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Game 11 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Anaheim Ducks

The Time: 10:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+(HD); Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (2-7-1) at the Anaheim Ducks (4-5-1)

The Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils had no answer for San Jose's top line and not much of one for everyone else on the Sharks.  The game had it all from bad breaks to weird bounces to moments where professional ice hockey players repeatedly showed their incompetence at doing things like making a pass.   Of course the Devils lost and lost big, 5-2.  Matt braved the late-night trash-fest and wrote a recap of that game, which you can find right here.

The Last Ducks Game: The Ducks traveled to Dallas and did what the Devils couldn't: beat them.  The Ducks still bled a lot of shots against (37), but they surged in the (gulp) second period with 3 goals, tacked on another 2 in the third, and left Texas with a 5-2 under their belt.  Arthur has this short recap at Anaheim Calling.

The Goal:  Just to let you inside the proverbial sausage factory, I write these previews the night before the game and set them to go live at 1 AM or so.  Given the lateness of Wednesday's game, I felt it was important to watch it before writing this preview.  That said, here's the goal for the Devils tonight:

For the love of the good and beautiful in this universe, this team needs play fundamentally sound hockey.  Because they surely didn't do that at the HP Pavilion on Wednesday night.  They will continue to lose games if they can't string three passes together or stand around when the other team attacks or leave only one or two men back when the opposition forechecks.    It doesn't matter if it's Edmonton, Anaheim, or Washington - they will keep losing games if they can't get the basics down. 

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game, a guess at the lineup, and some insight into the Ducks thanks to Arthur of Anaheim Calling and Earl Sleek of Battle of California.

One thing I keep noticing in these post game reports is the increase of questions about on John MacLean's position.  According to Rich Chere, after the 5-2 loss to San Jose, MacLean saidly flatly that he doesn't believe his job is in danger.  According to Tom Gulitti on Thursday, Lou himself said it's "ridiculous" that his job is in danger.  Chere posted this article on Thursday noting that MacLean was dealt a bad hand and the players are sympathetic to his plight.

Really.  A bad hand.  From where I sit, I see a 2-7-1 team where all but one of the non-wins (the loss to Colorado) were fully deserved.  The Devils have had a full roster for all but 3 of those games, where the Devils went 1-2-0, including the 7-2 loss to Washington where Anton Volchenkov and Brian Rolston got hurt.  The majority of team, save for the recently called up Tyler Eckford, all participated in preseason games with each other.   Most of the forwards on this team were on the roster last year, if not several years in some cases.   Yet, they all struggle with fundamentals like passing, reads, and defensive coverage.  They've been through hard practices, easy practices, days without practice, and they can't seem to build on the rare positive things that they do. Even the players after the loss to San Jose don't seem to know what's wrong, per Rich Chere.  From the bluntly honest Ilya Kovlachuk:

"You should ask somebody else, not me. I don’t know what’s wrong," Kovalchuk said.

To the increasingly ineffective captain Jamie Langenbrunner:

"I guess there’s got to be a question of chemistry the way we’ve played together," captain Jamie Langenbrunner said.


"I think all of us are frustrated. None of us is doing what we’re paid to do," the captain said. "(The coach) is not where the issue is. We have to find it in our locker room. The coach can only do so much."

We have a team that aren't strangers with each other, yet they claim they don't know what's going on right whilst they are one the major responsible parties involved in what's going on.   They are playing terribly and don't seem to be doing anything about it but they are saying whatever they can to protect the coach to the media.  I don't see a bad hand, but I'm starting to smell something rotten. 

By the way, what does the coach decide to do on the day off before a back-to-back with Anaheim and LA?

A 20 minute practice.

Yep, that's all MacLean thinks is necessary for this team at this point.  I can understand not running them into the ground given that they have two games the next night.  Surely he saw the same game we all did, that type of performance demands some recourse at practice. Or at least a whole lot of passing drills.  I'm starting to get a sense that that this team needs someone to light a fire under their backside and demand accountability, and MacLean, Robinson, Oates, Terreri, and the other special assignment coaches hasn't figured it out yet.

I've already given what I think is the goal for this team tonight.  Let me offer one more.  Call it The Goal For John MacLean to Still Have a Job In the Near Future.   The Devils need to win at least one of these two games.  An actual, honest-to-God 'W,' not two post-regulation losses. Victories.  It's going to be very hard.  Los Angeles is a very good team, and Anaheim may be hitting their stride shortly after a rough start.   I don't care if Martin Brodeur plays both nights, I don't care if John MacLean throws Parise-Zajac-Zubrus on the ice for 30 minutes, and I don't care if the Devils .  There must be results soon.

