Game 12 Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning @ New Jersey Devils

The Tampa Bay Lightning (8-3-0, 16 PTS) come into tonight’s match against the New Jersey Devils (2-5-4, 8 PTS) perched atop the “Atlantic” Flortheast division standings. Yes, you read that right. The Bolts are continuing their three-game road trip after racking up back-to-back wins — first overcoming what appeared to be a night of tough breaks and dispatching the Sabres before narrowly edging the Panthers — over the weekend while the Devils, riding an opportunistic power play that notched three tallies, escaped Beantown with a victory over the Bruins on Saturday after erasing a two-goal third-period deficit.

The two clubs last met on a Friday evening in late March of last season, with the Lightning besting the visiting Devils, 5-4, in the shootout in what was the debuts of both head coach Jon Cooper and then newly-signed college free-agent Andrej Sustr. The Devils, who, like the Lightning, ended up missing the playoffs and, unlike the Bolts, have gotten off to a rough start and seem, on the surface at least, to be on a similar trajectory this campaign. The thing is, New Jersey has some sound underlying numbers: the Devils have a solid possession game which has carried over (5v5 and 5v5 “Close”) from last season (5v5 and 5v5 “Close”) but it hasn’t been enough to translate into wins on a consistent basis.

So, what gives then? The Devils have been rather unlucky at evens and should benefit from some regression as the season progrsses but, like some of the other teams the Lightning has faced this season, the Devils just don’t have much in the way of offensive punch. Tampa Bay’s star-led and balanced offense, on the other hand, has been able to withstand corrections to its shooting and save percentages, particularly at even-strength.

For starters, look at New Jersey’s leading scorers, at present, are a legend-gone-journeyman (Jaromir Jagr, 2G-7A) on his fourth team since returning to the NHL at the cusp of turning the tender age of 40 and a 36-year-old offensive rearguard (Marek Zidlicky, 1G-8A). Patrik Elias (3G, 3A) is long in tooth, too, at 37 years old. There are a couple of quality complementary pieces (Damien Brunner, Michael Ryder) that GM Lou Lamiorello added in the off-season in the wake of the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk to round out a core of younger vet forwards which includes Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, and, ostensibly, Kings castoff Andrei Loktionov and long-developing Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby. Ryane Clowe has replaced David Clarkson as the surly power-forward. It’s not altogether surprising that the Devils have difficulty putting the puck in the net. Losing Kovalchuk might seem like a catalyst, except this was a problem last season as well.

Of course, the Devils made waves at the draft by moving its first-rounder for Cory Schneider, a trade that put a clear successor in place once Martin Brodeur retires but also seems like a fail-safe for the present, especially when you consider that last season the Devils received essentially standard goaltending at evens but faced a much different story while shorthanded. It had trouble yielding goals thanks to the league’s worst 4v5 save percentage, all despite icing perhaps the stingiest group of penalty killers while down a man last season.

Putting New Jersey’s woes aside, tonight’s match should provide yet another test of sorts for Tampa Bay, which will be playing its fourth game in six nights against a foe that, again, may have its shortcomings but usually drives play and, as it showed the other night against Boston, can spoil an evening for its opposition if left to hang around and given opportunities.


Season Series

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Special Teams

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Team stats cited from Extra Skater.

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