Game 14 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Chicago Blackhawks

The Time: 8:30 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG(HD); Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (3-9-1) at the Chicago Blackhawks (7-6-1)

The Last Devils Game:  To call New Jersey Devils' offense a pop-gun attack would be an insult to pop-guns.  This is not new.  What is new is that they were finally shut out by an opposing team.  Roberto Luongo shut down the Devils while the Vancouver Canucks put up 3 on New Jersey for the win.  Matt has the recap of yet another dispiriting loss.

The Last Blackhawks Game: Chicago fans saw their game against the Rangers as irritating according to McClure's recap at Second City Hockey.  The Blackhawks did get to equalize against the Blueshirts, yet a lazy shift saw them allow an instant response from the visitors.  Said response held up as the Blackhawks lost to the Rangers 3-2.

The Goal:  You may have heard by now that Zach Parise is out for 3 months with a torn meniscus in his right knee.  As if the Devils didn't have enough problems, they actually lose a player of significant importance for a significant amount of time.  (No, Anton Volchenkov, he of not even 2 whole games played in New Jersey doesn't count. And the rest of the injured aren't top 6 forwards or top 4 defensemen.) 

This is not new to recent Devils teams. In 2008-09, the New Jersey Devils rallied instead of suffered when Martin Brodeur was out for 4 months.  In 2009-10, the New Jersey Devils were without Paul Martin, Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, Dainius Zubrus, Johnny Oduya and more for stretches in the season.  They played a lot of rookies, and yet the wins kept on coming. 

Now, this season's incarnation of the Devils must do the same.  They didn't do it in Vancouver, based on what I saw and Matt's recap.   But now that they know for certain how long Parise will be missing, they can accept reality. They must now re-focus their attention to play smarter and more as a team instead of a mish-mash of players.  It sounds cliche and vague, but at this juncture, it's probably the most important thing they can do.  If they don't, they'll almost definitely lose again.  That's the goal I have for them tonight in their final game of this lamentable road trip.

Read on after the jump for more thoughts on tonight's game, including some insight into the Chicago Blackhawks thanks to Sam Fels of Second City Hockey and the Committed Indian.

One point that I felt got a bit overlooked amidst the Parise injury concerns and the general suckiness of the team's performances was Jason Arnott only seeing 13:29 in the Vancouver game.  No, Arnott has not played well this season.  But he hasn't done any worse than, say, Jamie Langenbrunner and he keeps getting regular shifts  Given that the Canucks game saw Rod Pelley centering an offensive line, it's weird to me that Arnott isn't getting the call for more ice time.  According to this post game report from Rich Chere, Arnott found it odd as well.   John MacLean just claimed that he wanted to try something out.

I can understand mixing up lines if they aren't working.  I don't get bothered by lineup changes.  If anything, I prefer it to stubbornly keeping guys who aren't playing well with each other on the same line or pairing.   What bothers me is when the coach changes things up without much sense.  To that end, why hasn't MacLean given Arnott more of an opportunity? It's not like the Devils have done well where Arnott has been so far. It's not like he's overworked, the most he's played in a single game was 18:29 and that was on opening night.  He's got offensive skills and even 6 points (though only 1 in the last 5 games).  He'd be an upgrade over Rod Pelley should MacLean want to create a second scoring line, in my opinion. Why not experiment with Arnott instead of keeping him down in the lineup?

With Zach Parise out for 3 months, it is imperative that MacLean and the coaching staff make the most who's available to create offense.  That may mean sorting out whatever problem he has with Arnott and/or his performance and giving him some more shifts.  Because Rod Pelley isn't going to develop into a scorer or an complementary player on offense anytime soon.

Now, the Devils didn't practice on Tuesday, they only traveled to Chicago.  So actual information on how the Devils will lineup tonight won't come out until later today.  Ergo, let's have a crazy guess.  Truth be told, I think there's something to the first line the Devils used against Vancouver.  Other than that, the likelihood of these being the actual lines are next to nothing.

Ilya Kovalchuk - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Patrik Elias - Jason Arnott - Dainius Zubrus
David Clarkson - Rod Pelley - Alexander Vasyunov
Brad Mills - Adam Mair - Tim Sestito

Andy Greene - Henrik Tallinder
Colin White - Matt Taormina
Olivier Magnan-Grenier - Tyler Eckford

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

Regardless of how it's set up, it's time for anyone - be it Kovalchuk, Arnott, Langenbrunner, or even Mair - to step up; time for everyone to be a lot smarter on the ice; and time to stop talking and start doing.   Will it happen? The last 13 games tell me that I don't know.

Here's what I do know, the Chicago Blackhawks have played a lot of games too and it's either been death or glory. 7-6-1 isn't a great record on it's own but it's good enough to lead the Central Division and to be among the top of the Western Conference in points.  Yet, their last game was a bit of a tough loss.   Still, the defending Stanley Cup champions are still a formidable team led by Patrick Kane, Johnathon Towes, ace defenseman Duncan Keith, and Marian Hossa (who's only coming back from injury now, he's questionable for this game).  The Hawks recently got Brian Campbell back for the Rangers game, so their defense (namely his partner Niklas Hjalmarsson) sees a recent upgrade.  Oh, and Patrick Sharp hasn't been among league leading goal scorers.  He is the league leading goal scorer as of 8 PM EDT on November 2 with 10.

