Feb. 11, 2011
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PREVIEW: ROLLING SHARKS LOOK TO SNAP SKID IN JERSEY
By Kevin Kurz
NEWARK - Februarys version of the New Jersey Devils is nothing like the club that the San Jose Sharks defeated in the first month of the season.
On October 27 at HP Pavilion, Joe Thorntons hat trick led the way to a 5-2 victory over what was then the worst team in the league. Since that time, the Devils have changed coaches and, more importantly, won games.
REWIND: Thornton's hat-trick leads Sharks past Devils
A lot of them.
New Jersey enters Friday nights matchup with San Jose as the second hottest team in hockey with an 11-1-2 mark in its last 14 games. Second, of course, to the Sharks, who have gone 10 straight games without a regulation loss (9-0-1).
NEWS: NHL standings
So, Todd McLellan, whats different about the Jacques Lemaire-led Devils now than the team you saw in October?
Theyre confident. And Jacques will use that word all the time, its amazing when a team gets confident how much better they feel, said the Sharks head coach. You can see that Jacques has left his mark on the team again.
McLellan was quick to point out that the Devils surrender the fewest shots-per-game in the NHL, with 27.2. It's a reflection of their distinctly defense-first style, as they have no problems sitting on a one or two goal lead as early as the second period.
San Jose played its worst period of its road trip on Wednesday in Columbus, surrendering two power play goals before coming back to win, 3-2. They may not get that chance if they fall behind early against New Jersey.
REWIND: Sharks rally to keep roadie rolling, beat Columbus
Jacques is known for his defensive-minded system. Hes always taught the team he coaches to play good defense and hold onto leads, so its pretty important for us to get a jump start and get a lead, said Dan Boyle.
Ryane Clowe added: Theyre not giving up a lot of goals, have a commitment to defense, and commitment to their own end. Sometimes you think youre taking away offense by doing that, but theyve probably scored more goals because of it. I think they are playing more of a team game right now.
McLellan agrees that the start of the game and getting ahead will be paramount.
I dont know that well have the opportunity to come from behind 2-0 or 3-0 like we did against Phoenix, he said. This team plays a little bit different. They dont give up as much. Theyre patient and theyre not going to beat themselves.
Much like the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin, New Jersey leans heavily on a Russian-born star forward. Ilya Kovalchuk was added by the Devils over the summer with a much-publicized 100 million contract, and is finding his game since Lemaire replaced John McLean right before Christmas.
In his last eight games, Kovalchuk has five goals and five assists, including a dazzling overtime marker in Toronto on Thursday night in a 2-1 New Jersey win the 600th of Lemaires career.
Much like Ovechkin, McLellan will likely try and get Boyle out on the ice as much as possible against Kovalchuk.
They are pretty similar, said Boyle, comparing the superstars. They both have speed to burn and have powerful shots. You just have to be aware where they are at and have a pretty good gap.
Eager to remain with Thornton, Setoguchi
Ben Eager has certainly been working his way up the depth chart since arriving via trade from Atlanta. Originally penciled in on the fourth line, Eager has found himself getting more and more minutes with every passing game.
Against Columbus, McLellan put him on a line with Joe Thornton and Devin Setoguchi after a lethargic first period. By the looks of things in the morning skate at the Prudential Center, Eager will get another chance there for at least at the start of Fridays game here in New Jersey.
That move was a reaction to our lack of jump and energy in the Columbus game, explained McLellan. I think when he and Seto got together that was a little more energy and speed. Those are two of the characteristics were looking for. Somebody to work for Jumbo, do some board work, and create some energy.
I think its harder to match, and we balance our three lines out a little more by doing that.
Eager played 13 minutes and 35 seconds in the game against the Blue Jackets a season high. In fact, his ice time has increased in each of the last seven games, beginning on Jan. 22 when he skated for less than five minutes.
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur remains out of the lineup with a bruised knee. ... The Sharks reassigned left wing John McCarthy to Worcester on Friday morning to make room for Torrey Mitchell, who will return tonight ... There was no sign of Antero Niittymaki at the morning skate, so Carter Hutton will once again serve as Antti Niemi's backup.