New Jersey Devils vs. Calgary Flames: Game Preview #79

Derek Leung

The Calgary Flames will visit Newark on Monday night as the Devils will try to get their third straight victory to keep up the pressure on Columbus in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

Just the latest in a long stretch of "most important game of the year" matchups for the Devils.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - WCBS 880 AM

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (34-28-16) vs. the Calgary Flames (33-38-7; SBN Blog: Matchsticks and Gasoline)

The Last Devils Game: On Saturday, a hobbled Devils team went down to Raleigh for the second half of a back-to-back needing a win to continue to hang around in the playoff race. What followed was a strong effort by the skaters and the goaltender in a tight game to pull out a crucial 3-1 victory. With Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique, and Jacob Josefson all going down the prior night against the Capitals, and Ryane Clowe still sidelined with likely another concussion, the Devils' lineup was more-or-less held together with duct tape. The surviving players put up a great effort, though, and the Devils won another close one. Dainius Zubrus chipped in two goals, including an empty netter to give him three in April after going goalless for the entirety of February and March. Travis Zajac broke a 1-1 tie when he deflected a Marek Zidlicky shot and the puck trickled in behind Anton Khudobin. The Devils would hold the Canes off the scoreboard the rest of the way to secure the win. Cory Schneider was impressive and stopped all but one Carolina shot in the game. John had the recap of the win, which moved the Devils temporarily within 1 point of the second wild card, here.

The Last Flames Game: The Flames took on the Panthers in a game that was about as meaningless as they come. With both teams long removed from the playoff picture, this was a game that had few implications beyond draft position and pride. The Flames emerged victorious despite being heavily outshot and outpossessed by Florida in the game. All three goals were were scored in the first 6+ minutes of the second period as the game would end 2-1 with Mike Cammalleri tallying the game-winner for Calgary. Joey MacDonald stopped 34 of 35 to get the win. Matchsticks and Gasoline apparently (and perhaps fairly) deemed this game unworthy of a recap, so here's the summary from NHL.com.

The Last Devils-Flames Game: The last Devils-Flames matchup came all the way back on October 11th in the 5th game of the season. It also doubled as the 5th Devils loss of the season during their extended struggles coming out of the gate. It was a lackluster performance by the Devils, particularly in the 3rd period when the Devils appeared to just try to ride out regulation. Being hemmed in their own end for the entire third in a tie game proved to be an ineffective strategy as they would end up losing 3-2 in regulation. Sean Monahan broke the deadlock following a Zidlicky/Salvador defensive breakdown left him uncovered on the doorstep. John recapped the lackluster performance here.

The Goal: Beyond the obvious "win a game against a team with nothing to play for" I'd say the goal here is to get pucks on net as much as you can. The last time these two teams played, the Devils had an inordinate amount of their attempts blocked, leading to them only getting 21 shots on goal. Calgary's goaltending is not very good (to put it generously), as they are holding down the league's worst even-strength save percentage at the moment. Karri Ramo has actually gotten his save percentage up to a respectable .911 on the season but he's still a journeyman guy with a career .902 and he's probably the best they've got. Joey MacDonald and Joni Ortio have both spent most of their seasons with Abbotsford of the AHL and have save percentages in the low .890s in limited NHL time. So no matter who gets the net for Calgary, the Devils should force them to make saves whenever they get the opportunity.

Walking Wounded: The Devils were playing with a skeleton crew down the stretch against Washington and iced a far from optimal lineup against Carolina, but they managed to pull both games out in the end. They will likely have to do the same tonight as it seems like most, if not all, of the Clowe/Elias/Henrique/Josefson group will remain sidelined. Lou Lamoriello somehow offered even less insight than usual when he was asked about the injuries, saying only that they are "taking it day-by-day" with everyone. Bryce Salvador will also remain sidelined with his groin injury, for what it's worth.

The Chase Continues: The Devils continue to hang around on the edge of the playoff picture and actually pulled within one point of the Blue Jackets for 8th on Saturday. The Flyers also looked to possibly be within striking distance as the Devils pulled to three points behind them at the same time. Columbus stretched their lead back to three points with their 4-0 win over the Islanders last night and Philly moved 5 points up with a 5-2 waxing of Buffalo. The Devils will have a chance to close to back within one of Columbus with a victory versus Calgary. The Devils put themselves back in it this weekend with their back-to-back wins, but they still probably need to win out to have a good chance at getting in (though 3-0-1 gives them a roughly 50/50 shot, according to SportsClubStats).

Their Gio Is Really Good: It's another lost season in Calgary, but their expectations were about as low as any team's going into the season. One of the major bright spots for them has been the quiet dominance of their top defensive pairing and, specifically, the emergence of Mark Giordano. You could make a pretty decent case for Giordano being a legitimate Norris contender at this point. While Calgary has one of the worst Corsi rates in the league, they are a completely different team with Giordano on the ice. Their overall 47.6 CF% becomes an impressive 54.0% when Giordano is out there. Add in the fact that he has put up 45 points in 60 games and you have a recipe for a defender who is among the tops in the league. It looks like Calgary may have found themselves a very solid cornerstone for their defense going forward.

Calgary Not Rolling Over: Despite the Flames being essentially done in the playoff race since December, they have actually been playing some pretty solid hockey over the past month. It may not be the best thing for their draft position, but regardless, they have been solid since the Olympic break. Their rolling 10-game close-score Fenwick graph at Extra Skater illustrates their improvement of late. This improvement has helped lead them to an 11-8-0 record since the beginning of March. So despite them not being a great team generally speaking, they are playing decent hockey (largely thanks to Giordano) and definitely should not be overlooked.

Keep Rolling With Him: Cory Schneider has regained his form after a lull in early March and has been a big part of keeping the Devils in it over the past week. He has now given up five goals total in this last five appearances. One has to figure DeBoer will keep starting the right guy, given his impressive play of late.

Big Guns Need a Big Game: With so many injuries throughout the lineup, the Devils will need a good game out of their best line as much as ever. Presumably, Jaromir Jagr, Travis Zajac, and Tuomo Ruutu will find themselves together again, and hopefully they can do what they are capable of doing. I expect a strong performance out of them with the Devils' backs up against the wall.

Three In A Row?: Please? Is it really so much to ask?

Final Thoughts: Another day, another essential must-win situation for the Devils. It's surely exhausting to deal with, but it's the position they have put themselves in with the litany of earlier missed opportunities. They really gutted out some nice wins over the weekend and quietly have gathered points in each of their last seven games. The push continues tonight and hopefully the Devils can collect another two crucial points at the Rock. Comment with your thoughts on tonight's game below and thanks for reading. Let's go Devils.

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