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Game 12 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Winnipeg Jets

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The Time:  7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast:  TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (5-5-1) vs. the Winnipeg Jets (5-6-1)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils went into Philadelphia and owned the puck in terms of possession and shots on net. Yet, they got scored on twice and had to come from behind to tie the Flyers in the second period. Then, the Flyers tacked on a third and the Devils had to equalize in the third period - which they did.  It took a shootout, where the Devils won to make it a 4-3 score. but the Devils prevailed in getting two points in a game where they deserved two points by how they played.  My recap of the game is right here.

The Last Jets Game:  While the Devils were playing the Second Rate Rivals, the erstwhile Atlanta Thrashers were at Nassau Coliseum to take on the Islanders.  The Jets put three up on the Isles; and Ondrej Pavalec stood on his head in making 34 saves to prevent the Isles from even getting one goal.  The Jets left Long Island 3-0 and Benjamin Wendorf has this recap of the game at Arctic Ice Hockey.

The Goal:  Find ways to force the Jets to play as much of this game as possible in their own end.   One of the big reasons why the Devils were able to come back from being down 2-0 in Philly and 3-2 later on is because they kept peppering their goaltender with shots and forced their skaters to play in their end of the rink.  While every shift wasn't just offense after offense, the pressure definitely got to them.  When their defense made a mistake, the Devils capitalized.   While the Jets shutout the Isles, it wasn't because their defense played lights-out hockey based on Ben's recap of that game at AIH.  They can be exposed.

It's generally something I want the Devils to do against any team.  I'm highlighting it for the this Jets team because most of this team doesn't play in their end of the rink.  Just look at the offensive zone starts and on-ice Corsi rates of the skaters at Behind the Net.  The guys driving the play have impressive values, and high offensive zone starts. The guys getting torched include the few players who generally start in their own end of the rink, most notably Jim Slater and Tanner Glass.  It would be to the Devils benefit to exploit the match-up game and force guys like Evander Kane, Alexander Burmistrov, and Kyle Wellwood (among others) in their own end of the rink.   At a minimum, it'll help the Devils' defensive cause. Ideally, it'll help the Devils get some good looks at Pavelec tonight.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump.  For the opposition's perspective, please check out Arctic Ice Hockey.

The Devils held an optional practice on Friday, so there are a few open questions with the lineup. The big one is the status of Ilya Kovalchuk.  He left the Devils-Flyers game with about a minute left with a pulled muscle in his leg.   He didn't skate on Friday; and he'll be re-evaluated today according to Tom Gulitti's report from practice at Fire & Ice.  Kovalchuk put up two assists at even strength against the Flyers and had a pretty good game.  I'd hate to see him sit out even a few games just before he could get into a groove.  The Devils offense will certainly seem less threatening on paper with #17 out of the line up.  It'll also force Peter DeBoer to shift the forward lines again; who would move up to take Kovalchuk's spot?  Possibly Petr Sykora or the shot-machine David Clarkson were I to guess.

Another Devils whose status is up in the air is Andy Greene.  He took part in the warm-ups on Thursday night but was ultimately scratched in favor of Mark Fraser.  The injury is not specific outside of "lower body."  Given that he was at warm-ups on Thursday and was ruled out right before gametime, I don't think it is a major injury.  Greene hopes to play tonight and will be in the warm-ups as well.   Should he return, I would suspect we'll see Adam Larsson back with Greene and Bryce Salvador back with Anton Volchenkov.  If not, then I'd expect the same pairings from the Philadelphia game.  They were pretty good; though I hope the forwards and defenders don't get caught puck-watching for a goal.

Actually, I just had a thought: instead of DeBoer playing a goon on the fourth line and limiting him to less than 5 minutes of ice time, why doesn't he just dress Fraser and play with 7 defensemen and 11 forwards?   Fraser did well against the Flyers and he could certainly contribute more to the team than Cam Janssen and/or Eric Boulton.

