Game 19 Preview: Clearing The Leaves

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The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (5-11-2) face off against the Toronto Maple Leafs (6-8-3). It’s the first meeting between the two teams this season.

The Last Devils Game: The Boston Bruins blanked the Devils, 3-0, Monday night in Boston. It was the Tim Thomas show, as the Boston goalie stopped 27 shots for his fourth shutout of the season. Michael Ryder, Nathan Horton and Blake Wheeler scored goals for the Bruins.

The Last Maple Leafs Game: Toronto defeated the Nashville Predators, 5-4, Tuesday night. Down 4-1 in the second period, the Maple Leafs rallied to score four straight goals and take the lead. The win came with a price, as Jean-Sebastien Giguere left the game with a minor groin strain.

The Last Devils – Maple Leafs Game: The Devils split their season series with the Maple Leafs last season, going 2-1-1 against their Canadian opponent. The Maple Leafs won the final game of the season series, 2-1, in a shootout on March 18. Phil Kessel struck first, scoring a goal at 18:54 of the first period. David Clarkson tied the game at 15:46 of the second period. The Maple Leafs solved Yann Danis in the shootout, scoring in all three rounds to defeat the Devils, 2-1.

For a full recap of the matchup, check out our season preview post

Tonight’s Matchup: Both of these teams enter the game tonight struggling. The Devils, as we know, have been stuck in a rut since the beginning of the season. The Leafs came out of the gate blazing hot, but they’ve fallen on hard times, winning twice in their last seven games.

The Devils, thankfully, won’t have to face Giguere tonight. Instead, Maple Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson announced Jonas Gustavsson will man the pipes for Toronto tonight. On the season, Gustavsson is 1-3-1 with a 2.85 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage. In two career appearances against the Devils, the Toronto goalie is 0-1-0 with a 4.60 goals-against average and a .851 save percentage.

The strategy needs to remain the same for the Devils – pressure the Maple Leafs, early and often. The Devils did that against the Bruins, but a couple of early saves by Thomas frustrated the Devils. Which leads me to my next point…

The Devils need to avoid frustration. It crept into their game early Monday night, and continued throughout the game. The mounting penalties and lack of pressure showed that frustration, and failing to score at the end of the game didn’t really help the cause. When the team is frustrated, nothing works well. It’s going to be difficult, but the Devils need to avoid allowing frustration creep into their play. If they do, it’ll be another long night.

Finally, the defense needs to play better. They’re not making good passes or smart decisions in the offensive zone. The defense needs to move the puck quickly and present some kind of threat in the offensive zone. I’d like to see Andy Greene step up and show the offensive skill we all know he has. If the defense can make something happen in the offensive zone, it’ll force the Maple Leafs to cover the points, and maybe open up some scoring down low.

Gametime is 7 p.m., and you can catch all the action on MSG Plus or WFAN 660 AM. Here’s a guess at the potential line combinations for tonight’s game:

forwards
Ilya Kovalchuk – Dainius Zubrus – Alexander Vasyunov
Patrik Elias – Jason Arnott – Mattias Tedenby
Brian Rolston – Travis Zajac – David Clarkson
Rod Pelley – Adam Mair – Stephen Gionta
defenseman
Colin White – Henrik Tallinder
Andy Greene – Anton Volchenkov
Olivier Magnan – Matt Corrente
netminder
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg 

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