Friday, March 30, 2007


Game: Philadelphia @ Devils, 7 of 8

Tonight, the New Jersey Devils return home in what is actually their final game this month. They face the Flyers of Philadelphia.

Local TV: Fox Sports NY
Local Radio: WFAN, 660 AM
Devils Record Vs. Philadelphia: 5-0-1 Preview
Additional Previews: The Beast in the East

The Devils tried, but lost it on defense and some shaky goaltending in the third period against Buffalo on Wednesday. However, the Devils get a good chance to end this month on a winning note against the Flyers. Yes, the Devils lost their last 5 road games; but with a now healthy Patrik Elias, David Clarkson acclimating himself on the top line, having something to play for, and the possible return of John Madden, the game is in New Jersey's favor.

Yes, you read that right, John Madden may return tonight. In Rich Chere's article in today's Star Ledger, Madden had this to say:
"I feel ready to play. I feel no pain," Madden said. "I think if it was a different time of year, if we were in the playoffs, I would've probably made the choice to come back earlier. But if I came back and got hurt, I'd probably miss the first week of the playoffs. (Waiting) was the smart thing to do."
The Devils sorely miss their top checking center, a player who is skilled at taking the puck away or taking a loose puck and turning it into an odd-man rush. His speed and defensive abilities would have been great against Buffalo, but I'm happy to hear he feels ready to return. That said, head coach Claude Julien expressed some legitimate concern in Chere's article:
"We'll see. We'll make that decision (today)," Julien said. "He said he felt good after skating, but we'll see how he feels in the morning. We're not going to take chances with John Madden. If he plays, it's going to be because he's 100 percent."
To be fair, he's got a point. Madden may need to skate a little more to reduce the risk of re-injuring his groin. It's not as if he will be vital for the Devils to beat the Flyers. On the other hand, I'm a believer in listening to a player concerning their health - they know their own bodies better than I possibly could. If Madden says he's ready to return, then he's probably ready.

Now, when Brian Gionta is eligible to come off injured reserve, it's going to lead to an interesting set of problems. It will mean a couple players will have to go back to Lowell for salary cap purposes. Likely Rod Pelley at the least. Does David Clarkson stay up with the club? I personally feel he's earned a spot on the team definitely next season and I certainly wouldn't mind having him in the playoffs. But who goes down? Cam Janssen would be my choice, but it's up to Lou on this one.

Getting back to the game, the Flyers have one of the worst - the worst, in fact - records in the entire NHL. Yet, they raise their level of play whenever they play New Jersey. The result has been some very close and hard fought games. However, today's game is different. The Flyers are playing only for pride at this point. With Pittsburgh's win over Boston last night, the Devils are now two points behind the Penguins for the division lead. Home ice is valuable in the playoffs and the Devils should keep that in mind in upcoming games. The #2 seed and the Atlantic Division title could come down to the wire at the end of the season, short of either team completely flopping in April. This means the Devils should be playing with a purpose; let me elaborate.

This means the Devils should establish their dominance over Philadelphia. This means lots of shots on Martin Biron, this means a strong forecheck (like the Islander game from Tuesday, more of that please, coach Julien), this means aggressive power plays, and this means a consistent defense. I don't want to hear complaints about how difficult the Devils make it with their low-scoring ways and how certain Devils should be scoring more. It's been this way all season and the Devils won 45 games with these methods. It's not going to change. Even if the Devils had the ability to drop 5-6 goals on an opponent now and then, it doesn't excuse leaving opposing forwards wide open on odd-man rushes. It doesn't excuse positioning yourself in front of Martin Broduer, creating a screen; nor does it excuse leaving opposing forwards alone to screen Brodeur or go for a rebound. If the defense is solid for all 60 minutes, the Devils will have a good chance to win this one.

Speaking of the defense, the Devils need to be aware of when the Flyer's leading scorer, Simon Gagne (37G, 23A), is on the ice. If there's one player that the Devils need to keep an eye on it's him. He's productive, he's very skilled, and he can turn this game around in a hurry if left to do whatever he wants. Having seen him more than 5 times this season, the Devils probably know about him. That said, if anyone needs to be shadowed, it'll be Gagne.

This is a game the Devils should win. The two points would put them back into the Atlantic Division lead, end an otherwise disappointing month, and bring some momentum into the upcoming end of the season. The Flyers are not that good; but if past games are any indication, they will play the Devils close again in another fairly intense game. The Devils have won most of those games, however; and with a nearly healthy full lineup for New Jersey, they can beat the Flyers again. GO DEVILS.

ASIDE FROM THE GAME: If you read the paper or went to the official New Jersey Devils website, you can buy playoff tickets. Score.

Also, I added a new Devils blog to the sidebar: The Beast of the East. It's run by Tibbs, who has been a fan since 1999. He's got game previews, recaps, and links to all Devils-related news. Even in the Lowell Devils get covered. He even has a preview for tonight's game. It's still new, but it looks lot of good work from Tibbs.


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