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Game 16 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Anaheim Ducks - 11/11/2009

The Time: 7 PM EST

The Broadcasting Info: MSG+ for the TV; 1130 AM WBBR for the radio

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (11-4-0) vs. the Anaheim Ducks (6-7-2)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils came from behind to win in Ottawa, 3-2.  Most impressive about this comeback was that all three goals came from the power play. Really.  Here's my recap of that game.

The Last Ducks Game:   The Ducks were in control though Phoenix made it interesting with 3 goals in 8 minutes of the third period. Anaheim won their second consecutive game over the Phoenix Coyotes, 4-3.  Daniel of Anaheim Calling has an open recap thread with videos related to the game.

The Goal:  Continue doing what they have been doing.  The Devils have played nothing but close games as of late, but they keep winning those games - which is really the important part.  It's important that the Devils not only not lose sight of that reality, but also don't get terribly comfortable with it either  The Ducks, on paper and perhaps in practice, will be the easiest opponent this week with the Penguins on Thursday and the Capitals on Saturday.  Yet, a great way to end the winning streak is to assume it'll be an easy game.  According this discussion Arthur and Daniel at Anaheim Calling, the Devils are the first opponent in an important road trip for the Ducks.  How can it not be? They're on the wrong end of the Pacific Division right now, their record is poor, and they have every reason to make a statement on the road, starting at the Rock.  Therefore, I think the Devils can succeed if they just continue to do what has been done recently.  They've won these games by not looking past the opponent, not looking down on the opponent, and not getting down if (well, when) the opponent strikes first.   If the Devils do that, they can stay hot.

Read on for further thoughts about the game, a guess at the Devils lineup, and some insight into the Ducks courtesy of Arthur of Anaheim Calling.

Now, the Devils are getting healthier per this Tuesday post by Tom Gulitti.  While he only played a part of the Ottawa game, Bryce Salvador will be good for Wednesday's game.  Which is, well, good; the same six defenders will suit up for the Ducks game.  Meaning four of them will get big minutes yet again.   Johnny Oduya may have re-aggrevated his injury on Monday during practice, so he remains out an on IR as is Rob Niedermayer who is still hurt.   Brian Rolson is listed as "available," so I assume he'll play despite not practicing.  Patrik Elias will play, which is good as he'll get to more of his groove back.   That all said, there are two larger questions with respect to the Devils' lineup for Wednesday.

First, who will be centering the fourth line?  In Tuesday's practice, Rod Pelley and Tim Sestito split time per Gulitti's report.  I felt Sestito had a fine game with limited minutes in Ottawa.  Honestly, I wouldn't mind if he got the Anaheim game as another audition to show off what he could do.   After all, the fourth line won't be getting more than 10 minutes of ice time so it's not as if Sestito has to take a pile of minutes.  Moreover, if he falters, the line remains limited, Rod Pelley keeps his spot, and Sestito will go back to spot duty until Dean McAmmond is healthy and ready to go. 

Second, who will be starting this game?  Martin Brodeur may have been the starter in practice; but Yann Danis is starting to get into the picture.  Lemaire started Danis in games where the Devils have a back-to-back set: first at Boston after a Buffalo game and then second in New Jersey against the Islanders before the Ottawa game.  In general, I have no issue with Brodeur starting both games in a back-to-back set; especially now that he's coming off three days of rest.  Though, with a road game against Pittsburgh - a superior team to Anaheim - it shouldn't surprise anyone if Lemaire starts Danis ahead of Brodeur tonight.

As usual, both decisions will likely be made sometime during the day on Wednesday so this preview can't be too sure. 

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
  Brian Rolston - Patrik Elias - Nicklas Bergfors
  Matt Halischuk - Dainius Zubrus - David Clarkson
  Andrew Peters - Rod Pelley - Ilkka Pikkarainen

Andy Greene - Bryce Salvador
Colin White - Mike Mottau
  Mark Fraser - Cory Murphy

Yann Danis
Martin Brodeur

I'm going to guess that Danis does start ahead of Brodeur and I'm guessing Pelley may keep his spot, as Sestito was really only called up as a spare forward.  I could be wrong though.  As usual per Jacques Lemaire's in-game moves, don't sweat the exact positions of the forward lines; they'll change at some point during the game.

One area of interest will be to the Devils' power play. The power play has been clutch in the Devils' last three wins. The units scored 6 of the Devils' 8 goals over those three games, converting 6 out of 16 chances.  Historically, the Devils have succeeded in spite of the power play. To see them winning because of it is certainly praise-worthy.  They could stand to be more consistent in actually setting up their power play in the opposition's zone.  Not just to get clean shots on net, but just to pin the opposition penalty killers back and to wear them down. 

With Anaheim coming into the Rock with the league's third worst penalty killing percentage at 74%, the Devils can use the game to get more confidence out of the PP units and perhaps convert a few chances.  Those units will be boosted by Patrik Elias, who will certainly get some time to utilize his excellent passing skills to move the puck in their zone.

Now, tonight's game is the only time the Devils will play the Ducks.  So I felt it was important to ask Arthur of Anaheim Calling some questions about the opposition to get some insight to how the team has performed. 

