For the first time in just over three weeks, the Tampa Bay Lightning takes their wares outside the state of Florida and venture to Newark to take on the struggling New Jersey Devils. New Jersey is lost near the bottom of the Metro Division standings right now, two points ahead of their across-the-Hudson brethren, the New York Rangers, and down-the-turnpike rival Philadelphia Flyers.
What exactly has been the cause of this 2-5-4 mire? Well, it's not the Devils alone. The whole division is struggling, but an early season road-swing through western Canada didn't help... Nor has the fact that Ilya Kovalchuk retired and went back to Russia... which leads to this odd fact: New Jersey's power play unit is actually doing well at the moment with a 22.5% success rate, and their penalty kill unit is a formidable 82.8.
It's not exactly defense that's causing problems - the Devils are still successfully suffocating opposing offenses, limiting shots-against to 26.2 on average. They're also getting off more shots-for than their opponent (27) a game.
Without having seen a game, without going through a bunch of stories about the Devils... It looks like the problem has been goaltending.
Martin Brodeur, the perpetual blockade in the crease for the Devils for years upon years, has not been himself this season. In Five games played, he's had a perplexing .871 save percentage and a lofty-for-he 3.32 goals-against average. Cory Schneider, acquired by the Devils over the summer, has had a much closer to normal-for-a-Devil save percentage of.917, and a goals-against average of 2.14.
Schneider is 1-3-2, though. Brodeur is 1-2-2. And while it's easy to underestimate either netminder, it's much easier to get concerned about this game. The Devils clearly have issues but they also clearly have more ability than the record shows. Out of the three low-flying opponents that the Bolts have faced from Saturday until now, it's New Jersey that is the team that Tampa Bay should be wariest of.
(This is where a New Jersey fan starts laughing and thinking the joke is on me if I'm concerned... Just before the laughter turns into tears)
Going back to special teams - the Bolts and the Devils are literally right next to each other among the 30 teams out there - Tampa is just ahead in the power play department while the Devils are 2/10th of a point better on the penalty kill. If the teams play at average on special teams, then we can assume that type of game is moot. This contest will be won or lost at 5-on-5.
All that goalie talk earlier didn't tell you that Brodeur starts in net for the Devils tonight. It'll be Ben Bishop in net for Tampa Bay. Bishop has been a winner of late but his numbers have inflated in the process: A .914 save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.47.
Other Game Coverage:
- Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview
- Full coverage on SB Nation