Game 22 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Ottawa Senators - 11/25/2009

The Time: 7 PM EST

The Broadcasting Info: MSG+2 for the TV, 660 AM WFAN for the radio

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (14-6-1) vs. the Ottawa Senators (12-6-3)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils went down early, tied it up at 3, and then let it all slip away to lose to Dallas 5-3.  The result marks the team's third straight winless game, earning a total of one point on the road last week.  I recapped the game as such.

The Last Senators Game:  The Senators continue their hot streak with a win over Washington. Tell me if you heard this before: the Senators rose up from a two goal deficit in the third period to tie it and then win it all in overtime. They have now won 4 straight games and have taken the Northeast Division lead - for now.  Peter R recapped the game at Silver Seven.

The Last Devils-Senators Game:  The Devils were in the middle of a hot streak - four straight and undefeated on the road - going into Ottawa on November 7.  The Senators struck first and second, but the Devils amazingly scored three power play goals to win the game.  Here is Peter R's take at Silver Seven, and my recap of the game.

The Goal: Remain focused.  The Devils scored first against Dallas, but lost their focus along the way in the first period.  After the 20 minute mark, they were down 3-1.  The Devils battled back in the second period to get one back and then got an equalizer in the third period.  Yet, a few minutes later, Dallas jumped on the Devils. The Devils became sloppier in their own end and in moving the puck, and the Stars got their chance to not only re-take the lead but put an exclamation mark on the win.   Focus is crucial, especially now with the injury list expanded to six players of various importance.  Thinking back to the last Ottawa game, that's how the Devils got back into the game. The Senators took stupid penalties, kept taking them, and the Devils power play took advantage of the shooting opportunities the Senators' PK let them have.  Had Ottawa remained more focused, perhaps they keep the lead or at least keep it tied.   Focus is a critical issue for the Devils tonight - whether or not they score first (or more), it is imperative that they don't allow Ottawa to take control for much of the game.

Read on for a guess at the Devils' lineup and for some insight into the Senators (and Dean McAmmond) from Peter R of Silver Seven.   (ASIDE: Other than College Night, it's apparently a Free Energy Efficient Lightbulb Night for NJ residents over 18?  Yay? Source: Devils' official site)

The Devils should take this opportunity to get familiar with being in Newark.  They play 5 of their next 6 games at the Rock. With the benefit of having that last change and not traveling, the Devils should make the most of their virtual homestand.   One Devil who should step it up is Nicklas Bergfors.  According to Tom Gulitti, Jacques Lemaire has called him out:

"Energy," Lemaire said. ‘He doesn’t have the same energy. That’s not why he’s not as effective."

...

"He’ll be fine," Lemaire said. "I like Bergie. It’s a little tougher for him right now. He’s just got to work a little harder. That’s what it takes. Because when you start to taste that glory or that fame a bit, to stay there it’s tough. Now, he starts to slip. He’s just got to work a little harder to get back where he was."

This is not a criticism without merit.  Since his 3 point performance against Pittsburgh, Bergfors has only 2 assists in the last 4 games - both coming in that 5-2 win over Washington.  Mind you, he had no shots on net in that game or in the next two.  The Dallas game had him get 2 shots on net .  In other words, his last four games featured him on the top two lines and got at least 21 shifts per game, and Bergfors only registered 2 shots on net and 2 assists - while earning no points in his last 3 games.   Sure, Bergfors didn't start off the season registering points, but at least he was shooting.  Recently, he hasn't done that and he needs to as a scoring line winger.

It's good that Bergfors got the message and - more importantly - understands why, as Gulitti reported on Monday.  I don't expect his minutes or his role to be reduced as a result unless Bergfors continues to bring little to the rink.  I expect him to fire the puck on net more often.  With respect to the whole roster, there won't be any call ups from Lowell for the time being.  Per Gulitti on Tuesday, the only major switch of note is that Lemaire has lined Tyler Eckford up as a wing and Matthew Corrente as a defenseman with the reason being that Eckford used to play forward in college.  Fair enough.

Gulitti also reported that Lemaire expects Martin Brodeur to be ready for Wednesday after Brodeur's wife gave birth on Monday. (ASIDE: Congratulations to the Brodeurs) I don't think Lemaire brings that up unless he's planning on starting Brodeur, so I'm guessing he'll start.  I'm hopeful Rod Pelley will get to play tonight instead of, say, Andrew Peters; but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Niclas Bergfors
Brian Rolston - Patrik Elias - Jamie Langenbrunner
  Dean McAmmond - Tim Sestito - David Clarkson
  Matt Halischuk - Rod Pelley - Tyler Eckford

Andy Greene - Bryce Salvador
Colin White - Mike Mottau
  Mark Fraser - Matthew Corrente

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

Now, the Senators probably come into this game feeling pretty good.  They won their last 4 and would like to increase their lead on the Northeast Division.  However, they lost starting goaltender Pascal Leclaire to a weird injury.  A puck fired into the bench area stuck him square on the cheek and fractured the cheekbone.  As Darren M of Silver Seven notes, this is a significant injury and it means Brian Elliot is now the starter (with, get this, Mike Brodeur as their backup.  No relation to Marty, thankfully).

