I'm going to repeat the first line from the last preview. To quote former Indianapolis head coach Jim Mora, "Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs. Are you kidding me? Playoffs? I'm just hoping we can win a game, another game." After you're done palming your face, read on for a preview:
The Time: 7:00 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 970 AM WNYM
The TiqIQ Link for Tickets: Four home games left, you might as well as get yourself some seats because it's not looking like there will be anymore after April. Sigh. Anyway, go hit up TiqIQ to get something off the secondary market: New Jersey Devils tickets.
The Last Devils Game: The Devils played the Boston Bruins in front of a national TV audience and the Rock on Wednesday night. The B's really sucked the air out of the room thanks to the Devils sucking within the first ten minutes of the game alone. Gregory Campbell got to a rebound off a Jaromir Jagr shot for an early goal against. After a wasted 5-on-3, the Devils got another power play which yielded a goal. For Boston. Steve Sullivan made a soft pass at the point that Rich Peverley picked off to lead to a two-on-one rush with Daniel Paille. Paille was stopped by Martin Brodeur but he put in his own rebound. Later, on a separate Devils power play, Boston was able to set up in New Jersey's zone and Campbell re-directed a shot by Andrew Ference to make it 0-3. The first went on, the second period started with an early power play for Boston and Zdeno Chara jamming a puck that Brodeur should've collected to make it 0-4. At this point, the game seemed out of doubt and short a defenseman as Bryce Salvador took a Chara slapshot to his wrist prior to the goal. Amazingly, the Devils started to claw back into the game. Patrik Elias re-directed a low-percentage shot by Sullivan to get the Devils on the board. After Anton Volchenkov got a deserved five-minute major and a game misconduct for elbowing Brad Marchand in the head, Travis Zajac made a great individual effort to score a shorty and make it 2-4. In the third period, Andy Greene made a comeback look possible when he got a free shot and placed it well to beat Anton Khudobin. Alas, Mark Fayne gave up on an iced puck which allowed Paille to get it first. Paille immediately threw it back to the crease for Tyler Seguin to tap-in a one-timer and really sink the Devils. Matt D`Agostini got a tap-in at the crease with 37 seconds left to make the score close as a consolation goal. The score flattered a Devils team that was straight awful in the first 30 minutes. They lost a game they really couldn't afford to lose 5-4. My recap of it is here.
The Last Senators Game: The Senators took on Philadelphia on Thursday night. The Senators lost five in a row going into the game. Early on, the Senators got on the board early when Zach Smith backhanded one in thanks to a rebound from a Marc Methot shot. The Flyers would respond later in the first when Claude Giroux got a shorthanded goal to tie it up. Ottawa, as they have done all season, brought a lot of shots on net but Ilya Bryzgalov parried all of them away. However, what can't last forever doesn't and Bryzgalov would eventually be bested. About 30 seconds after Giroux got tagged for a double-minor for high sticking Mika Zibanejad, Colin Greening got the breakthrough goal. The Senators would fend off the Flyers and Daniel Alfredsson would put in an empty netter to seal a 3-1 win. The Senators' five-game losing streak ends and their free fall in the standings has been put on hold.
The Last Devils-Senators Game: The Devils played the Senators in Ottawa back on March 25. It was the Devils' first game without Ilya Kovalchuk, who was injured in the prior game. Early on, it was hideous as the Senators pinned the Devils back as if it was practice, Chris Phillips scored through a screen, and Kyle Turris nearly doubled his team's lead on a rush only to hit the post. A timeout later and the Devils started playing more competently, save for Guillamme Latendresse throwing up a banger off the post with a one-timer in the slot. Salvador and Stephen Gionta got hurt during the first period and would not return. But the shorthanded Devils took the game over in the second period by owning the puck. They heavily out-shot the Senators 12-4 and after 15 minutes of controlling play, Andrei Loktionov beat Ben Bishop on a rebound. Alas, the Devils let up a late one in a comedy of errors that resulted in Colin Greening turning Volchenkov into a turnstile and slamming in a rebound off a rush to make it 1-2. The Devils went back to work and a great individual effort by Marek Zidlicky resulted in an equalizer. The Devils pushed more and more for the breakthrough goal but it would not come in the third period or overtime. In the shootout, Mika Zibanejad ensured the win to send New Jersey packing 3-2. Without Kovalchuk and playing with only 16 forwards, there was hope then that the Devils would be fine. Only we now know it as the start of an eight game winless streak. My recap of the shootout loss is here. Over at Silver Seven, Amelia L said the Sens stole a win. In a way, she's right. But at least the Sens limited the scoring chances by New Jersey based on Jerry's count.
