategy against a deep Habs team?  I’m not sure how to look at this just yet, but we’ll find out soon enough.  Going with only 11 forwards is going to be tough in the goal scoring department, especially since they don’t score many goals to begin with.  However, the seven defensemen may provide enough breathers to a Devils defense that will go up against an Habs squad that has little dropoff in rolling four lines.  Either way, I think we’ll be able to decide at the end of the game if it was a good/bad decision.

Prediction – Canadiens 2 Devils 1 OT

Montreal has seemed to give them trouble over the last few years.  I think they’ll give a spirited effort, much like in Toronto, and do enough to get a point.  4-on-4 will give them some issues in overtime as the Canadiens are just far too fast.  We’ll see.

Enjoy the game, everyone.

Pregame Primer: Game Forty Four – Devils vs. Flyers

New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers – 7:30 pm

Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey

TV: NBCSN  Radio: WFAN 101.9-FM, 660-AM

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Dainius Zubrus – Travis Zajac – Jaromir Jagr
Ryane Clowe – Adam Henrique – Michael Ryder
Ryan Carter – Stephen Gionta – Steve Bernier
Reid Boucher – Andrei Loktionov – Mike Sislo

Andy Greene – Mark Fayne
Jon Merrill – Marek Zidlicky
Bryce Salvador – Anton Volchenkov

Goaltender: Martin Brodeur

Some thoughts on tonight’s game:  New Jersey Devils v Philadelphia Flyers - Game One

1. Watch out for Giroux.  The last time Devils fans saw Claude Giroux, they were making fun of his goal total because, well, Cam Janssen had more goals than him.  He’s turned the corner, though, and now has eight goals and 20 points in his last 16 games.  As Devils broadcaster Sherry Ross astutely noted, let’s hope Giroux doesn’t “Okposo” the Devils tonight.  That refers to Islanders forward Kyle Okposo scoring an OT goal against Chicago, a day after he was snubbed from the U.S. Olympics men’s hockey team.  Giroux received a similar fate earlier today when he was left off Team Canada’s roster.  Tread lightly, Devils fans.

2. Pretty darn close to a must-win.  As much of a must-win as you can have early in January.  The Devils have sunk to sixth in the Metro Division.  Although they are only four points out of third, Columbus has the same point total as them and the red-hot Isles are only five points behind NJ.  If the Devils fall into a funk, they may find themselves snowballing down the mountain.  A win tonight and they are two points behind the Flyers.  A regulation loss and they’ll be seventh in the division and potentially five points back before they are back on the ice on Thursday. 

3. Marty bounce back?   For two periods against Chicago, Martin Brodeur was in vintage form.  He looked as though he could steal a win from the defending champs on home ice.  Then the third period happened, as he got rung up for four goals.  Now he’ll face a team that he’s dominated in two matchups this season.  He’s stopped nearly 98 percent of pucks sent at him by Flyers skaters.  He’s allowed one goal in two games.  This is certainly a different Flyer team than we saw in October but the Devils know their style and should be negate some of the momentum they come in on, having won seven of their last 10.

Prediction – Devils 3 Flyers 2 OT

The Devils really need this game in the worst way and I think they’ll get it done.  It won’t be pretty and they won’t gain full ground on the Flyers, but it’ll be enough for a victory and for the team to feel good about themselves again.  

We called Reid Boucher’s first goal a few games ago.  It’s time for another prediction: I think Ryane Clowe gets his first marker as a Devil tonight.

Enjoy the game, everyone.

Pregame Primer: Game Forty – Devils at Islanders

New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders – 7:00 pm

Nassau Coliseum  – Uniondale, N.Y.

TV: MSG +2  Radio: WFAN 101.9 fm, 660 am

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Another day, another back-to-back as the New Jersey Devils once again feel the sting of the Olympic schedule.  Tonight the red and black take their game out to the Island to try and rebound from last night’s gut-wrenching, shootout loss to Columbus.  Like the Blue Jackets, the Isles are a team that New Jersey has recently had trouble figuring out.  Though the Devs have only faced NYI once this year, a 4-3 shootout loss at the Rock in the home opener, the Islanders took last year’s series 3-2, even stealing two of those victories in Newark.  Though they’re opponents have been struggling lately, New Jersey can’t take the Islanders lightly, or those pesky New Yorkers in the blue and orange sweaters could happily rack-up a fourth straight against the boys from Brick City.

Some thoughts on tonight’s game:  

1. Bryce Salvador returns.  For more than two months and 30 games, the Devils have been without Bryce Salvador, their Captain and the strong foundation of their defense.  Tonight, all of that changes as #24 comes back, strong and healthy.  Not yet sure what this will mean in terms of pairings.  Historically, Sal has been at his best when paired with faster, offensive defensemen like Andy Greene and Marek Zidlicky, but he also has played quite a bit with Mark Fayne and I know that both Scott Stevens and Pete DeBoer would breathe a little easier if Salvador was out there to support one of their two rookie D-men.  There are strong cases to be made for any of several possibilities, but you can be sure that whomever Bryce is paired with, that line will see a strong and smart defensive performance, albeit with a cautious approach to their ice-time.