Nevertheless, the four wins include Toronto (3-2), the Penguins (6-2!!!!), the Sabres (5-3), and the Capitals (4-3 in OT).  All came at home for Ottawa, but confidence and momentum tend to travel.  The Devils' defense will have to contend with Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher, and Milan Michalek among other forwards - the Senator's top scorers.  Not an easy task.  And if Jason Spezza is allowed to get free shots, then the task just becomes much harder.  Hence, maintaining focus on defense, I think, will be critical for the Devils tonight.

To learn more about the Ottawa Senators, who have played very well as of late, I asked Peter R of Silver Seven some questions.  Here are his responses, including an explanation for why he loves Dean McAmmond:

Question #1. Let's get this out of the way.  You love Dean McAmmond.  Could you explain to those who aren't aware or haven't quite understood why?

PR: Yeah, my man-crush on Dean McAmmond is somewhat peculiar, I will admit. Between the love letters, the emotional retrospectives (yes, there have been two), the celebratory McAmmond-esque haircut, and the only McAmmond jersey in Ottawa (aside perhaps from his children), there isn't much territory left for me to cover. But since really getting to watch him play after he signed in Ottawa, I've really come to respect the honesty and integrity he brings on (and off) the ice, and his reliability and flexibility. He's an intelligent player, who can readily fill just about any role on a team--something you guys would have seen first-hand, when he climbed from fourth to first line in his first game of the season. His game-winning Stanley Cup Final goal was definitely the highlight of his time in Ottawa, and I was at the game--a fact I assume he knew, or else why would he have scored the goal? In all seriousness, though, I think everyone in the league has to respect his intelligence and the hustle he brings to the game, and that respect was shown not only when Mike Fisher fought Steve Downie (the bane of my existence since 'the incident'), but also when Matt Carkner absolutely pummeled Downie this season--dedicating the annihilation to McAmmond, even though M-C 'Ammer is no longer on the team. But enough about McAmmond, I trust you will grow to love him, too, in due time.   [JF Note: In a word: Wow.]

Question #2.  The Senators have enjoyed a great run of results as of late (e.g. murdalizing the Penguins) and are now challenging (if not taken over) the Northeast Division lead.  What do you think has been the most crucial factor in their recent run of form?

PR: With a heroic come-from-behind overtime victory over the Washington Capitals, the Senators have indeed taken over first place in the Northeast Division for the time being. In "murdalizing" the Penguins, the most crucial factor was some very good scoring depth, but I'd say the key to the Senators success recently, and for most of this young season so far, has been the high-pressure system coach Cory Clouston has brought on since taking the reigns. It's built on not only a very strong forecheck, but also plenty of back-pressure, which in turn causes turnovers in the neutral zone and allows the speed of players like Milan Michalek and Mike Fisher to take advantage of them.

Question #3. The Devils completed a 3 goal comeback entirely through their power play to beat the Senators earlier this month.  While Ottawa boasts a good penalty killing rate (82% prior to tonight's game), do you think the team will try to be a little less aggressive and/or more disciplined tonight?

PR: The Senators penalty woes haven't been a result of being too aggressive, they've just been too stupid. Undisciplined minor penalties have killed the Senators, recent guilty parties being Chris Kelly, Chris Neil, and Jonathan Cheechoo, and no matter how strong your PK is, you can't keep giving the opponent those kinds of chances and expect to get out of it cleanly. Ottawa has been cleaning up their game recently, and I expect Clouston will insist that trend continue.

Question #4. Given that Brian Elliot started against the Capitals, do you think the Devils will see him start for the Senators?  Do you even want him to start?

PR: Geez, terrible luck for Pascal Leclaire; Someone falls on him in a game against the Buffalo Sabres, so he backs up Brian Elliott against the Capitals. While sitting on the bench in the Capitals game, he gets smoked in the face with a puck and has to leave the game. He can't catch a break. I do expect Elliott to start (and, if Leclaire is backing him up, I expect him to wear his mask while on the bench), and I have no problem with that. Like any young goaltender, he's got his issues--rebound control being a common complaint from last season--but he's been the Senators' starter before. I think most fans, and more importantly most teammates, trust him in the net, and that will go a long way.

Question #5. Lastly, as usual, what is your prediction for tonight's game?

PR: Tough call, but I'll err on the side of homerism: 3-1 for the Senators, with Dean McAmmond scoring the Devils' lone goal. Now THAT's homerrific.

Big thanks to Peter R of Silver Seven for his answers.  Though, I think he would understand and love a 3-1 Devils win should it involve at least two goals from "M-C'Ammer." 

But seriously, Peter R drops a lot of knowledge here.  The plan of attack on Elliott should be to crash the net and take plenty of low shots at him.  This will force more rebounds than, say, shooting high; and the Devils would do well to take advantage when Elliott doesn't get a good bounce after a save.   With respect to the other team, it seems Ottawa is still stupid-penalty-happy. That ultimately cost them the last game against the Devils and that they haven't learned yet just screams "opportunity" for the home team.  Draw some calls! 

Lastly, and this all goes back to focus, Peter R is right that Ottawa likes to play aggressive on the puck.  An unaware Devil might as well paint a target on his back because should the Senators play as Cory Clouston would want them, they will mug that guy every time.   The Devils will need to be alert and calm under their pressure, and that requires focus.  It all goes back to focus.

I'll be in my usual seat in Section 1, Row 16, Seat 5. Steve will be here with the GameThread in time for the, er, game. Thank you for reading and please leave all your thoughts,and concerns about tonight's game in the comments.  Go Devils!

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