What is clear is who will be in net for the Devils based on Gulitti's report: Martin Brodeur.  He didn't have a good night against Toronto, but I'm confident he'll look better tonight just because he got some experience under his belt.  Mind you, he's only played 7 periods of hockey all season, it's not like he's had a chance to get into form.  Now that he has had that game and some practices, he should be looser.  Plus, he and the Devils get the benefit of not playing an opponent that has one of the top scorers in the league.

The big problem with the Jets so far this season has been in their end of the rink.   While they have a good goals per game rate of 2.67, they have let up a shockingly high average of 3.17 goals per game.  They've held their opponents to less than 3 goals in a game only 3 times this season - and they lost one of them.   Their penalty killing success rate has also been ugly at 78.8%, among the lower third in the league.  On top of all of that, their already statistically unimpressive defense has suffered the loss of Tobias Enstrom, their top defender both in minutes (25:07 ATOI) and in possession (17.26 on-ice Corsi). Enstrom's out with a broken collarbone

It's not all awful for the Jets, though.  They are similar to the Devils in shots for per game (NJ: 28.8; WPG: 28.4) and shots against per game (NJ: 29.5; WPG: 30.8), so it's not like they've been sieves in that regard.   Plus, their power play has put up a good success rate of 17.1%, which is clearly superior to the Devils' 14.6%.  Most of all, their production has been spread apart.  Evander Kane and Kyle Wellwood both lead the team with 5 goals, followed by 4 each from Alexander Burmistrov and Jim Slater (of all players) and Andrew Ladd and Nik Antropov with 3.  Antropov and Burmistrov are the team leader in points, but they're not so far ahead from the rest of the pack that stopping them means you stop the Winnipeg offense.  After all, their leaders in shots on net are Dustin Byfuglien (42), Kane (40), and Ladd (38).

As noted prior to the jump, the possession stats on this team are feast or famine.  Many of their best scorers are at the higher end with favorable zone start percentages.  The guys are the other end are the ones the Devils really should try to out-do when they're on the ice.   Most of Winnipeg's defense are in the latter category, as Byfuglien's the only one who's been positive from a Corsi standpoint that isn't injured.  While Byfuglien will play a lot, as he was behind Enstrom in average ice time per game on the team, the other five defenders can be exploited. Against the Isles, the Jets had the following pairings:  Byfuglien & Randy Jones; Johnny Oduya & Mark Flood; and Zach Bogosian & Brett Festerling.   It's a blueline with size (Oduya's the smallest one among the six), but if the Islanders game was any indication, they're not exactly adept.  The Devils forwards can and should try to capitalize on their relative unfamiliarity.  As well as their physicality, as Byfuglien and Bogosian lead the Jets in minor penalties - something Winnipeg is used to taking as they've been shorthanded 52 times, tied for sixth most in the league.  (Aside: Hey, Devils power play, this is what we call a good possibility.)

2011-12 - Ondrej Pavelec 10 540 4 4 1 29 3.22 286 257 .899 1

Of course, they would need to get past Pavelec after all of them.  Don't let that just-below-90% save percentage fool you.  He's coming off a shutout for starters. Moreover, he's had experience facing a lot of shots with a bad defense in front of him  The correct course of action is to, well, put a lot of shots on net anyway.  Just don't automatically assume the Devils will light this guy up unless he looks pretty poor in net.  Pavelec will not be fazed by the Devils.  This is assuming he's even the starter since the Jets will play the Rangers on Sunday.  Should they rest Pavelec for their game at MSG, the Devils will face Peter Mannino since Chris Mason is on injured reserved. Mannino hasn't received a start for Winnipeg this season and he's played a mere 5 games in the NHL (87.8% save percentage).  Needless to say, I'd love to see the Devils take on Mannino; but I'm not so sure Winnipeg will actually go ahead and give him a start on the road.

Anyway, those are my thoughts and speculations on tonight's game.  Now I want to know your take. What do you think the Devils will have to focus on to win tonight's game? Do you think they'll get by on offense without Kovalchuk? How do you think the defense will do if Greene can't play again?    What do you think of the former Atlanta Thrashers as they are?  Who makes you the most concerned on that roster?   Please leave your questions and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.