2. One captain comes back, while another leaves.  For the first time in 245 games, the Islanders will have to face the prospect of winning without their superstar center, John Tavares. The Isles’ Captain will be out of the lineup for tonight’s game, and possibly for a while with an unspecified lower-body injury.  This could just be a precautionary move by the team to protect their centerpiece, but with Tavares’ reputation as an ironman, the fans could be forgiven for holding their breath until they know a little more.  John Tavares is, for my money, one of the best players in the world right now, and was my pick for MVP last year.  I do hope he comes back soon, as the game is always more fun when you get to watch a player of his caliber.  For tonight, however, the Devils have to focus on taking advantage this opportunity.  The Islanders are a team that has trouble producing, and will likely have even more trouble without their team leader in assists, not to mention every other offensive category.  If the Devils can pounce on them and get an early lead, I don’t see the Isles finding a way to fight back.

3. Time for some new heroes.  The first meeting of the season between these two teams saw 2 goals from Damien Brunner on the New Jersey side, and a clutch one-on-one goal over Martin Brodeur in the sixth round of the shootout by Matt Moulsen to seal the victory for NYI. But tonight, things are going to look a little bit different. Brunner’s still sidelined, Corey Schneider is getting the start since Marty played last night, and Moulsen is now wearing Buffalo blue, after an early-season trade sent John Tavares’ favorite wingman up north in exchange for Thomas Vanek.  Who will be the hero tonight?  Will it be a veteran like Patrik Elias or Jaromir Jagr or a returning player like Ryan Clowe or Bryce Salvador that leads to a win for New Jersey, or will a Frans Nielsen or Evgeni Nabokov step-up for the Islanders in the absence of their Captain to continue their winning streak against the Devs?

Prediction – Devils 4 – Islanders 2

Even without Tavares, the Islanders are a talented team.  Evgeni Nabokov is still a good netminder, and players like Kyle Okposo, Nielsen, and Vanek can hurt a team on any night.  However, they have no experience playing without their top-gun in John Tavares, and will probably look a little lost having no time to get used to the situation.  Even after a typical slow start from New Jersey, the Devils will be able to wear down the New York with constant pressure and break through for several goals, taking this game from Isles, on the Island.

Enjoy the game, everyone.

Pregame Primer: Game Thirty Nine – Devils vs. Jackets

New Jersey Devils vs. Columbus Blue Jackets – 7:00 pm

Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey

TV: MSG+   Radio: WFAN 660-AM

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Dainius Zubrus – Travis Zajac – Jaromir Jagr
Mattias Tedenby – Patrik Elias – Steve Bernier
Reid Boucher – Adam Henrique – Michael Ryder
Ryane Clowe – Andrei Loktionov – Stephen Gionta

Andy Greene – Mark Fayne
Eric Gelinas – Marek Zidlicky 
Anton Volchenkov – Jon Merrill

Goaltender: Martin Brodeur

Some thoughts on tonight’s game:  Patrik Elias

1. The return of Clowe and Loktionov.  After missing 32 games, Ryane Clowe is back in the lineup for New Jersey.  A commendable job by Pete DeBoer with this situation as well, he’s inserted Clowe on the 4th line, instead of disrupting some of the chemistry we’ve seen the top three lines create over the last few weeks.  Letting Clowe work his way back against NHL competition, but in short doses, is the way to go.  He’ll have some speed with him tonight with Andrei Loktionov back.  Mix Clowe’s grit with Loktionov’s speed and Stephen Gionta’s heart, and maybe this 4th line can be something of note.

2.  Special Teams.  The Devils have the 4th worst power play in the league when they are at The Rock.  The Jackets have the 5th worst penalty kill when they are away from Columbus.  Considering both squads have proved to me middle-of-the-road teams thus far, this could play a big role.

3. Curtis McElhinney.  The Columbus goaltender has not been great his last few games.  He has allowed three or more in three of his last four contests.  In fact, he gave up four scores against this same Devils team back on December 10.  In those three games where he gave up at least three goals, he saw 30 or more shots thrown his way.  Pepper him early and often and make him crack.

Prediction – Devils 5 Blue Jackets 2

After suffering some really tough defeats in Columbus, especially the most recent one, I see the Devils just beating the tar out of this Blue Jackets team.  The Devils have never lost to the Blue Jackets at home.  There’s no way they are losing to this team for a third straight time.

Enjoy the game, everyone.

Pregame Primer: Game Thirty-Eight – Devils at Blackhawks

New Jersey Devils at Chicago Blackhawks – 8:00 pm

United Center, Chicago, Illinois

TV: MSG+ 2  Radio: WCBS 880-AM

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Dainius Zubrus – Travis Zajac – Jaromir Jagr
Mattias Tedenby – Patrik Elias – Steve Bernier
Reid Boucher – Adam Henrique – Michael Ryder
Jacob Josefson – Stephen Gionta – Cam Janssen

Andy Greene – Mark Fayne
Eric Gelinas – Marek Zidlicky 
Anton Volchenkov – Jon Merrill

Goaltender: Cory Schneider

Some thoughts on tonight’s game:  

1. The element of surprise?  These two teams haven’t squared off since late March of 2012 and the Blackhawks marek-zidlicky-mulhollandjpg-7cc91b25ddd83cd3haven’t beaten the Devils since April 2, 2010.  Unfortunately for the Devils, that Hawks are 9-1-2 against the East this season.  However, maybe that number begins to even out over the course of the year?

