Game 55 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Toronto Maple Leafs

The Time: 7 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (35-17-2) at the Toronto Maple Leafs (17-28-11)

The Viewing Party:  The Devils are officially having a watchparty at Brick City Bar & Grill, located literally across the street from the Rock (on the PNC Tower side).  If you're 21 or over and want to watch the game with others, here's your chance. Further details from the official website.

The Last Devils Game: The Devils were the better team on the ice except at screening goaltenders and not blocking passes by the net.  Late in the second, Rob Niedermayer couldn't stop a feed going in front, where the Kings made it 2-1.  Late in the third period, Ryan Smyth got in Brodeur's way allowing Wayne Simmonds' backhand to sneak through for an equalizer and Drew Doughty's slapshot to get in on a power play to win it.  There was no sitting back, no passive play, yet the Devils lost in a heartbreaking fashion to end the month 7-7-1.  In my recap, I was angry about the loss that night and as time passes, well, it still was a sucky loss.

The Last Maple Leafs Game: But I'll gladly prefer the late blowing of a lead over a three goal lead being blown.  Yes, the Toronto Maple Leafs put three past Roberto Luongo in the first period and chased him out of the net for the Toskala-esque Andrew Raycroft.  Somehow, like most games this season for Toronto, it all fell apart somehow.  Alexandre Burrows took advantage of space for a shorthanded goal to give the Canucks some life in the second. Yet, as Andrew Raycroft shut the door on the Leafs, the Sedin twins and Burrows just imposed their will for three third period goals to make it 4-3, Burrows added an empty netter to make it 5-3, and I'm sure some Leafs fans just threw up in their mouths recalling that game since I brought it up.  You're welcome!  PPP had the sordid details in his recap of the game at Pension Plan Puppets.

The Last Devils-Leafs Game: It was the first time these two teams met and it was all about the offense.  A line of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Dainius Zubrus constantly ripped the Leafs defense apart to the tune of 3 goals in regulation and the game winning goal in overtime.  Parise in particular was playing with a purpose and could have scored at least 5 goals that night.  Yet, the game was never out of doubt for Toronto thanks to some defensive miscues (like allowing Colton Orr on a breakaway and Bryce Salvador's turnover by the crease) and the terrible play of the Devils in the third period.   The Devils should have won it in regulation, but they got the job done on a power play goal to win 5-4.  I recapped the game from both an optimist's and a pessimist's point of a view; whereas PPP was just impressed by Colton Orr doing something other than punching someone in the face.

The Goal:  Get a lead, and then get a third period goal.   In the last two games, the Devils have conceded game tying goals in the third period.  Given how the goals leading up to and the actual game tying goal have been scored in those games, the blame is two-fold.  The first is on a defense that really needs to avoid giving up the puck in their own zone.  This means no turnovers (Salvador), defending passing lanes down low correctly (Niedermayer), not blindly firing the puck into the slot (Mike Mottau), and generally getting clearances when possible.  But I think all Devils fans and the coaches want to always guard against that. 

The second is on an offense that despite their efforts - and they have been trying - they have struggled to get that third period goal to ensure momentum is New Jersey's way.  The last third period goal the Devils scored was against the Islanders on January 23, or 5 games ago.  Imagine if the Devils got a third period goal against Toronto or LA or even in Buffalo - those games would be straight up regulation wins instead of what they became.  It's one thing to build up a lead, but getting that one in the final third to really nail the coffin on an opponent's chances is important.  I want the Devils to do that tonight in Toronto.

Check out Pension Plan Puppets later on for the view on tonight's game for a Toronto supporters' perspective. Please read on for my further thoughts.

Since the Vancouver game, the Maple Leafs made a few changes.  OK, that's an understatement.  Brian Burke pulled two huge deals on Sunday morning (yeah, Sunday morning) that shook up the team.   They now have a brand new starting goaltender in Jean-Sebastien Giguere, a brand new defenseman in Dion Phaneuf, a prospect defenseman in Keith Aulin, and a new fourth liner in Frederik Sjostrom.   Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala are both Ducks and Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers, and Ian White are now Flames.   If you'd like to see a break down from a Toronto fan's perspective, PPP has one for each trade: the Phaneuf mega-deal and the Giguere-for-Toskala-and-Blake deal.  Needless to say, Maple Leafs fans are excited.


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
Calgary 2009 - Dion Phaneuf 55 10 12 22 3 49 5 0 2 0 138 7.2


GP MIN W L GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
Anaheim 2009 - Jean-Sebastien Giguere 20 1108 4 8 58 3.14 580 522 .900 1

Personally, I really don't like the Phaneuf deal.  My initial response was in hating both moves, but the Anaheim one makes more sense to me.  Both teams are dumping awful contracts onto each other, Anaheim only has to deal with Toskala for the rest of the season before he can go free, Blake can get a chance of scenery, and Giguere can be a starter again for this and next season for certain.  Fine.    But the Flames trade.  Oh, Phaneuf better play like his earlier form or else the Leafs have a giant albatross on his neck.  Yeah, Phaneuf is young and he has talent and a former Norris trophy candidate. But I agree with Wyshynski, he literally played himself out of Calgary! That's a terrible sign for those hoping he can  Maybe things will be different, but it's not like a player peaking way too early hasn't happened before.  Like, say, former Vezina winner and Hart finalist Jose Theodore.