In order to learn more about Chicago and their season so far, I asked Sam Fels of Second City Hockey a few questions about the team he supports.

Question 1: While 7-6-1 isn't a great record, the Blackhawks do lead their division and are among Western Conference leaders. Given the amount of turnover the team went through this summer, what do you think has been the biggest factor to Chicago's success?

Sam Fels: Success is a funny term for it, because the Hawks inflated point total is due to playing by far the most games in the league. Yeah, we thought it was strange too that the team with the shortest offseason has the busiest October. As for how they've won? Well, basically Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp decided they were going to, and that's really it. No one else, aside from maybe Brent Seabrook, has played consistently well. Oh, and Turco has pulled their ass out of a sling a couple times.

Question 2: Patrick Sharp has been a beast this season with 10 goals already. Is there anyway New Jersey can stop him?

SF: It's actually not all that hard, just stay out of the box and cut off his service. With Hossa and [Dave] Bolland out, Sharp has returned to center without Patrick Kane on his wing or having Toews center for him. At even strength, when skating with Viktor Stalberg and Tomas Kopecky he's a lot less effective. Get him on the power play, though, where he can float to spaces that Toews and Kane can find him, you're asking for trouble.

Question 3: When most people think of Chicago, they'll think of Patrick Kane, Jonathon Towes, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, and definitely Sharp. Who on the Blackhawks should the Devils be concerned about that has been flying under the radar?

SF: This year? Hard to say. Each has taken their turn at having a good game and then being a cubist representation of anarchy the next. I would say [Viktor] Stalberg. He's mostly had good games, has devastating speed and can create his own shot. He's only got three goals, but he will get more. [JF Note: 3? He'd be tied for the Devils' team lead in goals with that.]

Question 4: In a contrast to last season's puck possession greatness, the Blackhawks have allowed an average of 31.9 shots per game along with an average of 31.2 shots per game. Do you see Chicago returning to that style of game where the Blackhawks constantly have the puck to attack, or have they changed their ways for 2010-11?

SF: We won't know until everyone's healthy, honestly. The Hawks started the season without Brian Campbell, he just returned, and though he has faults in his own zone he's critical to the Hawks transition game which keeps the puck in the other end more and thus less shots against. Dave Bolland and Hossa are not out and they're two of the Hawks best defensive forwards (or usually are, Bolland's been hurt and [canine excrement] all year). In addition, the turnover has lead to a lot of forwards who have to learn the way. Jack Skille, Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell are all up full-time in the NHL for the first time, and your defensive game will suffer. I doubt the Hawks will return to the defensive blockade they were last season, but they hopefully will get close.

Question 5: Lastly, goaltenders have had great outings against the Devils all season long. How has Marty Turco performed so far? Could playing against a terribly unlucky and nonproductive offense give him a boost, or is there a concern he could be the first goalie to be put at the mercy a Devils offense that is just about due for a big night?

SF: More the former. Turco's been a revelation since a couple of dodgy early outings. He's held the Hawks in it on many nights, and unless his defense hangs him out to dry he should do the job. Also, don't let him handle the puck, though I'm sure Devils fans are familiar with the concept of a puck-moving goalie, because he can add to the Hawks transition, and the last thing you want to do is allow Kane, Toews, or Sharp any more space than you have to.

Big thanks to Sam for his responses.  Visit Second City Hockey for your uncensored Hawks fix.  Though if you have said fix, you probably already know about it.  In any case, Chicago was fearsome last season for just being able to fly through opposition players with the puck.  They were Corsi machines, puck possession powerhouses, and ready to attack at a moment's notice from any line or pairing.   While they lost a few players in the offseason, they still have the core to accomplish that style of game.  Especially now that they got Brian Campbell back, as per Sam's comments, their transition game will improve.  What better team to try that out on than an struggling-at-best Devils team?

John MacLean has to recognize and respect the talent of their top players, yet at the same time press on them.  It would be a great accomplishment if he can manage the Devils to slow the game down, force more turnovers and puck battles, and ultimately frustrate Sharp, Kane, Toews, etc.  I'm not so much concerned about the Devils generating shots on a team who has allowed an average of 31.9 shots per game (21st in NHL).  They'll get shots, and hopefully some goals.  It's to make sure Chicago has a very difficult time trying to take command of the game.

Most importantly, it's time for the team to come together and rally for a victory; to salvage a part of this road trip; to try and feel good about something going back to Newark after Wednesday night; and, most important, to defiantly state that missing Zach Parise will not doom this team in 2010-11.

In advance of the Gamethread, please discuss tonight's game in the comments to this post.  Hopes, fears, desires, and everything in between - all of that goes in the comments too. If you have any news to share, please link to the source.  There will be some news updates to keep track for tonight's game during the day, so I'd suggest checking out Rich Chere and Tom Gulitti periodically.  If you have any additional points, feel free to make them here.  Let's go, Devils.

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