Anyway, it's not clear who's starting tonight as Brodeur was given the day off from practice along with Jacob Josefson, Zach Parise, and a questionable Travis Zajac to get some rest.  Zajac may have suffered a leg injury from colliding with Andy Greene on Wednesday, but according to this Chere post he hopes to be fine.    Matthew Corrente is decidedly not fine.  Reported here by Rich Chere, Corrente broke his left hand in a fight, so the Devils have called up Tyler Eckford (and not Alexander Urbom) from Albany. They also called up Alexander Vasyunov (not Vladimir Zharkov) from Albany just in case Zajac can't play on one of the next two nights.   

That all said, here's my likely-incredibly-wrong guess assuming Zajac is good to go.  All I can guarantee that these will change if things don't go so well to start, and given how the players don't seem to know what the deal is and the coach doesn't then it probably won't:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Dainius Zubrus
Ilya Kovalchuk -Jason Arnott - David Clarkson
Patrik Elias - Jacob Josefson - Jamie Langenbrunner
Rod Pelley - Tim Sestito - Adam Mair

Colin White - Matt Taormina
Olivier Magnan-Grenier - Andy Greene
Henrik Tallinder - Tyler Eckford

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

Sigh.  Let's move onto the opposition tonight.  On paper, you may feel this is the opponent the Devils need. A team that has averaged an astoundingly bad 39.7 shots against per game and have allowed an average of 3.4 goals per game. 

2010 - Jonas Hiller 8 460 3 4 25 3.26 294 269 .915 0

A team with a below-average penalty killing success rate of 80.8% (tied for 22nd in the NHL as of this writing).  A team that had a slow start.  Yet, in reality, they've won 3 of their last 5 games and could possibly have young defenseman Cam Fowler back in the line up for an emotional lift. These are the Anaheim Ducks and they are feeling good for good reason, per Eric Stephens of the OC Register after the Dallas game.

In order to get more of a handle on the Ducks, I asked Arthur of Anaheim Calling and Earl Sleek of Battle of California about the team they support.  Note: I sent these questions out on Monday and got responses before Wednesday's game. So if you notice a little inconsistency, please pay no mind.

Question 1:  The Ducks have started the season incredibly poorly, like New Jersey, but they've at least had some recent wins (notice wins is plural). What do you think has been the biggest factor in Anaheim getting some recent victories? Good fortune? Improved commitment on defense? Increased focus?

Arthur: Improved commitment on defense? Haha. The wins can be attributed to the offense finding a groove. The Bob Murray Ducks are designed to win 5-4 games. They're scoring more now, but they're still allowing 40 shots per game.

Earl Sleek: It's probably closest to "good fortune" -- the three wins all have come with late game-winning goals in essentially tied games. These wins aren't truly just the result of bounces, however -- at times the Ducks do get angry enough to play some competent hockey. Unfortunately, most of that effort comes in the wake of embarrassing losses, and it's usually followed by an unearned sense of entitlement, resulting in another loss. The Ducks' longest winning streak of the season still is one game.

Question 2:  Ryan Getzlaf is only fifth on the team in total shots, but does lead the team in points with 3 goals and 8 10 assists. It appears he’s the proverbial straw that stirs the drink. Can he be stopped in anyway? And even if he can be, would the Ducks’ offense suffer significantly?

2010 - Ryan Getzlaf 10 3 10 13 1 8 2 0 1 20:53 17 17.6

A: Around Anaheim Calling, I like to call Getzlaf the Incredible Hulk, because if you don't check him, cheapshot him or engage him physically in any meaningful way, you'll have Bill Bixby on your hands for three periods. When Getzlaf gets physically involved, he gets ruthlessly competitive and can take over a game by himself.

I would say leaving Getzlaf alone is probably the best way to frustrate him. He may slash one of your guys or start a fight to make himself feel involved, and he might rattle off a couple of points when he gets out of the penalty box, but the Ducks are usually out of it by then. As Bruce Banner, he's still an incredible passer, but if you want to shut down Getzlaf, the gamechanger, just tell your men Santiago isn't to be touched.

