Across the frozen tundra . . . Ooops, sorry. Looked outside and thought I was watching NFL Films and Lambeau Field for a moment. My mistake. . .
The New Jersey Devils invade Nationwide tonight, having won 4 of their last 5, including wins over Ottawa, Montreal, St. Louis, and the N.Y. Rangers, scoring 4 goals in each of those contests. The Devils sport a very strong 12 – 7 -2 record on the road this year, but are only batting .500 vs Western Conference teams in 8 starts, and are 3 – 3 – 0 vs. the West on the road. In contrast, the Jackets are 7 – 1 -1 vs. the East this year, and are 4 – 1 at home against the right coasters.
Playing the Devils is all about stopping their top forwards. Patrik Elias and Zack Parise each have 50 points coming into this game, with Parise evenly splitting his total, 25 goals and 25 assists. He is also +16 for the year Brian Gionta, Travis Zajic and Jamie Langenbrunner all have 30 points. They bring speed and skill to every shift, and will present our defense with a big challenge.
Scott Clemmenson has filled in admirably for the injured Brodeur, carrying a record of 16-9-1, with a 2.4 GAA and .918 save percentage. The Devils have 53 points through 43 games, good for the 6th spot in the East.
This will be a challenging game, but the teams match up much more closely than you might think. The Devils and Jackets are 7 and 8 in the league in Goals Agains, are 2 and 3 in the league in 5 vs. 5 scoring, 15 and 19 in penalty kill. The Devils average 1 more shot per game than the Jackets, but also surrender 1 more per game. They have a .35 edge in Goals Per game, but that largely disappears if you focus on recent history. Their power play has clicked 18% of the time, to only 11% for us. Still, a close tale of the tape.
Nash will be out tonight, as the team is trying to be cautious about bringing him back too soon. Tollefson will return and take Backman’s place in the lineup tonight. Look for Modin to join Malhotra and Huselius on the top line, with the Goats II line of Voracek, Peca and Filatov staying intact. Torres and Umberger will be on a line, probably joined by Boll or MacDonald, with Williams, Dorsett filling out the fourth line with the remaining forward.
Keys for tonight:
1. Promote Frustration — Hitch-Hockey needs to be the order of the night, disrupting flow in the neutral zones, keeping their wings to the outside, providing support in the middle and down low, hard checking and a strong fore-check. We don’t want to get in a free-wheeling, end-to-end sprint with these guys.
2. Puck Possession — We have been doing a great job recently of cycling, keeping pucks in the zone, and tiring the opposition out in their zone. We need to keep doing that tonight.
3. Cash In — If we do #1 and #2, we will have plenty of scoring chances. Take advantage of them!
4. Stonewall Mason – Just doing my part to keep this nickname going . . . Mase needs to be large in net, as he has been, and add to the NJ frustration factor. He has had a couple of days to rest, so hopefully has his batteries fresh.
5. Special Teams — Continue our strong play on the PK, and don’t lose focus when we have offensive opportunities. Let’s see how Jason Williams looks with Russell at the point on the PP.
Two of the best 5 vs. 5 teams in the league getting it on tonight, so it should be a good one. Last home game before the All Star break, so let’s get everyone there, and make some noise!!