Season series finale: Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils preview

WHERE: Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey
WHEN: 7 PM EST
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 620 WDAE (radio)

Tonight marks the fourth and final meeting between the Lightning and the New Jersey Devils during the 2009-10 regular season.  nice to get a season series out of the way so early...

Just wish the Lightning's record versus said-team was a little more positive.  The Bolts lost the season series for certain, but the goal outcome is so close, it isn't even funny.  The first two meetings this season, both at Times Palace, were decided by the shootout.  Last month's game in Newark was a 3-2 Devils victory.  Every matchup was a one-goal loss, and the total score for the series to date has been 7-4 in the Devil's favor.  

This isn't surprising that close games have fallen the Devils way.  To date, they're 14-2-1 in games decided by one goal.  They're almost as dominant in games decided by two goals (8-3) and three goals (8-5).

Of course, Jacques Lemaire's style of coaching is supposed to keep games close like this.  Defense first, after all.  Yet it does beg the question of what-if Lemaire had taken that advisory role with the Lightning that he'd been offered  during the 2009 off-season?

The Devils are tops in the East, and no one has proved otherwise yet.  The Penguins, last years defending champions, are having a tough go at things (last week's loss to the Bolts was evidence enough of that), the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres are both in the running in the East -- but they've had more middling-efforts this season than the Devils, who have a decisive 30 wins in their favor and only one overtime loss.

But I do have to say the Capitals have the firepower to go toe-to-toe with the Devils in the playoffs.  As was noted, the Devils are 8-5 in blow-out games -- meaning if it gets out of hand (and it has five times this season), it's out of their comfort zone.  Keep that in mind for the playoffs.

Erik Erlendsson reported via Twitter that Andrej Meszaros will be a healthy scratch tonight for the Lightning.  He also gauged that Smith will again start for the Lightning.  Meszaros as a healthy scratch is the first major lineup change in a few games.  The Bolts are 5-2-1 in their last eight, and Head Coach Rick Tocchet had been going with what's worked.

Obviously, the defense wasn't exactly working in Buffalo earlier this week.  That game's results is a sore spot we're not going to touch again.  Shaking things up a bit can't hurt, can it?

Well, can it?

It's uncertain if David Hale will be back in the defensive pairings tonight or if injured Matt Walker will make his return.  We'll let you know as soon as we find out.

[Note by John Fontana, 01/08/10 1:16 PM EST ] Looks like it indeed will be Matt Walker making his return from injury in place of Meszaros.  Walker has not played since December's midwest roadtrip.

The Devils are fifth in the league on the power play, converting on over 21% of their opportunities.  They stand at 11th in the league on the penalty kill with an 83.3 kill-rate.  They also happen to be a dominant 8-2-0 in their past ten.  The Lightning are 5-4-1 in their past ten, with a penalty-kill rate of 80.4% and a power play conversion rate of an anemic 16.9%.  .

The Bolts head down the turnpike after this game to face off against the Flyers -- who've beaten them down twice this season in merciless fashion -- tomorrow night at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.

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