Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Rd. 2, Game 4: Devils @ Ottawa

The New Jersey Devils will have a chance to tie up the series a second time in Ottawa when they play the Senators in Game 4 tonight.

National TV: Versus (HD)
Local Radio: 660 AM, WFAN
Ottawa Leads the Series 2-1 Preview

In my view, the Devils need to play the complete opposite how they did in Game 3. Well, check that, everyone not named Martin Brodeur needs to have a complete 180-degree turnaround in their games. Brodeur is more than welcome to stop Ottawa all night long. The penalty killing units are also welcome to prevent Ottawa from setting up their power play.

On defense, positioning is not enough, the Devils defenders need to get in Ottawa's face. This means not standing around and letting the Senators control the puck in New Jersey's end. I'm not looking for hits on every play, but the Devils need force the Senators forwards to make decisions prior to them setting up. Close down on the skater and have them force the puck blindly into the slot and in the corner. Being more "hungry" along the boards will definitely help in winning possession there; since most battles for the puck against the glass really comes down to desire. With respect to tonight's game, Tom Gulitti's blog has noted that the Devils held a full practice yesterday; and Johnny Oduya may return to the line up. While Richard Matvichuk was a big and consistent factor against Tampa Bay, he hasn't been a consistent one against Ottawa so far this series. It isn't an idea I'm completely against.

For the forwards, they need to show up among other things. They need to play with something resembling urgency and fire, two things they lacked in Game 3. This applies for all four lines, not just one or two. More than anything, I'd like to see some effort on offense rather than playing passively and hoping for a brilliant gaffe by the Ottawa Senators. That leads me to something else I think the Devils need to do on offense: stop passing the puck so much. We saw this in Games 2 and 3 where the Devils forwards would literally pass up a good shooting opportunity. In those cases, if those passes go through, the chance for scoring goes from good to glorious. But the vast, vast majority of those passes - blindly throwing the puck into the slot, drop passes to no one, cross-ice passes from sideboard to sideboard, etc. - did not get through cleanly or otherwise. Clearly, the Ottawa Senators defense has done a great job at blocking passing and shooting lanes - making it more crucial to take any opportunities possible.

As an added note, a commenter (Ethan, in the post-Game 3 post) noted that Emery has been giving up huge rebounds. I completely agree and I think it's high-time Brian Gionta returns to his rightful place of creating havok in the slot. Unless I'm mistaken, I haven't seen Gionta do that much and with Emery not handling the puck particularly well, I think there's definitely opportunities for goals. It's worth a shot. I've also noticed that Emery isn't very fast in terms of lateral movement; but I think the Devils offense needs to improve in taking shots (both in selection and execution) before specifically trying to get Emery moving left-to-right and vice versa. If they can do it, great. That said, the offense needs to work real hard and play with desire above all else.

This leads me to what I want to see head coach Lou Lamoriello do during the game: I would like to see him abandon matching lines if they are failing during the game. The checking line of Jay Pandolfo, John Madden, and Sergei Brylin have been a solid unit all year long. Yet, they have not been as effective in shutting down the other team's top line in the first round series against Tampa Bay and now against Ottawa. If Pandolfo, Madden, and Brylin are getting burned by Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, and Jason Spezza; then it's time to stop matching the two lines up at every opportunity. I understand that matching lines has been a successful strategy this season for New Jersey. However, from where I sit, continuing to match lines where it does not favor New Jersey makes no sense regardless of how well it has done in the past.

Above all of this, I'd like to see the Devils give an improved performance tonight. Losing this game brings the Devils into a precarious position in the series. Coming back down 3-1 to win 4-3 against Ottawa is incredibly unlikely. Tonight, they have a chance to tie up this series, avoid this fate, and begin to turn things around in their favor. I certainly hope they succeed, but they need to bring their "A" games to do so. GO DEVILS!

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