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Devils Alley: Looking Back at Boston and Looking Forward To Buffalo

BruinsIt's not often that everything I address in an article actually gets played out on the ice, but the Devils did a good job of fixing things in their offense despite losing 4-3 to Boston last night.

The first concern was the team's powerplay, which without Ilya Kovalchuk in the lineup had gone 0-17 since November 4th. Head coach Pete DeBoer put in extra time with both units before last night's game, and it paid off with a first period goal by David Clarkson.

Despite the goal, Patrik Elias was still not satisfied with the unit that finished the game 1-5 with a man advantage. The lone goal that snapped the 0-22 streak was on a two man advantage, something that Elias expects to take advantage of every time.

"It's nice to score a goal, but it was on a 5-3," Elias told the Star Ledger. "You'd better get those."

The other concern for the Devils was Nick Palmieri, who up to last night's game had been struggling all season. DeBoer experimented with Palmieri on a number of lines, but he was put on the first line in place of Kovalchuk in an attempt to help him find the net.

Palmieri answered the call against Boston by scoring two goals and posting a +1 rating last night, quieting his doubters and earning his spot on the roster. Both of his goals came in the third period when the team needed them most, and it was impressive to see him bounce back with authority.

“It’s no secret I’ve been struggling to score lately,” Palmieri said. “Getting a couple of goals is nice, but the most important thing is to win."

The one thing that failed last night was the defense, which surrendered three goals in the third period after playing tough in the first 40 minutes. The defending Stanley Cup champions posed too much of a threat for New Jersey's young defense.

“I think we have to learn to shut down the game and play more defensively,” Adam Larsson said. “But they’re skilled and they played good.”

Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi, who normally doesn't cover Devils hockey, may have said it best last night midway through the third period.

"The Devils are not going to make the playoffs if the defense does not improve," he said on Twitter. "When a teenager is your only good defensemen, you're screwed."

As for tonight, the Devils face another contender as they travel to Buffalo for the third game of their five game road trip. The big news coming out of practice is that Ilya Kovalchuk will return to action after missing five games and will start on the team's top line.

Here are the pairings according to Tom Gulitti:

Parise-Henrique-Kovalchuk
Sykora-Elias-Zubrus
Palmieri-Carter-Clarkson
Zharkov-Mills-Janssen
Goaltender: Martin Brodeur

The surprise here was Tedenby being a healthy scratch. Tedenby is considered to be one of the team's hardest skaters, and has shown vast improvement despite not scoring a goal this season. I believed that Palmieri would replace Zharkov or Mills on the fourth line in yesterday's column, but DeBoer chose to go with Tedenby. Teddy

"I'm just going to sit him down tonight and go from there," DeBoer said of the move. "Sometimes you have to take a step back to take two forward."

DeBoer hopes that Palmieri can spark the third line again with Ryan Carter and David Clarkson. Carter and Tedenby went scoreless last night and posted a -3 and -2 rating while on the ice against Boston, and it was by far Carter's worst game since signing with New Jersey. Both Clarkson and Palmieri have been hot, and the Devils hope that they will compliment each other and make something happen.

It is unclear whether or not Tedenby will be scratched for future games, but it seems as though DeBoer will take the "one game at a time" approach that he has gone with all season. Tedenby has three assists in 16 games this year but hasn't registered a point since October 27th against Phoenix.

Brodeur will get his first start since his 3-1 loss to Washington on November 11th. Hedberg made 33 saves in the loss last night and has started the team's past two games. Brodeur is 30-16-5 with a 2.17 GAA in his career against the Sabres, and had a 1.59 GAA in two games against them last year.

The Devils catch a break as Sabres goalie Ryan Miller will miss tonight's game due to injury. Miller suffered a concussion against Boston on Saturday after a controversial knockdown by Bruins forward Milan Lucic. Jhonas Enroth will get the start for Buffalo tonight, which could prove beneficial for a Devils offense that has been hot as of late.

New Jersey is currently 8-7-1 with 17 points and is 1-1 on the current five game road trip. This is New Jersey's second extended road trip of the season after going 1-3 in late October. Buffalo is currently 11-6 and tied for first in the Northeast Division.

Tonight's game will start at 7:30 and will be broadcasted on Versus. Last night's game was not televised on Comcast because of the Rangers / Islanders match-up, which was shown on both MSG and MSG+. (And for those wondering, Doc Emrick will NOT call tonight's game).

Follow Joe on Twitter and check out the new website: devilsalleyhockey.wordpress.com

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