Game 16 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Boston Bruins

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (8-6-1) at the Boston Bruins (8-7-0)

The Last Devils Game:  The Devils were down to the Washington Capitals 0-2 after one period.  In the next, the Devils climbed back into the game and tied it up.  Despite pressure (and shots on goal), the Devils held on beyond regulation.  Overtime proved fruitless, and the Devils got a chance in the shootout. Thanks to Zach Parise, Johan Hedberg, and David Clarkson, the Devils left D.C. with a 3-2 shootout win.  My recap of that game is right here.

The Last Bruins Game:  The Bruins hosted the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.  While much of the attention from that game came from Milan Lucic plowing into Ryan Miller; the Bruins collectively plowed the Sabres.   After being down 1-0 in the first period, the Bruins responded with 3 in the second period and 3 more in the third.  Buffalo did answer one of them, but only one of them, as the B's rolled on to a 6-2 win - their fifth in a row.  Stanley Cup of Chowder has this short recap of the game.

The Goal:  Do not panic should the Bruins score. The Devils are catching the Bruins at the worst possible time.  They have been incredibly hot with not just five wins in a row, but five dominating wins in a row.  The scores really tell the tale: 5-3 over Ottawa; 7-0 at Toronto; 6-2 over the Islanders; 6-3 over Edmonton; and 6-2 over Buffalo.   I'll go into more detail after the jump, but Boston has been looking fantastic in all areas of the game after a horrid October.   One trait of Boston's winning streak is that they have scored their goals in bunches.   It's not so much they score on a team once, but they quickly get a second one in to really take the sails out of their opponents.   The Devils will need a fantastic effort to have a chance tonight, and that will include preventing the Bruins from lighting the lamp twice in close succession.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump.  Should you want a Boston-based take on this game, please visit Stanley Cup of Chowder.

Before I get into explaining why the Bruins are so scary-looking on paper, let's talk about the New Jersey Devils first.  As reported by Tom Gulitti on Monday at Fire & Ice, Ilya Kovalchuk returned to the ice in Monday's practice.  This is excellent news as Kovalchuk will give the team another offensive weapon up front.  His return should also give a boost to a power play that's worth diddley squat. Kovalchuk alone could certainly upgrade it to just squat.   That all said, it's not set in stone that he'll play tonight.  GuGulitti did report that he will travel with the Devils, though.  That Kovalchuk will be a gametime decision is at least a good sign for his health.

Should Kovalchuk play, he'll likely replace Nick Palmieri on the top line.  Where would Palmieri go? The Elias line shouldn't be and probably won't touched.  I doubt Peter DeBoer would bump David Clarkson from the third line. Palmieri may be moved to the off-wing as he was in the Devils' last game against Philly; which would mean Mattias Tedenby would be moved to the fourth line.   If Kovalchuk doesn't play, then expect the same lines as we've seen in the last two games.    The defense should remain the same, too.

As for goaltending, DeBoer has already said that Johan Hedberg will start tonight and Martin Brodeur will start against Buffalo on Wednesday.   Per Gulitti's report, DeBoer's reasoning is worth raising an eyebrow:

 

"We looked at the schedule, we looked at the history against these teams in these buildings and it was a combination of a lot of different factors," DeBoer said. "Back-to-back we’re going to use both guys. That’s something we talked about right from Day 1 of the season, so it wasn’t a matter of wins or losses. It was more looking at other factors."

Well, I don't think the history was the main factor.  Gulitti's post has the career numbers for both goaltenders in Boston and Buffalo, and you can view them for yourself at Yahoo! sports: Brodeur and Hedberg.  Brodeur's got the superior save percentage at the FleetCenter/TD Garden while the Moose came out ahead at the HSBC Arena (now the First Niagara Center).   Given how Moose has been playing in his net, I'm not too worried about him starting this game instead of the Buffalo game.    Out of his net, I'm always a little worried - and that's not even taking Milan Lucic into account.

Besides, I don't think it really matters who's in net because Boston's been frighteningly good at scoring goals as of late.   Here are some team stats at NHL.com:

Hey, I found a team stat the Bruins aren't in the top ten in, and it's still not bad.  At least, it still smokes the Devils.  Want more numbers? The situational team numbers at Behind the Net are just as solid for Boston:

In short, Boston's been fantastic at even strength, a bit above average on the power play, and very good on the penalty kill.   On average, Boston has out-scored their opposition, take a lot of shots, and not allow as many.  Simply, they have been fantastic and their five-game winning streak has really borne these numbers out.   Who knows as to whether they can keep it up for a whole season, but it's all very daunting with respect to tonight's game.

