Thursday, March 22, 2007


Game: Devils @ Tampa Bay, 4 of 4

The New Jersey Devils continue their road trip through Florida, as they play the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight.

Local TV: Fox Sports NY 2
Local Radio: 660 AM, WFAN
Devils' Record Vs. Lightning: 1-1-1 Preview

The New Jersey Devils have been struggling as of late. What's more is that Erik Rasmussen seems to be day-to-day and it's possible he may not even play tonight. Rich Chere's article in today's Star Ledger featured Lou discussing the recent injury woes. It's big of Lou to be with Rasmussen, taking him back to New Jersey for re-evaluation. The good news is that the Devils do have cap space to make another call up from the Lowell Devils should they need a forward. At least New Jersey will have 12 forwards tonight. The Devils didn't practice, which I suppose makes sense, as to avoid further fatigue and injury.

Now, the Devils lost their last 2 games in regulation the first time since December; but David Clarkson and Martin Brodeur are (somewhat) upbeat, Chere not so much:
The depleted Devils did not practice yesterday. Their two straight losses mark the first back-to-back defeats in regulation time since a three-game skid Dec. 12-16.

"We're missing those guys a lot," Clarkson said, "but we have a good enough team that we should be all right."

Of their remaining nine games, five are against clubs battling to make the playoffs or improve their position. The Devils face the Lightning, Sabres, Senators and Islanders twice. They also have games against the Panthers, Bruins and two with the Flyers.

"We've turned the corner now. Nine games to the playoffs," goalie Martin Brodeur said.

They aren't sure what lurks behind that corner.

Well, the Preview is very helpful in that regard. The Tampa Bay Lightning are in the same boat as the Devils with respect to recent performances - they haven't played well. They started March leading the Southeast Division. A 4-5-0 run later and they are holding on to the sixth playoff spot with the Rangers (1 point behind) and Carolina (2 points behind) biting at their heels. Before their recent 4-3 win against Boston, the Lightning got demolished by the Washington Capitals to the tune of 7-1. Their win against the Bruins stopped a three game losing streak, but they are from out of the woods just yet due to their situation in the standings.

Now, the Devils gave a good effort against Toronto, but the offense really could have done more. The Devils will need to exploit the Tampa Bay defense at all opportunities and this requires more good work from all the players. Yes, even Jay Pandolfo, Rod Pelley, and Erik Rasmussen (or his replacement) need to put shots on net against the likely starter for Tampa Bay, Johan Holmqvist. The team didn't do that enough against Toronto and I think that hurt them. It's never good when the number of missed shots is almost as much as shots on net.

The power play needs to be better. I understand the Devils have gotten burnt on the wrong end on the man advantage, surrendering 11 shorthanded goals. Perhaps this is why they have been so tentative and timid. If anything, it's been holding the offense back. I'm not expecting all of them to have at least 3 shots on net or a goal for each opportunity; but the Devils offense really needs to assert itself and make it seem that they are a threat. My suggestion how to improve both of these problems - a lackluster power play and under-performing shot count - is to keep things simple. I see way too many fancy cross ice passes or decisions on odd-man rushes to look for the pass. A much better idea would be to keep the passes short; don't take risks with shots; and have at least one non-puck carrying forward to drive the net. This way when a shot is taken, a Devil can be there to put home a rebound. A big rebound let up by Andrew Raycroft allowed Travis Zajac to score the only goal for New Jersey against Toronto; I don't see how it can be worse than current strategy of taking long shots and forcing shots through screens.

The defense and Martin Brodeur, thankfully, are healthy and have done well against Toronto on Tuesday. They'll need a big game tonight as they need to stifle the Lightning's two most dangerous players: Vincent Lecavalier (49 G, 48 A) and Martin St. Louis (39 G, 55 A). These two can not be left uncovered for too long and they can not be allowed to dictate the pace of the game. Stopping these two should be of the utmost importance. This isn't to say they are the only threats. Brad Richards (24 G, 42 A) is still a skilled play making center who can cause damage - especially on the power play with his 12 power play goals. Dan Boyle (16 G, 42 A) is been excellent on the point for Tampa Bay all season, the Devils will need to be cautions when the puck is moved to him - especially on the power play. Vaclav Prospal (12 G, 38 A) will likely suit up on either of the Lightning's top two lines, he could light things up if left unchecked as well. To summarize all this, the Lightning are very potent up front and New Jersey's defense will need to be on point. So does Martin Brodeur's game, but it's Brodeur and that's really just expected and will likely be on point regardless of opinion.

The Devils have another challenge tonight. Another team who is looking to secure their trip to the post season on their home ice. The Devils can take solace in the fact that Tampa Bay hasn't played all that great either this month and perhaps the Devils can take advantage. Scoring first would give New Jersey a big boost and allow them to set the tone of the game. Personally, I think this is vital since the Devils could use all the momentum they can get. Hopefully, they do that thing and go on to win the game. Even if they don't score first, at least from the Toronto game we know that they won't necessarily mail it in afterwards. GO DEVILS!

LATE UPDATE: A quick look at today's roster on the New Jersey Devils roster (at their official site) has a new greyed out name: Tuomas Pihlman. Apparently, he has been called up to replace Erik Rasmussen for tonight's game. Rasmussen's been playing mainly on the fourth line this season, though he was moved up to the third line. It's my understanding that Pihlman is checking forward; so the move makes sense to me. I don't know if the Devils can call anyone else up anymore, but I suppose that bridge can be crossed if it comes.


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