ES: Of course he can be stopped -- see his first three games as captain. Sure, his counting numbers are impressive, and that's because he and Perry are really talented, but they can be a liability at times, too. Especially in road games -- his line can get trapped up by matchups and then it's difficult for the Ducks to compete. Still, I do like the nightly effort from the Koivu-Selanne line; the Ducks do have legitimate secondary threats.

Question 3: Cam Fowler was Anaheim’s first round pick in the 2010 draft and has begun the season in the NHL. While he is injured now, has he been good enough to warrant a full season in the NHL? Or would he be better off going back to juniors after playing 9 games?

2010 - Cam Fowler 6 1 2 3 -1 2 0 0 0 20:05 7 14.3

A: I don't know if there is a plan. Randy Carlyle plays Fowler for Top 4 minutes and showers him with praise, but the head coach also made it clear that keeping Cam is not his call. Obviously, from a contract perspective, only Bob Murray knows if it's worth it to him and his long term plan to make sure this kid can't start talking UFA at 25.

As far as the way he's played, I've been very impressed, especially when you consider this team hasn't been backchecking. Fowler's ability to gap his man, his decision making and his ability to use his defensive partner are always sink or swim with almost zero help. Being competent under those conditions would be impressive, but he also makes the small, smart plays well and never seems rattled by a mistake. It's not a difficult defensive system, and we aren't asking a lot of offense out of him. Still, it really is something to see an 18 year old handle Top 6 NHL forwards. Even having seen it rather recently down here.

ES: He's been good enough, and the Ducks need him enough -- I think he plays the whole year on the big club. He was our most competent defenseman on the opening road trip when everybody looked like idiots, and was having a heck of a game before Shane Doan knocked him out of the lineup. I think for deeper clubs, he's probably go back to juniors, but I don't know if there's any real hockey purpose -- mostly it would be for contractual advantage later down the road. However, I would rather waste a future year of Fowler than waste the current year of Getzlaf, Perry, and Ryan -- Cam Fowler is a difference-maker, so I think he stays up for the year.

Question 4: I’ve noticed that the Ducks have a team faceoff winning percentage of 46.1%, the third worst in the league. Is this a major problem for Anaheim?

A:I think that stat is a little deceptive. Koivu is at around 52%, which is what he did for us last year, and Getzlaf has actually improved a couple of points. But ultimately, you're looking at a sub par year for Marchant and Chipchura, as well as a tough early outing for Bobby Ryan. Also, Selanne, who was been inexplicably good when his man was thrown out of the circle in recent years, has had to take more than his fair share and has fared more predictably than he has in the past.

ES: On the list of problems the Anaheim Ducks face this season, faceoff percentage is a fairly minor one. Yes, it's probably costly, but the Ducks have structural problems even when they win faceoffs. Honestly, I didn't really even know Anaheim was that low, but I'm way more concerned with what the Ducks do in their defensive zone on dump-ins than I am with faceoff wins. Faceoff stats have some value, but Ducks have more pressing concerns at the moment.

Question 5: Rather than asking for a prediction, what are your current hopes for the Ducks now that the first month of games is coming to a close?

A: Is it sad that I don't really have any hopes for them yet? After a poor start, I'm prepared to take the team as I find it this season. Hopes feel like goals, and I'm always uncomfortable setting goals when their accomplishment has nothing to do with me. I'm sure when I become a parent, I'll feel more comfortable being disappointed in other human beings.

ES: The same thing I hope for every season -- the perfect Disney-scripted ending. Teemu deserves no less.

2010 - Teemu Selanne 10 5 5 10 -4 2 3 0 0 17:07 36 13.9

Big thanks to both Arthur and Earl for their answers and the time they took to write them.  Arthur's suggestion about Getzlaf is worth noting.  You'd expect physical play to throw a player off, upset them a bit; but the Anaheim captain works the opposite way.  Of course, the Devils can't simply just prepare for him and his unit alone, they do have to contend with Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne, who are living proof that age really is just a number for some players.

Should the Anaheim defense remain leaky as they have been and as Arthur and Earl attested to, that would be a great gift to an offense that needs goals in the worst way.  Except the last time that happened it was against Colorado, and Craig Anderson denied everything he could despite a deluge of pucks.   So I'd be wary about feeling good about this Devils offense going up against a poor offense. For all we know, Jonas Hiller could become a wall.

The Gamethread for tonight's game will go up closer to game time. In the meantime, please discuss tonight's game in the comments to this post. Remember to link to any news updates.   Please let's go, Devils, or there will be more than ample reason for certain Devils to go elsewhere.