Canucks and Beyond

Gladiators

12/18/2007 at 5:21pm EST

The pre-game hype on the Canucks vs Devils seems to be closer to a setup for a Gladiator duel: Brodeur vs Luongo.

It will be the first meeting of the puck-stopping greats since Brodeur beat out Luongo for last season’s Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender.

In the interests of joining the hype—and because Canucks fans are liable to see more Martian landings than Marty landings in their lifetime— I asked KK contributor and New Jersey Devils’ fan Steve Lepore to offer a few words on the game tonight:

The Devils may be hockey’s greatest quagmire. They have guys like Zach Parise and the always underachieving former captain Patrik Elias on the first line, with a solid second line, the NHL’s best checking line, and a hardworking fourth unit. Of course, you have Marty Brodeur in goal to back it up. Yet, you see names like Sheldon Brookbank, Johnny Oduya, Mike Mottau and Andy Greene getting big ice time on defense and think “How is this a first place team?” Well, I’m glad you asked.

Brent Sutter has worked this fairly green edition of Devils hockey hard, and given them an accountability that just wasn’t there under Claude Julien last season. He has responded by giving this Devils team a little more freedom to run the show, naming Jamie Langenbrunner captain, and giving bulldog forward John Madden and still-young defenceman Paul Martin leadership roles. Expect to see a balanced forchecking style from the Devils, and while they may match up Madden’s line with the top scorers on VanCity, with Jay Pandolfo out, the Devils will likely roll four lines and try to stick with the Canucks best they can. The key to the game is obviously Brodeur and Luongo in the nets. If the Devils can get 2 on a somewhat cold Bobby Lou in the first period, they will try to slow the game down a little. Not to the point where they merely counterpunch as they have in the past, but to the point where the Canucks will make mistakes and take bad penalties, and the Devils power play can counter attack.

Can’t argue with that; the AHL Canucks definitely don’t want to end up living in the penalty box.

The Devils are a mysterious entity to the wild west, given that they seem to barely pass out of their own timezone. In fact, if it wasn’t for the notoriety of Brodeur (and all their playoff success) I might nearly forget they were even in the NHL.

But that would be madness—everyone knows enough to be afraid of them, that’s for sure.

On the other hand, Vancouver has history on their side—Paul Digiacomo notes that the Devils haven’t won a game in GM Place for 8 years. Now, granted, there haven’t been that many (it’s been 6 years since the last game, for godsakes) but I like stats like that, regardless. They’re irrationally encouraging.

What’s not encouraging is the state of the Vancouver Gladiator Roberto. His ribs were sore enough to pull himself out of a game only a week ago, and as a guy who seems to think he should be allowed to play 82 games a season, that’s a big deal. I wouldn’t have thought he’d be ready to return to the net this quickly, yet here he is. It just remains to be seen how his injury—and the fact that he hasn’t played since December 8th—affect his performance.

The issue of scoring against the Devils are the same issues Vancouver has scoring on anyone—this isn’t a reliable offensive team by any stretch. But if the Sedin magic is working, and maybe some wild shots from the outside take a few good bounces, maybe the Canucks can generate something.

My prediction for the GWG is one of Sami Salo’s howitzers from the point and a lot of traffic in front of the net.

But Steve and I might be arguing about that in a liveblog in the comments of

this post

this post at game time… If anyone would like to join in, we’ll see you then!

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