2. Huge advantage if the Devils are on the PP.  As unbelievable as the Blackhawks are this season, they do have one big flaw; their penalty kill at the United Center.  They are dead last in the league at 72.7 percent.  This is not the case of a small sample size; their road PK is under 78 percent.  For whatever reason, the Devils power play on the road is miles better than it is at home.  Away from the Pru, they are connecting at a 23.4 percent rate, good enough for 4th in the league.  Maybe they’re more focused, there’s less pressure, or something else, but whatever it is, that’s one major area where the Devils have a leg up on the Hawks.

3. Need success from bottom two lines.  The Top-6 of the Hawks is ridiculous.  You know the names…Kane, Toews, Hossa, Sharp, Shaw, Saad.  Now, the Devils top two lines will have their share of scoring chances but it’s hard to imagine them dictating the pace of play when those quality players are on the ice.  Therefore, the Adam Henrique line and the Stephen Gionta line need to outplay their opposition on a high majority of their shifts.  If they can produce some chances and maybe even some goals, that would go a long way in getting the the Devils a victory.

Prediction – Blackhawks 4 Devils 2

I do think the Devils will be up for this game and will stick with them.  I see it as a pretty closely played contest with Chicago potting an empty netter at the end, in turn, making the game look a little bit more one-sided.  If the Devils got any amount of points tonight, I think that would be considered a good evening.

Enjoy the game, everyone.

Pregame Primer: Game Thirty Seven – Devils at Capitals

New Jersey Devils at Washington Capitals – 7:00 pm

Verizon Center – Washington, D.C.

TV: MSG  Radio: WFAN 101.9 fm, 660 am

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No rest for the weary as the New Jersey Devils make their way down to D.C. for their first meeting of the season with their new divisional foe, the Washington Capitals.  All this the day after losing at home in overtime to the Anaheim Ducks and local-boy Kyle Palmieri.  But, despite failing to claim the second point in last night’s affair, the Red and Black are going to come into Nation’s Capital with their heads held high.  New Jersey has been playing some terrific hockey.  Their goaltending and team play in the D-Zone are as reliable as anyone could have hoped for, but right now it’s their offense that has been steering the ship, outscoring opponents 12-8 in the last 4 games, with contributions from up and down the bench.

Unfortunately, all those goals haven’t always translated to wins.  The Devils are 3-4-2 in the month of December, and are still one game below NHL .500 on the season at 14-15-7.  Their opponents, on the other hand, are enjoying a good and high scoring year, particularly at home, which has brought them to second place in the Metropolitan Division.  As usual, The Caps are led by their bonafide superstars in Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, with 40 and 41 points, respectively.  But, don’t think that these are their only two threats.  The Capitals have a much more balanced offense than they had in years past.  With 5 players at 20 or more points across 3 lines, scoring can come from anywhere.

Some thoughts on tonight’s game:  

1. First goal.  It’s a little obvious, but it’s still worth mentioning.  Washington is a high-scoring, fast-paced team, with a strong 12-7-0 record at home.  If the Devils are going to be successful in tonight’s game, they’re going to have to make sure to quiet that D.C. crowd early and not let Washington get rolling.  It also would be nice for New Jersey to have a quick cushion when playing against a team that has scored 26 more goals than the Devils this season.

2. No Damien Brunner.  In a night where New Jersey will need as many goals as they can get, they’ll have to get them without their hottest goal scorer.  The knee-injury that Damien Brunner sustained in last night’s game will not require surgery, but it will cost the Swiss winger 4 weeks.  There’s never a good time for an injury, but this has to be all the more frustrating for Brunner who had finally shaken off that long 17 game slump to go on a tear, with 4 goals and an assist in his last 5 games.

3. Marty vs. Ovi.  It’s always exciting to see these fire and ice matchups; the unstoppable force and the immovable object.  That is what you have every time the greatest of all time in Martin Brodeur goes up against one of the best scorers of this, or any, age in Alexander Ovechkin.  This being their first matchup of the season, it’s anybody’s guess as to how things will go.  Historically, the Devils and Brodeur have played Ovechkin well, however it was just last year that a struggling Alex the Great came alive against the Devils; a game that served as the catalyst for one of the better seasons in his amazing career.

Prediction – Devils 4 – Capitals 3

The strength of the Capitals offense cannot be ignored, but the Devils defense might just have the answer.  The Devils have been stingy, only allowing more than 3 goals 7 times this season, and several of those games occurred during the disastrous beginning that the Devils endure this year.  It’s clear that they’re not the same team anymore.  And, while the Caps’ offense is great, their defense is still suspect.  With the Devils playing the way that they are, the Caps are going to need a great performance from Braden Holtby to keep the Devils from stealing one in their house.

Enjoy the game, everyone.