Game 64 Preview: Devils @ Toronto

The New Jersey Devils will attempt to keep it together as they travel up to Toronto tonight for a game on 2009 NHL Trade Deadline Eve. 

The Devils enter this one with Martin Brodeur starting in the last three games.  Incidentally, the Devils have won their last 3 games: 4-0 over Colorado, 7-2 over Florida, and 3-0 over Philadelphia.  In each game, the offense and defense has looked simply splendid.  Tons of shots on net, not as many on Brodeur, and Brodeur has only been beaten twice over the last 180 minutes.  Yeah, I'd say that the Devils are rolling.

That said, the Leafs could be a bit of a bogey team for Jersey's Team.

The last time the Devils have played them was back on December 16, and it was a 3-2 shootout loss where Jason Blake sealed the deal with a spin move.  Today, the Maple Leafs may be on the wrong end of the Eastern conference, but the team is riding high.  They won their last 4 games: two over the Rangers (one that got a coach fired, the other spoiled a coach's debut), the Senators, and the Islanders.  OK, it's not a murderer's row of opponents; but that's 8 points out of 8.  10 out of a possible 12 in their last 6.  The Devils should expect a confident Toronto team looking to make it 5 wins over an excellent New Jersey team.

I was talking to Pension Plan Puppets about the recent performance and they pointed out that Vesa Toskala has really upped his game as of late.


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008 - Vesa Toskala 52 2992 22 17 10 3 163 3.27 1466 1303 .889 1

His stat line suggests a very poor season, but recent trends can tell us more about a player going into a game. Quite frankly, he's getting the job done now.  Another Leaf who has been quite impressive as of late is Pavel Kubina.  He's put up 3 goals and 5 assists in the last 6 games the Leafs have been undefeated in.  The defender is clearly contributing at both ends of the rink.

PPP told me that the Leafs plan to shoot a lot of rubber on Brodeur.  If the Leafs can pick apart the Devils' defense, then sure! But keep in mind that Philly has come the closest to doing that and that was still only 27 shots on net.  Regardless, the defense should expect a lot of Toronto's shots to come from Jason Blake.  He's got 222 shots and, as you may expect, leads the Leafs in goals with 22.  Blake's shots puts him as the tenth most prolific shooter in the league, so if Sutter wants to key on a player, it should be him.  

In contrast, the Leafs defense will have to contend with an aggressive offense has just been breaking defenses down.  If Toronto lets the Devils have lots of space and set the tone in the neutral zone, we could see it for a fourth game in a row.  That's where the Devils just keep on getting the chances needed to shoot. Needless to say, that's the last thing Toskala would want.  Seeing his defenders trying to catch up to Parise, who could already be down low by the time they're there! 

By the way, Zach Parise is the only Devil with more shots than Blake, and with 273 - oh, and 16 more goals.   But as the last two games showed, Parise doesn't have to be the lone producer on offense.  He might! He could!  Yet, as a testament to how well the offense has been, it could easily be Langenbrunner, Gionta,  Elias, Zubrus, Zajac, Rolston, Shanahan, or Clarkson.  Or someone completely different!  Like, um,  er, Pandolfo! Yes! Really! He has to be due for a goal. And who wouldn't want some Pandolfoffense?  But seriously, with the way things are going and given Toskala's season, the Devils should challenge the goalie early and often.  There's no need to change that plan.

There's also no need to change the Devils' lineup. So, the Devils won't.  The Devils did trade for Nicklas Havelid yesterday.  Yet, according to Gulitti, he will meet with the team after the Toronto game.  Before the trade, Gulitti also reported that Sutter will likely not make any changes to the lineup.  With the team playing so well, there's no need to really change anything.  Martin Brodeur will start in net, and hopefully the Devils don't come out slowly in this one.  Against a hot opponent, that's the worst thing they can do to start the game.  

Feel free to leave a comment about today's game.  For the Toronto perspective on this game and perhaps a few laughs, Pension Plan Puppets is the place you should check out.  Despite what they think about James Mirtle!

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