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Game 8 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Phoenix Coyotes

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Let's do more of this, Devils.  Only in Phoenix and against a different team with different players.  Just the goal scoring, really. Let's see that again.   (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Let's do more of this, Devils. Only in Phoenix and against a different team with different players. Just the goal scoring, really. Let's see that again. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Getty Images

The Time: 10:00 PM EDT

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (4-2-1) at the Phoenix Coyotes (3-3-2)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils rolled into Los Angeles and played a much sharper game than their last two games.  Everyone was skating hard from the beginning of the game, passes on the breakout and going forward were on target more often, and the forecheck was active.  After a post and a waved-off goal in the first period (both by David Clarkson), Dainius Zubrus got on the board with a fluky rebound goal in the second period. Not long after, Patrik Elias coolly finished off a one-timer on a fantastic play (broken down by Matt Ventolo here) to make it 2-0; and Zubrus ripped one stick-side to end the period up 3-0.  The Kings put up quite a few shots, but not a lot of chances; and so the Devils looked solid in a 3-0 victory.  Kevin's recap of the late game is right here; and C.J. has the scoring chance summary.

The Last Coyotes Game:  While the Devils were in L.A., the Coyotes were hosting the Dallas Stars.  This was a back-and-forth game of sorts.  The Coyotes scored early in the first period, but a few minutes later the Stars tied it up.  Mid-way through the third period, franchise hero Shane Doan scored his 300th career goal to put up the 'Yotes 2-1.  Just about a minute left in the game, Adam Burish snagged a late equalizer to tie it up.  The two teams had to go to a shootout to decide it.  It took six rounds, but Trevor Daley got the winner past Mike Smith to give the Stars the 3-2 shootout win.  Here's a recap by Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic.

The Goal: Don't get cocky, keep up the respect & pressure.  One of the reasons why the Devils looked so good against the Kings was that they constantly respected their opponent. They took them seriously from the first minute and onward. They didn't get on themselves after a bad shift, or dial down the intensity after a few good ones. They didn't score one or two goals and just hung back.  No, they kept pushing for more goals. Even though the Kings did out-shoot and out-attempt the Devils by a large margin, the Devils still managed to get scoring chances both recorded by C.J. and unrecorded because they missed the puck entirely.   They kept forechecking and stepping up in the neutral zone to get stops for all three periods.  They weren't swarming the Kings, but they didn't just let them do as they wished in the third.   It's the kind of effort fans want to see from their team, and I think by doing it again, they have a good chance as any to win in Phoenix.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For the opposition's perspective, please check out Five for Howling.

Based on Tom Gulitti's report from Wednesday's practice, I wouldn't expect any changes from the line up that won at Los Angeles.  I'm fine with that given how well the lineup played in that game.  Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk looked alright together; the Zubrus-Elias-Sykora line looked great; Johan Hedberg was solid; David Clarkson and Adam Henrique played inspired hockey; and I really like how Andy Greene and Adam Larsson performed with their new partners on defense.   Even the fourth line, which had Cam Janssen on it, was decent.  I could be lazy and just say, "more of all that, please."

I do want to see two Devils do more than what they did on Monday, though.  The first is that Henrik Tallinder maintains better balance.  I don't want to see him bowling into Moose or falling down with the puck in his own end.  I'm joking a little bit on that. Spills aside, he was OK.  The second and more serious call out is Nick Palmieri. I really want to see a good performance for him. Get some shots on net, crash the net, set some guys up, don't swing the stick around carelessly, etc. He was more of a passenger along side Parise and Kovalchuk against Los Angeles and he hasn't exactly been all that impressive in games prior.   We've seen good performances out of Sykora and Clarkson and should they continue to do well while Palmieri treads water, the question of whether he should be on a top line will grow larger.   For his own sake in the lineup, I hope Palmieri makes a point to make a point in the games he plays in going forward.  Maybe it'll begin tonight.

Since newly-acquired Devil Ryan Carter isn't with the team and Greene expects to play, I think that just about does it for the Devils.   Let's look at the Coyotes, a team I'm still trying to figure out.

As of right now, the Coyotes are in last place in the Pacific Division with a record of 3-3-2.  A look at the team stats at prior to Wednesday's game tells me the following. Their offense is above average, with 22 goals scored (12th in the league) and an average of 31.6 shots for per game (10th in the league). They're better than the Devils in both stats. Their defense is below average with 23 goals allowed (21st in the league) and an average of 30.9 shots against per game (20th in the league).  They're just behind the Devils in shots against per game; while well behind the Devils in goals allowed.  When it comes to special teams, their power play has been good by going 6-for-34 (17.6%, 11th in the league) and their penalty kill is OK at 29-for-35 (82.9%, tied for 17th in the league).  This isn't all so bad, except for giving up a few too many goals and shots (something the Devils can work on/will get better as the team got that San Jose game out of the way).

