The New Jersey Devils take on the Toronto Maple Leafs for their first game this month.
GAMETIME: 7:30 PM EST
Local TV: Fox Sports NY
Local Radio: 660 AM, WFAN
Devils' Record Vs. Toronto: 2-0-0NHL.com Preview
It's been a long, long time since we saw the last of the Toronto Maple Leafs. November 18, 2006, the Devils won 2-1 and here was my recap of the game.
A lot has changed since then. Back in November, the Devils were inconsistent - highlighted by a brutal west coast trip - and seemingly winning games mostly on Martin Brodeur's performance. Though, that night, the Devils were the superior team (also the winning team). Now the Devils are firmly at the top of the Atlantic Division with a 9 point lead over Pittsburgh, who defeated the Rangers last night in a shootout in an entertaining game. Yes, I watched it, and yes, Sam Rosen and Al Trautwig are really bad at commentating.
Toronto, isn't doing so well as of late. They're sitting in 10th place with 3 points behind 8th place Montreal. They're in another fight to make the playoffs and have lost four of their last five games, which certainly doesn't help their cause. While the Devils held the Pittsburgh Penguins scoreless in a 1-0 victory on Tuesday, the Buffalo Sabres dropped a hammer of goals on the Maple Leafs to the tune of 6-1. The Maple Leafs aren't doing too well and could be a bit desparate tonight. March is such a crucial month for the bubble teams in the Eastern Conference (Atlanta, Islanders, Montreal, Carolina, Toronto, Rangers); so any games against either of those teams should be approached with caution. They need the points much more than New Jersey, who should have no problem clinching at least playoff spot in March.
Toronto will get a boost up front as they have added Yanic Perreault to their roster. Perreault has 19 goals and 14 assists so far this season from Phoenix and is one of the best faceoff takers in the league, winning 62.6% of his draws (best in the league, Rod Brind'Amour is second with a 59.4% success rate). So the Devils should be wary about icing the puck or going offsides too much. Perreault, more likely than not, will win a crucial faceoff that either has Toronto keeping possession deep on offense or get possession of the puck and turn it into an offensive possession. Obvious, yes; but it's worth noting. Especially if the game is close and the Maple Leafs get a faceoff close to Brodeur.
As far as the Devils go, they are 5-2 with Brian Gionta, which is a very good thing. The best teams not only find ways to win games when things aren't going their way, but also when their top players aren't available. The stepping up of the Parise-Zajac-Langenbrunner unit has helped tremendously. When will Gionta return? According to Rich Chere's article in today's Star Ledger, he's questionable.
I wouldn't hold my breath, personally. Groin injuries are tricky ones to heal from and as we saw with Scott Gomez earlier this season, returning too quickly could lead injuring the groin again and being out injured even longer. All the same, if the Devils keep up what they have done recently, albeit with a more threatening power play and a lot less sloppy passing, they should be fine for this game. The key in this month is simply to continue doing what has made the Devils successful in the last 2 months or so.
As far as defense goes, they should keep an eye on Mats Sundin. He's the captain, the team's leading scorer with 26 goals and 32 assists, and often the "guy" on offense. Expect to see John Madden and hit linemates company swarm this guy all game long. The defensemen tonight should be ready to block some hard shots. Tomas Kaberle (9 G, 40 A) and Bryan McCabe (11 G, 35 A) are not just Toronto's top pairing on defense, but two incredibly potent offensive players from the point - they can beat you with the pass, pinching in to bring an extra attacker in he slot, or with a rocket from the blueline. If they do pinch, I should hope the Devils pick up on that, quickly gain possession, and start counter-attacking as soon as possible. Andrew Raycroft, tonight's expected starter against the Devils, is not a brick wall. He is beatable, as his 2.98 GAA and 89.5% save percentage can attest to. He has also been beaten recently, as he was pulled two periods into the Carolina game after giving up four goals. The Devils should just pound Raycroft with shots, they'll get through.
In summary, the Devils should really do what they can to make the Maple Leafs miserable. Their last game was a 6-1 loss to Buffalo, they have won one game in their last five, and the Devils are in a position to really rain on their parade further. A good win helps them retain their Atlantic Division lead at the least (Pittsburgh does play Carolina tonight) and further carries their confidence as the month begins. GO DEVILS!
Labels: Devils Game