Question #1. The Anaheim Ducks will kick off a four game road trip in New Jersey on Wednesday night with two straight wins under their belt, how do you think the Ducks will approach their first game on the road against New Jersey?  Continue doing what they're doing, or will they make some changes to their overall gameplan?

AC: It's always tough to predict gameplan with the Ducks; [Ducks head coach Randy] Carlyle certainly has a plan for every opponent, but he likes to stick with what works.  I'd be surprised to see the sort of changes he's used in-between losses this year.

Question #2. Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne lead the way for the Ducks in goal scoring, whereas Ryan Getzlaf and Scott Niedermayer lead the way in terms of assists.  Those four are the most productive Ducks on offense so far this season, can the Devils just focus on shutting those four down, or is there anyone else they should focus their attention on?

AC: It would be tough for me to say that you don't have to worry about Bobby Ryan or that you CAN shut down Teemu Selanne when more than half of his goals are power play goals.

But ultimately, I would note that the Ducks have had contributions from the bottom 6 in their last four wins, and game-winning goals from the fourth line in three of them.  If the Ducks are really rolling, all four lines will attack.  And I think they'll emphasize that facing New Jersey's defense.

Question #3. Let's talk goalies. Jonas Hiller looks to be the team's #1 as he has all the team's wins, he's started more games than Jean-Sebastian Giguere, and he's had better numbers so far.  What do you think are his strengths and his weaknesses in the net? 

AC: Hiller's a quick, athletic goaltender, and that pretty much defines his strengths and his weaknesses.  He likes to offer that glove side or the down low and then take them away.  You saw that in the Sharks series as HIller guessed high on an entire team that was shooting high.  But you also saw his weaknesses on the goals he allowed in that series.  [Devin] Setoguchi (apparently the only Shark who can read a scouting report) was patient in the corner while HIller was hugging the post with his blocker; he just waited for the blocker to come away from the pipe, and he put the puck past him.  It seems like Hiller can't sit in set positions for very long, and he doesn't like to be down early.  So out-waiting him or shooting a quick (or even offspeed) shot into the wickets can usually get you a goal.  Oh, and with this Ducks defense, screening him is always an option.

Question #4. The defense for Anaheim, in a word, looks awful on paper.  The team has the second worst shots against per game average in the league with 34.9; the third worst penalty killing percentage in the league (74%); and the fifth highest goals against average in the league with 3.20. Is it really as bad as the team stats make it out to be?  I'm honestly curious to know, what is wrong with the Anaheim defense?

AC: Daniel and I had a discussion about this recently [I believe this is it - JF], and we agreed that there were some severe miscalculations on Bob Murray's part.  First, he reportedly thought [Francois] Beauchemin was too good to keep, and he failed to make him an offer during the season or offseason.  Then he thought he had [Chris] Pronger's successor in [Ryan] Whitney, but the BU alum is a teddy bear in front of the net and the coaching staff is still trying to convince him to unleash his shot from the point.

When Murray finally does trade Pronger, he gets [Luca] Sbisa in the deal and is absolutely convinced that the kid will play in the NHL and nowhere else.  But then he sends him back to Lethbridge, so suddenly we didn't get an 09-10 defenseman in the Pronger trade.  Murray then signs  [Nick] Boynton, assuming GP equals responsible veteran, but we find out both that Boynton doesn't like coming off the scratch list and cannot stay sharp when doing so.  Oh, and don't forget [James] Wisniewski, whom Murray signed to a 2.75M deal before arbitration.  His offense and his checking have showed up, but so have his ridiculous mental mistakes and his penchant for limping off the ice when he isn't getting seriously injured or suspended.  As Daniel said recently, he's a roadblock made of glass.

This team was definitely built for offense, so some decrease in defense is to be expected, but the only place we even attempted to replace Pronger and Beauchemin was in Bob Murray's mind.

Question #5. Lastly, do you have a prediction for tonight's game?

AC: We stay away from predictions at Anaheim Calling.  Bad magumbo.

Big thanks to Arthur for his responses - even with the last one.  But seriously, the big responses to read here are on Hiller and the defense. 

Goaltending is a bit of an issue in Anaheim, as Jean-Sebastian Giguere isn't at all happy being a backup per this story from TSN.  I'm sure management isn't at all happy with Giguere as a $6 million/year backup. Presuming that Jonas Hiller starts in New Jersey - and I am, as I'm inferring from this post by Curtis Zupke of the OC Register - the Devils should plan to either load the slot with traffic and/or be patient with Hiller.  Given that some of those 6 power play goals scored in the last three games were bombs from the point that got through traffic, the Devils should at least do a good job setting up screens.

And with the defense, well, look at those stats.  The Devils' attack should be able to find ways to break through and assert themselves on offense unless Randy Carlyle stacks all 5 of his skaters in the slot (which would create mad screens for Hiller, so nevermind) or does something similar that is ultra-defensive in terms of tactics.

Again, I feel that the best approach for the Devils is to play like they have been in recent games.  Sure, I'd like to see them not give up the first goal of the game; but their work ethic, commitment to defense, and ability to get a clutch goal is certainly worth imitating.   The Devils should be able to win their sixth straight game and finally get their home record up to .500 if they do that. 

Big thanks to Arthur for answering my questions and to you for reading this. Please feel free to leave your thoughts about tonight's game in advance of Steve's GameThread, which will be up prior to game time.  Go Devils!