Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bruins vs. Devils: Stuff To Look Out For

Another awesome matchup of Cup contenders who are red-hot and getting healthier. New Jersey has won 7 straight and are hardly missing Martin Brodeur. Boston is 6-1-1 lately and returning several key players from injury. They're #1 and #3 in the conference, so expect a tightly-played classic tonight.

Running The Gauntlet: Back in October, one little section of the schedule stuck out so much that I called it "The Gauntlet" in the season preview. We are now entering that beastly stretch, which I characterized in terms of the February road trip but actually began on Tuesday against Washington. Here's our schedule for the next three weeks, with opponents' records and conference rankings:

1/27 - Washington 30-15-4, #2 (win)
1/29 - New Jersey 30-15-3, #3
1/31 - Rangers 29-17-4, #4
2/1 - @ Montreal 27-14-6, #5
2/4 - @ Philadelphia 25-13-9, #6 (yes, we are playing the entire top 6 in order)
2/5 - @ Ottawa 16-22-7, #13
2/7 - Philadelphia 25-13-9, #6
2/10 - San Jose 35-6-5, #1 in West
2/13 - @ New Jersey 30-15-3, #3
2/14 - @ Nashville 21-23-3, #14 in West
2/17 - @ Carolina 23-21-5, #10
2/21 - @ Florida 22-17-8, #8
2/22 - @ Tampa Bay 17-21-10, #11

Those last few games wouldn't be so bad, except that they're all road games and 4 out of 5 involve back-to-back nights in different cities. An 8-5 record would be outstanding during this stretch, and would pretty much clinch the #1 seed.

Kessel Cleared: You read it right, Phil Kessel is back after less than three weeks' absence with mono. The only major question-mark for tonight's game will be Michael Ryder, who is practicing with the team after coming down with the flu last week. [update: Ryder will be returning to the lineup tonight, meaning the roster is as complete as it's likely to get until next season.]

Expected Starters: At the beginning of the season, would have you guessed that a January 29 matchup between Tim Thomas and Scott Clemmensen would have been characterized as a "goalie showdown and possible Eastern Finals preview"? Thomas continues to maintain a Vezina-like level of play, but Clemmensen has been even hotter (winning 5 straight, allowing only 5 goals in the past 4 games) and has carried the Devils in the absence of the Living Legend. Last time around, it was a 1-0 decision -- don't be surprised if fewer than 3 goals are scored in this game, even with a rejuvenated Bruins offense.

[update: Looks like Manny Fernandez's "general soreness" is indeed a reoccurrence of the back spasms that cost him a few games earlier this month. Euphemistic language aside, general soreness in the back is not a minor injury for a pro goaltender.]

Chia Pet: God, did I really just make that pun? Anyway... KPD reports that Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has earned himself a contract extension, which is now being sorted out with management. Most of Chiarelli's decisions have been solid and he's shown a clear sense of how to build a team over time -- let's hope for at least a 3-year deal.

What Does This Game Mean For Boston?: To put it plainly, time is on our side. There are only 32 games left in the season, and we lead the rest of the conference by 11 points. The Devils are one of two teams (the other being the Caps) who have a realistic shot of catching up, and it's a longshot indeed. If Boston wins this game in regulation, they are 14 points ahead of New Jersey with 31 games left and the head-to-head tiebreaker. That is, more or less, a death-blow to the Devils' chance of stealing the #1 seed. Also, this is a good measuring-stick game against a team we're very likely to see in the playoffs.

What Does This Game Mean For New Jersey?: A lot more than it does for Boston. The Devils are locked in a tooth-and-nail struggle for the Atlantic Division crown, holding marginal leads over the Rangers and Flyers with games-in-hand being an issue for both. A win would catapault the Devils into the #2 seed, but a loss could potentially drop them to #5 by the weekend. That's the difference between a home-ice series against the Sabres, and a road-ice series against Montreal.

Who To Watch: Kessel, to see if he's got his step back. Both goalies, who will probably have phenomenal games. Patrice Bergeron, who is making it look very easy to return from a concussion. Zach Parise, who is fast becoming a star power forward. Jamie Langenbrunner, who had a huge game against the Sens on Tuesday and carries a hot stick. Brendan Shanahan, because you'll miss him when he's gone.

Other Previews:
Kynch's Bruins Korner - Good thing he's not a Kings fan... I'm just sayin'...
The Bear Cave - Picks up on the Jay Leach connection.
Stanley Cup of Chowder - Noke is "questionable" with a mysterious injury. If it's mono... well, that would be gross.
The Bruins Report - Did we mention that Kessel's back?

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Anonymous said...

You're pathetic.

The Bastahd said...

Definitely a challenging schedule but I say we win 8 of the next 12...

It makes you wonder... a poster too afraid to leave his name calling someone else pathetic. Ironic, no?

Tom said...

I'll take the charity point for a 1-0-1 start. It's small consolation, but at least we can look forward to the games getting slightly easier -- I don't think every Eastern playoff team will play us as tightly as the Caps and Devils.

The Bastahd said...

No, nor do I. Will be interested to see Philly as I haven't watched any of them and they have looked scary for stretches. Very inconsistent though. Not too worried by the Rangers.

Am curious... what was your opinion on the Wheeler breakaway early in the game. It looked to me like the D threw his stick there or at least merited a penalty but watching it live always makes it tough to judge.

Tom said...

I've heard a lot about it, but I must've been looking away from the TV at the time. From the sound of things the D let go of his stick on a sweep-check from behind... IMO that should pretty much be an automatic penalty shot a la Hartnell throwing his glove. There's no good reason for a player to "accidentally" let go of his stick in a breakaway situation.

Tom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Bastahd said...

Yea... I would love to get a replay to confirm how the play went. Some NJ people are saying that Wheeler's leg dislodged the stick so it wasn't thrown... even so, if his pokecheck didn't get the puck then it should be interference.

Not sure a penalty shot was merited as Wheeler still got a good shot off (five-hole, hit post and shot back out) but everyone at the game was confused as to how no call was made. Ah well... c'est la vie...