The Goal: Get to the slot and get shots. They got the latter in the last Devils-Sens game but in both Devils-Sens games, the Devils didn't get to the middle all that much. They made Bishop earn his money and then some but they could've found more goals with more shots from more advantageous locations. Now, Bishop is with Tampa Bay but Ottawa still boasts the best 5-on-5 save percentage in the league at 93.4% and the best 4-on-5 save percentage in the league at 92% per Behind the Net before Thusday's games. Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson have done what they've can. While the Devils can and should feel good about putting up four goals on a goaltender who has been playing well this season, they need to build on that. They need to keep finding ways to score. They will likely find them in the space between the dots and to the crease.
Now, I'm going to hit you with a quote regarding a team's recent play.
[They] have to win eventually, right? As a group, they’re not playing poorly. They’re struggling to take advantage of their offensive opportunities while their opponents seem disproportionately potent, and that will turn around.
One could say that to describe how the Devils have been playing through much of their current winless streak. But that quote's not about the Devils. That's Peter Raaymakers' quick take about the Senators in his prediction of the Senators-Flyers game at Senators Extra on Thursday. (And he was right.) Since escaping the Devils with a shootout win, the Senators blanked Our Hated Rivals and times looked good. But it took a turn for the worse with a 4-0 loss to Toronto. From that game, the Senators kicked off a seven-game road trip. So far they've lost 2-3 at Boston, 2-4 at Buffalo, 1-2 at Florida, and 2-3 at Tampa Bay. At Philadelphia, the Senators finally did win by a score of 3-1 with an empty netter. So they won one close one and it took close to shots to get two goals past The Sleeping Giant. They needed a win more than style points but it still points to a team that has had struggles to get that additional goal they need to get a result. Again: sounds stupidly familiar.
The thing is that the Senators have been poor shooters all season long. They have the lowest shooting percentage in the league in 5-on-5 play at 6.5%, one of the few teams worse than the Devils - who are at 6.8%. Unlike the Devils, the Senators are second the league in 5-on-5 shots per 60 minutes at 32.3 so their volume has led to goals. They get great goaltending while being above 50% in possession so they've been pretty successful despite missing their most talented forward and defenseman. But in recent games, they've just been more unfortunate than usual. As Dave Young noted at Silver Seven, the Senators' power play has fallen off, their third period play has left something to be desired, and their depth has been only that. Hence, they've lost a whole bunch of games in a row, most of them close ones.
So this game could very well go down to which team is less unlucky at shooting in addition to who is more successful at getting shots on either Martin Brodeur or Craig Anderson (I'm guessing it'll be him since Lehner played against Philly). Joy. At least it won't be Ben Bishop stopping everything but one or two goals and winning via a shootout.
I would really like to keep this game at 5-on-5 as much as possible. For one thing, it's not likely the Devils can get much on it. The Ottawa penalty kill has been very successful this season and their goalies have been fantastic in 4-on-5 play. For another, that would require seeing the Devils' power play. Against Boston, I should've called them the Pacifist Players because they just wouldn't execute. Sullivan on a point looked like a deer in headlights, Elias seemed to only shoot if he felt he had to, Zidlicky was sketchy with the puck (and on plenty of other non-man-advantage shifts against Boston), and so the team got nothing despite seven opportunities including a long 5-on-3. So unless Matt Shaw makes some magic happen or the players just start bombing away when they have a lane instead of looking for a perfect shot, I'm not going to be too confident in the PP making something happen tonight.
