The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+(HD); Radio - 660 AM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (10-25-2) at the Carolina Hurricanes (17-15-4)
The Last Devils Game: Another solid effort only this time they got a big break, finished two excellent chances, and fully deserved a 3-1 win over the Atlanta Thrashers. My recap of that game is here.
The Last Hurricanes Game: You couldn't ask for a more complete performance than the one the Hurricanes put on the Ottawa Senators on the road. Cam Ward was brilliant, Zach Boychuk put up a brace, and the Canes won 4-0. Bob Wage has this recap of the game at Canes Country.
The Goal: The Devils have done so much right in their last two games that their goal is to keep it up. That's easier said than done since part of "it" is an aggressive attack that begins from the opening whistle and the team played last night. Their forechecking has paid dividends with turnovers in the neutral zone and the occasional giveaway in the opponent's end. Jacques Lemaire has made reference to the team being "out of shape" earlier in the week; we shall see if they will be in shape tonight on the second half of a back-to-back. If they have truly made strides in that area, then they are able to continue what they've done against the Rangers and Thrashers recently. If they can do that, they got a good shot as any of winning tonight's game.
I have a few more thoughts about tonight's game after the jump. Please visit Canes Country for a Canes-based perspective on tonight's game.
In terms of the Devils lineup, the only change appears to be at goaltender. Lemaire confirmed after last night's game that Martin Brodeur will be starting, as per this post-game post by Tom Gulitti. From that same post, Colin White will not be travelling with the Devils due to illness so that means Mark Fayne gets to play another game. Going back to goaltending, Lemaire's post-game quote on whether there will be a change to the goaltending rotation should be highlighted:
"Not for now," he said. "We’ll go game after game, but I feel that the team is playing better. The defensemen are playing better around the net, which is going to help the goaltender and Marty will come back."
You mean if the guys in front of the goaltender don't hang the goalie out to dry, they play well? Interesting that Lemaire's figured that out but some coaches (John MacLean) did not.
Anyway, let's focus on the opponent. This is the first time this season the Devils will take on the tenacious Hurricanes of Carolina, though they sit as the 22nd best team in the NHL right now. OK, the Devils are dead last in the NHL and so pretty much everyone looks like a pretty good team from that perspective. However, the Canes are sitting in ninth in the Eastern Conference and some of their team stats are just ugly. Their worst are their penalty killing success rate (78.2%, 27th in NHL) and their shots allowed per game average (34.4, 29th in the NHL). Their other team stats range from about the league median (e.g. goals scored per game: 2.75, 14th in NHL) to where they are among the league standings (e.g. goals allowed per game, 2.89, 22nd in NHL).
Team stats aside, the Canes are definitely going to be difficult just because of one man alone: Cam Ward.
|2010 - Cam Ward||31||1770||16||11||74||2.51||1017||943||.927||2|
The goaltender has been the main man for Carolina this season. His save percentage is great and he's coming off a shutout, so he has extra reason to feel good. Not good for a Devils offense who finally scored more than one goal in a game for the first time in two weeks. What's more is that he's this good in spite of a Carolina defensive effort that resembles a shot sieve at times and penalty killing units. Simply putting up a lot of rubber on him isn't necessarily going to work, since it appears he has thrived with a heavy workload. It may be better for the Devils to try and throw him off by giving him lots of traffic or forcing him to go lateral when possible.
Cam Ward isn't the only stud on the Hurricanes. Captain Eric Staal is the team's leading scorer and ranks even among the top 20 scorers in the league. In a way, I wish White wasn't sick because it's going to be a challenge for Lemaire to match-up a defensive pairing against Staal and his linemates. Either Lemaire will roll out a pairing with a rookie on it (e.g. Mark Fayne or Henrik Tallinder) or commit an experienced pairing (e.g. Andy Greene and Anton Volchenkov), leaving youngsters to go up against the other Carolina forwards. No matter what he chooses, Staal's got the shot and the awareness to slice through whoever he wants if he's having a good game.
The other Carolina forwards are definitely a cause for concern. Behind Staal is rookie sensation Jeff Skinner, whose 9 goals leads a group of 7 other forwards with at least 5 goals for the season: Tuomo Ruutu (8), Erik Cole (8), Brandon Sutter (7), Chad LaRose (7), Patrick Dwyer (7), Jussi Jokinen (6), and Sergei Samsonov (6). The Canes do have depth among their forwards, so simply shutting down Staal isn't going to be enough to stem the Carolina attack.
At least the Devils will not see Jokinen and their top defenseman Joni Pitkanen (25:32 ATOI, yeah that's not a typo). As reported by Chip Alexander at Canes Now yesterday, Canes head coach Paul Maurice confirmed they will not be playing tonight due to minor injuries. Forward Zac Dalpe and defenseman Brett Carson were called up to replace them. Needless to say, it's a not insignificant loss for the Canes since Jokinen leads the team in assists (20) and Pitkanen is their top minute man on a blueline that averages 34.4 shots against per game. To me, that's all the more reason for the Devils to get aggressive from the start to pick up on the called up replacements.
Even if they do that, they still have to handle biggest challenge, which will be Ward. Just as we hope January starts off way better than December did, let us hope the Devils can beat Ward enough times to get the points tonight.
The Gamethread will be up later, closer to game time. In the meantime, please feel free to discuss today's game in the comments. If you want to post any news updates (or corrections or what-have-you), then please do so in the comments with a link to the source. Lastly, thank you for reading. Let's go, Devils.