Looking at the basic individual stats, there's plenty of dangerous players on the Coyotes. Shane Doan is the team's leading scorer with 5 goals and 4 assists, and he plays quite a bit with 20:08 of ice time.  I suspect whoever he's lined up with will be the line Peter DeBoer will try to match with his best line.  The rest of the lineup has chipped in for the most part, including seemingly-timeless winger Ray Whitney (3 G, 4 A) and strong center Martin Hanzal (2 G, 3 A).  Two of their defensemen have also chipped in: top-minute defender Keith Yandle (1 G, 4 A, 22:19 ATOI) and burgeoning young defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (3 G, 1 A, 18:37 ATOI).  I'd watch out for them at the point, among other Coyotes.   I'm not seeing too much that sticks out outside of Doan leading this team, which really isn't a surprise given his career.

Moving onto looking at some advanced stats at Behind the Net, I'm even more baffled when I look at Phoenix.  I know it's early in the season, but how does this team have so many players with offensive zone start percentages over 50%?  It's not like a few are taking the tough draws, players with high Corsi Rel QoC values have enjoyed more advantageous zone starts than not.  Even with the benefit of , this team has been pretty strong in possession early on. Some players are absolutely ridiculous in terms of on-ice Corsi rate, such as the aforementioned Whitney and Hanzal along with Daymond Langkow, Radim Vrbata, and David Schlemko. While the small population size along with the lack of zone adjustment adjustment has made those values look better than what it really has been, most of the team has been pushing the play forward.  Perhaps DeBoer needs to see where those guys line up in terms of the match-up game too.  Only Derek Morris, Boyd Gordon, and Lauri Korpikoski have been hammered in that department; but why them and not anyone else, I couldn't tell you.  Still, Peter DeBoer may want to consider finding those match-ups and exploit them should that hold true on the ice this evening.

What about the goalie situation? Maybe that has something to do with the skaters looking better on paper than a 3-3-2 record may indicate?  That's possible.  It's clear that Mike Smith is the #1 on this squad, since he's had 6 appearances to Jason LaBarbera's 2.  It's also clear that Smith has been the better goaltender with a save percentage of 91.4% compared to LaBarbera's 88.7%. Then again, LaBarbera only got lit up in his last appearance; which skews his stat line. Presuming Dave Tippett doesn't rest his starter just because it's a non-conference game, I'd expect Smith to start tonight - but I'm not any closer as to why this team isn't better what their record has shown.

Perhaps I'm over-thinking this. Perhaps the simplest answer is the best: the stats are what they are partially because it's just a function of the season being still so young.  While the Coyotes in some metrics have looked good, it doesn't change that they've been beaten decisively on the scoreboard in each of their regulation losses (3-6 to San Jose; 2-5 to Chicago; 0-2 to L.A.) - hence some of the defensive team numbers being bad (and the Corsi numbers looking good possibly due to scoring effects).  Their wins have been high-scoring affairs (5-2 over Nashville; 4-1 over Winnipeg; 5-4 over Anaheim), which pumps up their offensive team stats.  Smith has put in some solid performances in net, but the team results haven't always matched up with what he has done - one of his worst performances was that 5-4 win over Anaheim, for example.

Related to that, I'm left with the cliche; that the Coyotes aren't a bunch of pushovers.  I'm not sure if they're really good and a bit unfortunate or average with a bit of luck; but they're not going to be an easy team to face.  I'd make especially sure Doan, Hanzal, and Whitney are accounted for when they're out there; but, as usual, they shouldn't take it easy against the rest of the forward.  Devils forwards should expect to see all six defenders regularly given their even strength ice time per game this season. Mike Smith will probably be in net behind them all and won't necessarily be as bad as he was in Tampa Bay. All the more reason to hope the Devils take what they did against the Kings and do it again (or something like it to the 'Yotes tonight.

Those are my thoughts on tonight's game.  I want to know your take.  Do you think the Devils will do what they did to the Kings for a second straight night? Will Palmieri have a good night?   Will Tallinder not lose an edge so many times?  How do you think the Devils should approach the Coyotes tonight? What do you think of Phoenix's team in general?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thanks for reading.