Saturday, February 03, 2007


Game: Buffalo @ Devils, 2 of 4

The Buffalo Sabres come to the Continental Airlines Arena as the first of six straight home games for the New Jersey Devils.

Local TV: Fox Sports NY
Local Radio: 660 AM, WFAN
Devils Record Vs. Sabres: 0-1-0 Preview

I'll start this preview off by stating the obvious. The New Jersey Devils defensemen need to bring their A game tonight. Tom Gulitti's article in today's Bergen Record notes this and head coach Claude Julien is aware of the defensive lapses. The team as a whole got the day off yesterday, which makes sense, as they had to do a lot in their last few games. They will need to be well-rested for this one. Gulitti notes that the Sabres lead the NHL in scoring, averaging 3.64 goals per game. Amazingly, the Sabres are not that great on special teams with the 19th best power play (16.7% efficient) and 19th best penalty killing units (81.7% success) in the NHL. In other words, the Sabres score a majority of their goals in even strength situations. They're fast, they're talented, and they love to cause a lot of chaos down low around the goaltender.

Brian Rafalski, Brad Lukowich, Colin White, Johnny Oduya, David Hale, and Paul Martin need to show up otherwise even Martin Brodeur standing on his head may not be enough. They have to contend with the likes of Daniel Briere (21 G, 44 A), Chris Drury (29 G, 22 A), Maxim Afinogenov (21 G, 34 A), Thomas Vanek (25 G, 26 A), Jason Pominville (23 G, 19 A), and Derek Roy (9 G, 26 A). No disrespect to Ales Kotalik (10 G, 24 A), but that's two lines filled with players who have put up at least 35 points so far this season. The Madden unit is going to have a hell of a time trying to limit the Briere unit; and I openly wonder which forward line will be matched up with their second line (I assume Briere is on Buffalo's top line) because they can clearly score as well.

Just to hammer home the emphasis on defense, here's a couple of key statements from Gulitti's column:

Regardless, they'd probably have to beat the Sabres at some point this season to achieve their goal of winning the fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history. They're not going to do that, however, playing defense the way they have in the last week.

The Devils have allowed 13 goals in their past three games after allowing the same number in their previous nine contests. Penalty killing has been a strength for the Devils all season, but they've dropped to eighth in the league after allowing six power-play goals over the past three games.

"It's a number of things," Julien said. "Obviously, we've got to be better around our net. We're probably giving up more quality chances than we have, but also our discipline has got to be a little better – not just discipline about penalties, but discipline including things that we were doing well and we're getting away from a little bit."

Indeed. The Sabres are coming off two straight wins over Boston, a decisive 3-1 win after a trouncing to the tune of 7-1. The perfect antidote to losing three straight games. As far as who is who, Ryan Miller is expected to start tonight for the Sabres. Miller has played very well this season with a record of 24-10-3 with 1 shutout, a GAA of 2.70 and a save percentage of 91.2%. Martin Biron was in net for the two recent Buffalo wins, so I'm a bit puzzled as to why he's not starting tonight. Regardless, Miller will provide an ample challenge for the Devils offense.

Fortunately, the Devils have been scoring goals as of late, putting up 10 goals in their last two games. The second line is finally back. Travis Zajac finally scored against the Flyers, and he even put up a second one. Jamie Langenbrunner took some shots that not only were on net but one even went in. Zach Parise came through in the clutch with a late equalizer to put the game into overtime. Patrik Elias has also been prevalent in the production of goals, as he had one goal and two assists - the most important one dishing the puck off to Rafalski whose shot was tipped in for the game winner. With respect to tonight's game, they should keep up the scoring as they have been doing. It helps New Jersey win the game (obviously) and could provide the defense and Brodeur a much-needed cushion against a high-scoring team such as the Buffalo Sabres. It will be vital if the Devils go down early, if only to keep pace with them much less trying to win the game.

Needless to say, it's going to be a tough one for the Devils tonight. They will have emotions on their side. In addition to being the 1st anniversary of Stevens Night (which I wrote at length from a personal point of view below), the 1994-1995 New Jersey Devils are being honored tonight. They won the Devils' first ever Stanley Cup by sweeping the Detroit Red Wings. The Gulitti article points out some names as to who will be there: Tommy Albelin (a.k.a. Scotty Swedens), Valeri Zelepukin, Tom Chorske, Ken Daneyko, Bruce Driver, Chris McAlpine, Randy McKay, Mike Peluso, and Scott Stevens. That's a cavalcade of Devils on hand to be honored. I guess Stevens actually being there that negates that post below where I didn't expect to be a lot remembered of that night. The crowd will be pumped, likely the Devils (namely Brodeur, Sergei Brylin, and Jim Dowd - who were all on that team) will be pumped as well.

Perhaps it will be enough to make the difference. GO DEVILS!


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