By Jeff O’Connor
New Jersey Devils (3-0-1) at Boston Bruins (2-1-0) 7:00 pm TD Garden, Boston, MA.
Over the last several years, this is the one Eastern Conference team that scares me more than anyone. Their goaltending is great. Their defense is aggressive and plays both ways and their forwards are relentless. It showed last year as the Devils lost all four games to them. However, the two losses up in Boston were each one-goal games.
While I don’t like the matchup personnel-wise, I think the Devils got the wakeup call they needed on Sunday after sleepwalking through their prior two victories.
Here are some thoughts/questions from today’s game.
1. Last game for Stefan Matteau? It could be. After tonight, GM Lou Lamoriello will have to decide if he wants to keep him with the big club and burn a year off his first pro contract or send him back to juniors with no repercussion. He’ll be on the first line again tonight. What does he have to do to stay? That’s the big question. My guess? He probably has to record a point or create a lot of chances to even be considered to stay with the team.
2. Adam Larsson on the horizon? Over the last two games, Devils fans have grown tired of seeing Marek Zidlicky out of position and watching some of the other defensemen take bad penalties. If the Devils defense struggles to keep up with the tough, speedy forwards of the Bruins, don’t be surprised to see a switch in the defense.
3. Moose Man. This will be Johan Hedberg’s first human ice hockey action since Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Florida Panthers, when he replaced a shell-shocked Martin Brodeur. That was 287 days ago…and he only played 36 minutes. His last full game? 301 days ago against the Islanders. While I think he’ll be steady in his first game back, this was not the ideal team to get him his first start.
4. Bruins forecheck. They swarmed it up even before Devils head coach Pete DeBoer introduced that theme to his squad. Whether it’s a big guy like Milan Lucic or a speedster like Brad Marchand, these guys wreak constant havoc. The Devils defense will be put to their toughest task yet. In the four games last year, the Bruins racked up 18 goals; nearly five goals a game. Will the Devils be ready to be swarmed?
5. This is the litmus test. Where are the Devils in terms of the rest of the conference? Yes, beating the Islanders, Flyers and Capitals were nice wins. Those teams are clearly middle-of-the-pack at best right now. I think it’s fair to say that the Bruins, Penguins and Rangers talent-wise are a cut above the rest. But how big is that cut? Are the Devils right underneath that group…or do they belong with that trio of squads? We may have a better idea of where the NJD stand after tonight.
My Prediction: Bruins 3 Devils 2 OT (record picking Devils games to date- 0-0-0)
The Devils have not matched up well with Boston over the last few years. Not only is their scoring deep, but their speed throughout their four lines is very apparent. I’m not sure the bottom two lines for Jersey can keep up. Also, I don’t know if a lot can be expected from Hedberg considering a lot of women in the world have begun AND concluded their pregnancies since the last time he played in a hockey game. I definitely give DeBoer the benefit of the doubt but I thought the obvious move was to have Hedberg start one of the back-to-back games over the weekend. If the Devils defense doesn’t get steamrolled like they did against the Canadiens, then they may have a shot to pull this one off. Right now, though, I think a point is all they get.
Line 1: Steffan Matteau-Travis Zajac-Ilya Kovalchuk
Line 2: Dainius Zubrus-Patrik Elias-David Clarkson
Line 3: Ryan Carter-Stephen Gionta-Steve Bernier
Line 4: Krys Barch-Jacob Josefson-Matt Anderson
Expected Defensive Pairings:
Bryce Salvador-Marek Zidlicky
Andy Greene-Mark Fayne
Henrik Tallinder-Anton Volchenkov
Starting Goaltender: Johan Hedberg
Tweet us your predicted score @DevilsInsiders before the puck drops.