Of course, a team doesn't get great numbers without great players.  They have this guy leading the Bruins in goals, points, shots on net, and he's only fifth among Boston forwards in ice time.


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG SOG PCT
2011-12 - Tyler Seguin 15 11 9 20 14 6 1 0 3 48 22.9

Tyler Seguin has been ridiculously hot ever since being lined up with Patrice Bergeron (3 G, 9 A, 46 SOG) and Brad Marchand (5 G, 7 A, 35 SOG). Seguin's got a 6 game point streak going whereupon he tallied 8 goals and 3 assists.   Needless to say, keeping him off the scoreboard will be a big challenge in of itself.  Should the Devils succeed it, consider it a small victory.

So it would make sense for DeBoer to target the Patrik Elias line and/or the Mark Fayne & Henrik Tallinder pairing against them right?  Well, not so fast.  The other top forward line for Boston is loaded with skill and beef.  It's the line of Milan Lucic (not suspended for his hit on Ryan Miller, 8 G, 6 A, 30 SOG); David Krejci (3 G, 5 A, 22 SOG); and Nathan Horton (5 G, 6 A, 23 SOG) and they are not to be trifled with.  

If DeBoer wants to match the Adam Henrique line against them to put Elias' unit on their top scorer's unit, then fine. Based on past games with strong top-six forwards (e.g. Los Angeles, Washington), that's how it would go down.   It would be a challenge for the Henrique line, though.  Zach Parise, Henrique, and either Nick Palmieri or Kovalchuk will have to be prepared for a very physical game as all three of those Bruins can throw their weight around to go with their skill.  Going against Boston physically is a fool's game anyway, thanks in part to these three.   Plus, they've been demons on possession like the Bergeron line according to their Corsi rates at Behind the Net.  The Bergeron line has more combined points, but Krejci unit can be just as dangerous as them.   Most importantly, the game's in Boston.  Claude Julien is likely to dictate match-ups with the last change; it may not even be DeBoer's choice as to who matches up with whom.  

The third line could also present problems: Rich Peverley is a very good two-way forward and he's already got 4 goals and 5 assists.  Chris Kelly's got 4 goals and 5 assists too.  They've both been positive in Corsi with high Corsi Rel QoC values, so they've been facing good competition and coming out ahead.  Should Ryan Carter, Clarkson, and Tedenby/Palmieri get this group, it's going to be important to see how they get handled. Especially since they may get a boost with a player returning from injury.  Zach Hamill has been sent down to the minors per this article by Fluto Shinzawa at Boston.com, with Daniel Paille now available to play. When a team is as on fire on offense like Boston, nearly everyone is dangerous.  Even Shinzawa has noted that all four lines are clicking.

The one weak point on defense may be Boston's defense, but I think it may be a stretch to call it that given their good shot against rates.   Zdeno Chara is the stud of the group. When he's on the ice, good things happen for Boston and that's why he plays an average of 25:06 per game.  He plays against the toughest competition and the puck goes in Boston's direction at evens.  He plays in all situations and he's very much a part of the Boston offense with 41 (incredibly hard) shots, 1 goal, and 11 assists.  He's been paired with Johnny Boychuk, who's quite OK next to Chara.  Good luck to whichever line gets to see #33 the most tonight.   The rest of the blueline hasn't been nearly as dominant as Chara; but there doesn't seem to be any black holes on defense. Even if there were, there's this guy behind them all:


GP MIN W L OT/SO GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2011-12 - Tim Thomas 11 600 6 4 0 20 2.00 284 264 .930 1

Yep. Tim Thomas, who played completely out of his mind last season, has been playing almost as completely out of his mind this season.   Even if the Devils (somehow) break down the Boston skaters, then this guy could single-handedly keep his team in the game.

I don't want to sound defeatist, but this Boston team just looks fantastic on paper and they've been fantastic in their last five games.   I'd go as far as to say this appears to be the most difficult game the Devils will play this month. Any point earned by New Jersey in this game should be celebrated.  This is a game where you hope the cliches are right and paper means nothing once the game begins.  Should the Bruins show any sign of struggle, the Devils need to pounce on them.  Should the Bruins start off slowly, the Devils must try to get whatever they can before they "wake up."  Should the Bruins play like they have been in their last five games, then just hope it won't be a blowout.

Those are my thoughts on this game; now I want to know your thoughts.  What about the Boston Bruins concern you most: their winning streak, their top players, their strong team stats, or all of it?  Is there a reason for the Devils to feel positive about getting a result going into this game?  If so, what is it?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.

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