As far as the rest of the offense goes, again, it's hard to complain about a four-goal night. But I hope guys like David Clarkson, Adam Henrique, and Dainius Zubrus make a point of it to get more on net after seeing what Zajac did. I really liked Zajac's individual effort for his goal. I just hope he learns the larger lesson that it's OK to take an attempt when you got the lane. Granted, he couldn't pass it away but the point is that aggression can be rewarded in this game. Therefore, I want more from him as well as others. I'd like Andrei Loktionov to keep doing what he's doing, Elias to just be quicker in putting pucks on net, and the bottom six to keep things simple down low. I wouldn't expect Ilya Kovalchuk to return based on this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, so it'll be up to the usual crew to get past the tough-minute pairing of Eric Gryba and Marc Methot and the more offensive pairing of Patrick Weircioch and Sergei Gonchar. We'll see whether Jacob Josefson or Tom Kostopoulos get back into the lineup later today after being scratched against Boston. I'd be surprised if D'Agostini sits after getting a goal but who knows.
Defensively, the Devils have made "giving up few shots but gigantic chances" into an art form against Boston. I'd like to think the team won't give up two shorthanded chances much less goals and a penalty shot. I'd also like to think that defenders will chase dumped-in pucks - looking at you Fayne. I'd further like to think that the team can pick up men down low. That all said, I'm worried this team will manage to allow a team that regularly puts up over 30 shots to 25 or less but give up something big in the process. I'll concede that Brodeur didn't have the best of nights and really should've held on to the puck prior to Chara scoring. But, again, I'd like to think he could get some help at times. Or maybe a more consistent but less severe amount of chaos in their own end. Whatever works at this point. With Volchenkov suspended for four games and Salvador day-to-day with a bruised wrist, it's good to learn that Adam Larsson says he's good to go per Gulitti. Whether he'll be in and good on the ice remains an open question.
The Devils will certainly have to contend with plenty of good players. Ottawa's top line of Turris, Daniel Alfredsson, and Latendresse is one such threat. Turris is quick, strong, and can make plenty of plays to go with his good shot. He currently leads all Senators in scoring with eight goals and sixteen assists. Alfredsson is a legend and can ruin one's night if given a chance. He's got ten goals to lead all Senators and sixteen assists. Latendresse definitely plays with finesse. He has found the net six times, so he could produce along with providing a different dimension alongside Turris and Alfredsson.
The Senators moved Bishop at the trade deadline for Cory Conacher, who has one goal with Ottawa so far which put his own season totals ahead of all other Senators at 25 shots. The rookie has been put together with two others: the high-shooting Jakob Silfverberg with a team leading 109 shots to go with eight goals and nine assists; and the silky smooth Mika Zibanejad who has six goals and 13 assists. That trio is a real wild card. They could cause a lot of headaches for the Devils or the Devils could make them look like rookies. Who knows. Among the rest of the Ottawa forwards, Colin Greening stands out among the rest with eight goals and eight assists as well as one of the few Senator regulars to shoot over 10% so far this season. Look for him, especially later in the game should Paul MacLean move some of his other young players around.
Anyway, the Senators should feel pretty good after getting their first win on their long road trip so it's not like the Devils will get a deflated Sens team at the Rock. Expect another challenge for a Devils team that has been better than their record this season to get a win. Is it a must-win game for New Jersey? They've all been essentially must-win games for the last two weeks now and the winless streak is eight games old. So what's the point of me writing it again? I don't know.
Will the Devils just win this game tonight? If so, how will they out-score the Senators? If not, well, what then? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thanks for reading.