Moreover, James Mirtle's take on both deals at the Globe and Mail is incredibly sobering.  The Leafs traded a lot of their offense away for essentially a #1 defenseman who hasn't played like a #1 in a while and very talented goaltender who found himself outdone by his former pupil.  Both are going to have to play to their former glories to justify the trades.  It's also relevant to tonight's game.  Consider the last Devils-Leafs game from this past Friday: Gone is the guy who got two assists off of the Devils fourth line in Jamal Mayers.  Gone is the guy who scored the equalizer on a rebound in the slot in Matt Stajan.  Gone is the defenseman who got victimized by ZZZ over and over in Ian White (an otherwise young, up-and-coming defender).  Gone is the goaltender who conceded only two goals, one of which came off a screen, in Vesa Toskala. 

OK, no one supporting the Blue and White will miss Toskala, but my point is that this is a very different Toronto squad and some of the players who played a role in the last Devils-Leafs game are literally not here.


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - Phil Kessel 44 17 16 33 -4 11 4 0 3 0 195 8.7

Also, thanks to the trades, Phil Kessel is basically going to have to be the man against New Jersey.  What did Kessel do at the Rock on Friday?  Played 19:59, had 3 shots on net, and had 3 of his shots blocked, and that's it.  No points, no plus, no minus, nothing else.  The Devils kept him quiet on Friday, surely they can keep him quiet tonight?  And if he's stopped, how badly will it hurt the Toronto offense?

The biggest question mark is how Toronto is going to come out for this one.  I would think Phaneuf and Giguere will play and will be especially motivated to play with a lot of energy and with a purpose.  Burke moved a good chunk of his team specifically for these two and will want to make a good first impression in front of a Toronto crowd that needs something to cheer for.  Will the rest of the team be as potentially inspired, however?

Moreover, how will the Devils react to their own games?  They lost a heartbreaker against LA and from the post game quotes from Gulitti, they are aware the blown leads in both the LA and Toronto games are a problem that must be corrected.  They are also aware of the big question mark that will be the new Toronto lineup.   In fact, Martin Brodeur had this to say regarding the last few weeks of results by the Devils:

"Definitely, there’s things that happened in our game that weren’t there before for whatever reason," goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "We’ve got to figure it out as soon as possible, so we don’t keep doing the same thing over and over. We’re doing things pretty hard right now. We’re win one, lose one, win one, lose two. We have to start building how consistent we are like we were early in the season. Definitely, a lot of teams are gunning more for us now knowing that we were on top for the most part and teams are playing us well. We’re in a good situation. In the last two games, we had leads late in games and we did things not too well. We pulled one off (against Toronto) and yesterday we paid the price for it."

So what will the Devils do?  Will they come out storming mad, try like crazy to pile up a lead so big that Toronto can't overcome (not a bad idea, really...)?  Will they try to feel out the new Toronto team before looking to strike?  One thing is for sure, Devils fans likely won't ZZZ start the game.  Right after the LA game, Gulitti reported that Lemaire wants Zubrus at center.

Fine.  As well as ZZZ looked in the last two games, Rob Niedermayer and Dean McAmmong haven't been productive for awhile.  While fatigue is being cited as the issue as he's on the checking line, Niedermayer played only 16:11 and 15:06 in the last two games.   I can't help but think that performance is involved in some way or form.  In any case, ideally I'd want to see Zubrus at center anyway.  It (literally) strengthens the Devils down the middle and if Zubrus is really catching fire, then why not spread the fire around? Maybe Niclas Bergfors, Brian Rolston, or someone else will mesh well?  Bergfors didn't look too bad with Zubrus in the Ottawa game, albeit no one on New Jersey really looked good in that game, either.  In any case, Jamie Langenbrunner can easily play up top with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, the first line will still be a threat to most defenses, even ones with Dion Phaneuf on them.  And if things go awry, then Lemaire can switch players around - something Lemaire has never been afraid to do.

But other than that?  I'd expect the lineup to remain the same.   Meaning it falls on the players to stay focused and play with a killer instinct.  Here's my wild guess at the lineup:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Brian Rolston - Dainius Zubrus - Niclas Bergfors
  Jay Pandolfo - Rob Niedermayer - Patrick Davis
Rod Pelley - Dean McAmmond - Vladimir Zharkov

Andy Greene - Bryce Salvador
Colin White - Mike Mottau
  Johnny Oduya - Mark Fraser

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

Steve's on duty elsewhere, so it'll just be you (the user) and me in the GameThread later tonight.  Before then, please feel free to share your thoughts, concerns, criticisms, and news updates in the comments. Go Devils!

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