By Dave Turner
Before we dive into our Pregame Primer for Saturday’s game against Buffalo, check out our podcast discussing the state of the team and also answering questions from Facebook and Twitter followers.
Now, on to the game:
New Jersey Devils (10-6-4) at Buffalo Sabres (8-12-1), 3:00 pm First Niagara Center, Buffalo, NY
Simply put, this is a must-win game for the Devils. New Jersey has been struggling mightily as of late and the Sabres are not a good team. Yes, it is always tough to win on the road, but this is one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference right now and they’re reeling after the firing of long-time coach Lindy Ruff.
Considering the week that the Devils have next week, with two back-to-backs, they MUST get back on track and more importantly, gain some major confidence in today’s game:
Here are some questions and thoughts heading into today’s contest:
1. Ryan Carter is back, don’t underestimate how much he means to the team. What Carter brings to the table is a strong forechecking game. He can dump the puck in and then go and get it himself. I think he’s the best forechecker on that line and he brings a physical element. When the Devils are at their best, it’s because they keep teams pinned in their own zone with the forecheck and it’s usually the CBGB line that is helping to wear teams down. I think he’ll make a difference immediately.
2. With a lot of new lines, who will step up? The Devils have what feels like four good lines today. You don’t have that fourth line that you’re worried about seeing. The Carter-Gionta-Bernier line is even being listed as the fourth line, but you can make sure they’ll see time. The line I like the most is the Ponikarovsky-Henrique-Butler line. Henrique and Butler have been struggling to score and I think a big body like Poni will help them. You can’t be worried about Andrei Loktionov on the first line with Ilya Kovalchuk, but Matteau seems a bit out of place there. We’ll see how he does.
3. The power play has to get better. The Devils did a lot of work with the power play in practice lately and it needs to start paying off. They even brought back the old one-timer game from last year. When you’re struggling to score goals, the easiest way to get back on track is to start finding the back of the net on the man-advantage. If the Devils are going to turn this around, they’ll need to start scoring on the power play again.
4. Can the defense play a solid game? The carousel continues, as Anton Volchenkov sits again. Henrik Tallinder was scratched for a while and so was Mark Fayne. You could easily make the case that someone like Marek Zidlicky could sit a well, but for some reason the Devils are so in love with him trying to run their power play (that has been dreadful as of late), that he hasn’t sat yet. It’s hard for Pete DeBoer to make a decision on who to sit when there really aren’t any defenseman playing well enough to make a legitimate case to stay in the lineup outside of Adam Larsson and Andy Greene.
5. If they don’t win this one, I think the panic button goes off today. If they lose yet another “desperation” game against an inferior opponent and fall to Buffalo today, I think you see the media and the fan base push the panic button. Is it really time to panic if they lose? No, and the team won’t because there is still plenty of time left. I can be pretty sure that you’ll see tons of questions coming from the media about leadership, the make up of the team and even questioning Bryce Salvador as captain. You can be sure that there will be plenty of fans overreacting as well. There’s a simple way to avoid that and it’s to get a win today.
6. Is this the beginning of the end for Hedberg if he plays poorly today? I don’t think so, but if he gives up upwards of three or four goals and doesn’t look strong, Keith Kinkaid may get the next start if Martin Brodeur isn’t back yet. Any time you give up a spot to another player, you never know if you’ll get your job back. I think Hedberg knows that he has to be better or he may be in trouble.
Prediction: Devils 4, Sabres 2
I’ve been picking the Devils to finally snap out of this streak and play a full game for a while and it hasn’t happened. Today I think they finally put it together and play a good game against a weaker opponent. To be honest, I’d be very surprised and also very worried if they lose today. This is a must-win, considering the slide they’ve been on. There has to be a sense of urgency at some point. I think Moose will be solid enough in net, especially with the Sabres down their best player. The new lines will work. I expect a big game from Ilya Kovalchuk today.
Buffalo lineup note: Sabres star forward Tomas Vanek will not be playing today
Devils Lineup for today:
Stefan Matteau – Andrei Loktionov – Ilya Kovalchuk
Patrik Elias – Travis Zajac – David Clarkson
Alexei Ponikarovsky – Adam Henrique – Bobby Butler
Ryan Carter – Stephen Gionta – Steve Bernier
Bryce Salvador – Marek Zidlicky
Andy Greene – Adam Larsson
Henrik Tallinder – Mark Fayne
Goaltender: Johan Hedberg