Game 61 Preview: Devils vs. Colorado Avalanche

The New Jersey Devils return to the ice after some a very poor games last week.  They've had four days without a game, so the team should be well-practiced and well-rested. 

For starters, they will have a more healthy roster.  The flu must have left Zach Parise and Bryce Salvador, for sure.  Travis Zajac got hit by it, but according to Gulitti, he'll be good to go for tonight.  Chere also has Brendan Shanahan as a likely return to the line up.  And, in addition to learning that Paul Martin had upper back muscle soreness,  he's probable.   I think he's got to be likely, as Chere notes here that Anssi Salmela has been sent down to Lowell.   I don't think the Devils would send down Salmela if Martin wasn't close to being ready.  He was called namely to provide that depth on defense!

Oh, and Martin Brodeur is playing.  Kind of a big deal.  Devils legend and all that then.

Let me go off the grain and say that I really hope Paul Martin is not only ready to play, but to play his average ice time of 24:01.  The team clearly needs him! The Devils defense has been porous in recent games, conceding over 40 shots in each of the last two games.  The lamp behind the Devils' net has been lit way too many times: 10 times in their last 3 games.  Needless to say, tonight's performance will rest heavily on how the defense performs after this break in the schedule.  If anything, if I were Brent Sutter, I'd have them play a little deeper than usual to make sure Colorado doesn't have a lot of space for counter-attacks that the Islanders had last Saturday.

Regardless, they have to play above Colorado's level - and I believe starts with confident, stable defending.  That they didn't do that in their last 3 games where the Devils compiled a record of 1-2 with 2 goals scored in regulation says it all.  If the Devils' defenders can make stops and force turnovers, then the team will have the better chances at keeping the puck in their possession.  From there, the offense can do it's job and get the goals they need.  Then it may not matter if Brodeur isn't his best.   He shouldn't have to be the superhero tonight, really.

As far as the offense is concerned, I just would like the Devils to keep the passing simple and smart.  They do so much better when they actually have puck possession and can find the space they need for strong shots on net.  It does no team any good to have 40 shots on net and have most of them be really easy shots to stop.   I would also like to point out that if Colorado's defense isn't collapsing, then I would love to see the Devils crash the net.  They didn't get many shots off rebounds in their last 3 games; a couple tonight could lead to the goals they need and re-establish their confidence.

Fortunately, based on the stats, Colorado is a team that isn't very good at scoring or stopping goals.  The Avalanche have scored an average of 2.62 goals per game, which isn't so terrible but it is the 21st best average in the league.  What is so terrible are the average amount of goals given up: 3.10 per game!  Only the Islanders, Atlanta, and Toronto are worse in that stat.  And the Avalanche conceded three to those very same Thrashers in the first period in their last game!

While the standings may seem to indicate that the Avalanche may have a shot at the postseason; how they lost to Atlanta 4-3, as recapped at Mile High Hockey, seems to indicate that Colorado may not be interested.  Their power play was, by all accounts, a horror, with not just one, but two shorthanded goals against.  The defense was, well, very pregnable.  

Incidentally, as we learned from the 4-0 loss to the Islanders, this is not a reason for the Devils to discount the Avalanche. Even a very bad team can play like a very good one on a given night.  Despite the bad outing against Atlanta, it is only their second consecutive loss - having lost to Carolina on Sunday.  It's still a talented enough team to beat Washington in DC and beat Detroit, well, anywhere.  So while the team may be sitting in last in the Western Conference, the Devils need to be sure they don't keep giving up the puck to the Avalanche players.  Handing them any unintended favors will only leave a sour taste in the mouth of Devils (and their fans). 

This is the game preview thread. Feel free to discuss the game in advance here. The GameThread will be up later today. I won't be commenting as I'll be a loud doofus at the game with my scarf and everything. Visit Mile High Hockey for your Avalanche perspective.

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