February 26 – Day 134 – Tampa Bay victory streak

The Nashville Predators did the impossible and beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-1 in the United Center in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

The Hawks earned the first score of the night after 25:27 of play, courtesy of a Brent Seabrook slap shot.  His 12th tally of the season was assisted by Jiri Sekac and Erik Gustafsson.  The Predators leveled the score only 3:41 later on a Viktor Arvidsson wrister, assisted by Mike Fisher.  The one-all score held into the second intermission.

The game-winner found the back of the net with 1:51 remaining in regulation, scored by Calle Jarnkrok (his 12th of the season), assisted by Fisher’s second helper of the evening.  Nashville‘s lone insurance goal was an empty netter from Miikka Salomaki, assisted by Ryan Ellis (his 19th helper of the season).

With Nashville‘s win, the DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 60-32-12, favoring the home squads by 33 points over the roadies.

For a Friday night, it’s a fairly light schedule for the NHL.  Only five games are taking place, and the first three drop the puck at 7 p.m. eastern (Tampa Bay at New Jersey, Minnesota at Washington and Boston at Carolina).  Following the completion of those games, Edmonton at Anaheim drop the puck at 10 p.m. eastern, which is trailed 30 minutes later by this evening’s nightcap, Buffalo at San Jose.

Edmonton at Anaheim is the only divisional rivalry taking place this evening, and none of the games are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs.

Since New Jersey has the opportunity to move into the playoffs with a win, let’s focus in on their game against the Lightning.

Unknown-1New Jersey Devils Logo

 

 

 

 

Tonight’s game will be Tampa Bay‘s 12th in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 7-3-1 record.  Their most recent was a 4-2 victory in Pittsburgh on February 20.  New Jersey hasn’t played since their 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals on February 6.  That result set their record at 1-2-1 record in the series.

The 34-22-4 Tampa Bay Lightning currently occupy second in the Atlantic Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference.  Although it has taken time, the Bolts have both ends of the ice working smoothly, as their defense ranks eighth-best and the offense is ninth.  A more in-depth analysis of their game can be found within last Saturday’s article.

The Lightning are currently riding a four-game winning streak, with their most recent being a 2-1 against the Coyotes on Tuesday.  With a win tonight in Jersey, Tampa ensures that they maintain second in the Atlantic.  Should the Devils win, the Bolts could fall into third if the Bruins beat the Canes.

The 30-25-7 New Jersey Devils sit in fifth in the Metropolitan Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference, just outside the playoff picture.  Jersey is led by the fifth-best defense, but it has been paired with the worst offense, the main reason for their current position.

Led by Adam Larsson’s 119 blocks, the Devils have allowed only 1735 shots to reach 26-19-6 Cory Schneider and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.6% for only 143 goals against, 5th fewest in the league.  That success has carried into the penalty kill, where Jersey‘s 82.81% kill rate ranks 10th-best in the league, allowing only 33 power play goals against.  New Jersey has also scored five short-handed goals this season, one more than the league average.

That defense has been necessary, as the offense ranks worst in the league.  Even with Kyle Palmieri’s team-leading 1499 shots, the Devils have fired the puck only 1499 times, with 9.1% finding the back of the net for 138 goals (led by Palmieri’s 23 tallies).  Even though the overall offense has not played well, New Jersey‘s power play ranks ninth-best in the league, successful on 21.16% of power plays for 40 power play goals (led by Palmieri’s eight).  That being said, the special team has given up seven shorties, three more than the league average.

Jersey‘s most recent game was a 6-1 loss in Columbus last night.  With a win tonight, Jersey would jump the Penguins for the second wildcard position, but a loss puts them at risk of falling behind Carolina in the race for the playoffs.

This is the first game between these squads this season.  Last year, New Jersey won the season series 2-0-1, but the Bolts did take the Devils to overtime in their only game played at The Rock.

Some players to keep an eye on include New Jersey‘s Schneider (2.11 GAA [third-best in the league], four shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league], .926 save percentage [sixth-best in the league] and 26 wins [tied for sixth-most in the league]) & Tampa Bay‘s Ben Bishop (2.13 GAA [fourth-best in the league], .923 save percentage [tied for eighth-best in the league] and 24 wins [tied for ninth-most in the league]) and Steven Stamkos (26 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]).

The same thing that has held New Jersey back all season will be their Achilles heel tonight: they will be unable to score any goals, which will allow Tampa to earn two points.

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