Expect to see the same New Jersey Devils we saw over the last week or so: Gulitti reports that Colin White did not make the trip and Scott Clemmensen will start in net. How the Devils will play, well, that's not certain. The overtime win against Ottawa wasn't all that and a bag of chips; the win over Montreal was pretty good; and the two games prior didn't feature a lot of defense or smart hockey - especially after a decisive win over Our Hated Rivals. It's been an up-and-down 5 games for the Devils in terms of performance. Yet, they've come out winners for most of them and that's truly the important thing in a results-oriented league like the NHL.
Carolina, as you may not have expected, have been the same in terms of results. Check out their last 5 games.
Hurricanes' Last 5 Games
|@ Tampa Bay||Sat 01/03||W 3 - 2|
|St. Louis||Fri 01/02||W 2 - 1|
|Atlanta||Wed 12/31||W 3 - 1|
|Boston||Sat 12/27||L 2 - 4|
|@ Atlanta||Fri 12/26||W 5 - 4|
OK, not exactly wins over the cream of the crop; but they are wins, they build confidence within a team, and they are worth 2 points regardless of it coming against Tampa Bay or coming against Boston. Believe it, or not, the Hurricanes only sit 4 points behind the Devils in the conference with a record of 20-15-5. And that they have this solid record so far is a testament to the fact that numbers don't always tell the whole story. Let me hit you with some numbers from NHL.com.
- The Carolina Hurricanes have scored a total of 105 goals, the fourth lowest in the league and tied with the Islanders; while letting in 117 goals in total. That's an average of 2.60 goals per game and 2.82 goals against per game. Much worse than the Devils' 2.97 goals per game and 2.53 goals against per game.
- The Hurricanes, believe it or not, are worse than the Devils in killing penalties (80.5% to 78.4%) and even on the power play (16.8% to 15.5%). Brutal.
- Home record for the Hurricanes: 11-9-1. Yep, they just went over .500 at home recently.
- Here's a fun stat: The Hurricanes win only 50% of the games they score first in - tied with Ottawa for the second worst winning percentage in the entire league in this case.
- Have another fun one: The Hurricanes have the third worst winning percentage in the NHL when they are leading after the first period with only 53.3% The have the fifth worst winning percentage when leading after two periods: 76.5%.
Considering all this, is this really a team that's 20-15-5? They don't score a whole lot of goals, they let in a good amount, their special teams are bad, and it's definitely not a good that scoring first or leading after one doesn't necessarily lead to a good result for Carolina. This is a team that sits seventh in the conference?
It is. While they don't look so good statistically after scoring first; they win 50% of the games wherein they let up the first goal. Moreover, they shoot nearly as much as the Devils on average (31.1 to the Devils' 31.2 shots per game) while being almost as stingy in allowing shots from their opponents (Devils: 28.9, Canes: 29.3). And they are playing productive hockey recently. They are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games, and won their last 3. Eric Staal and the potentially ageless Ray Whitney are guys I would ignore on the ice were I looking to lose hockey games easily.
|2008 - Ray Whitney||40||12||21||33||-9||8||2||0||1||1||120||10.0|
|2008 - Eric Staal||40||18||12||30||10||32||7||0||4||0||168||10.7|
Basically, when you think you've figured out the 'Canes, you learn some other things about the team that make you scratch your head a second, third, or seventeenth time. All I can really conclude is that this is a game where the old cliche of playing all 60 minutes really comes into play. This is a team that isn't great with a lead, but they aren't hopeless without it; and it's a team that's won quite a few games as of late. Not to mention that Cam Ward has stepped up his game tremendously. Tremendously winning the NHL's third star of the last week. They have momentum. They have a purpose. Should they show up the Devils, it'll send a strong message to the rest of the league that the Southeast is definitely not a one-team division.
I feel that the only way you can really counter that without relying on your opponent to fail is to play smart hockey for 60 minutes. Not the first and third period, not for 10 minutes within each period, the whole game as best as possible. It doesn't have to be necessarily aggressive, up tempo, and/or playoff style hockey. It just needs to be smart. It means aiming shots instead of firing them right into the shins of the defense; blocking shots is something Dennis Seidenberg is looking forward to as he's sixth in the league with 92. The Devils would be wise to make sure those efforts hit Ward (and the net, of course) and not some other Hurricane. It means being calm on power plays and setting up the shot. Just like they did to win the game in overtime on Sunday. It requires being aware of who's sneaking in the back door when on defense. Something the Devils got caught on Sunday.
Could the Devils beat the Hurricanes. Sure, why not? But don't think the hurricanes are should be an easy two points for the Devils. They have every reason to do well Tuesday night as well. They are at home, they are playing well as of late, and they're better than what some stats currently say about them.