Because of the conference-heavy schedule last season, the Devils and Detroit Red Wings did not play in 2007-08. That makes tonight’s game Brian Rafalski’s first against his former teammates since he left New Jersey to sign a five-year, $30 million contract with the Red Wings on July 1, 2007.
Rafalski admitted the game has some extra meaning.
"It's my first game against the Devils and I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for New Jersey, so it's a special game, but I would rather play them in the playoffs," he said.
Rafalski said he hasn’t had a lot of contact with his former Devils’ teammates, but did call Scott Clemmensen when he was called up earlier this week because of Martin Brodeur’s injury. “My old poker buddy,” Rafalski called him.
There will be no lineup changes for the Devils tonight. Due to all of their injuries, they don’t have any extra players, so they couldn’t make any changes if they wanted to.
Paul Martin will miss his third game in a row with an upper body injury and he’s not expected to play Sunday against Edmonton either. Devils coach Brent Sutter admitted that playing without Martin has been difficult.
“He’s one of your top defenseman, if not your top, when he’s playing and playing well,” Sutter said. “He’s one of those guys that is a very smart player. We lost a defenseman that can not only move the puck but he can carry the puck out of your zone and he can make the right decisions. You going to miss a player like that like we do everybody that isn’t playing, but you live with what you have and I think the guys have done a pretty good job.”
Sutter said he will make a decision on whether Kevin Weekes or Scott Clemmensen will start in net on Sunday after tonight’s game.
“I’m going to monitor it after the game tonight,’ Sutter said. “I’ll see what type of game it is here tonight and then we’ll point at that point in time.”
I asked Sutter why Nicklas Bergfors was benched for the third period and overtime of Wednesday’s shootout win over Tampa Bay and his answer was kind of what you would have expected.
“It’s not just him,” Sutter said. “It think it’s that whole line (with Petr Vrana and Mike Rupp). The biggest thing for me is we need them to play well without the puck. We need them to be good in their own zone. If they create some offensive chances, that’s a bonus. But we need them to play well without the puck and I just felt the other night there was way too many quality scoring opportunities that were against us when they were on the ice due to the fact that their positioning wasn’t good in their own zone and they’ve got to be better.”
Sutter has cut his bench down to three lines late in each of the last three games.
“When you have the type of players that are out of our lineup right now, you rely a little bit more on other guys. Zach Parise and Patrik Elias, those types of players, Jamie Langenbrunner, without the Rolstons and Holiks and those guys in the lineup, it’s different,” Sutter said. “Those guys are playing over 20 minutes a game now. That these young guys when given the opportunity they have to step up. It’s not like the haven’t had some real good shifts too because they have had that. When it comes down to the third period and it’s a one-goal game or a two-goal game, you have to be really careful how you use the bench when you have young kids on it.”