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Game 13 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Less of this "other-team-gets-loose-with-puck-in-neutral-zone," please.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Less of this "other-team-gets-loose-with-puck-in-neutral-zone," please. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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The Time: 7:30 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - VERSUS (a.k.a. Doc's calling this one), TSN2; Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (6-5-1) vs. the Carolina Hurricanes (5-6-3)

The Charity:  Are you going to the game? If so, then pay attention:  The Devils are holding a food drive to benefit the New Jersey Community Food Bank.  Bring some non-perishable food items to the game to do some good.

The Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils hosted the Winnipeg Jets in a game where both teams missed some key players.  It was a fairly sloppy game by both sides, and it left a bit of a bad taste at least in my mouth to witness the Devils give up a 2-0 lead in the third period.  Fortunately, Adam Henrique got a breakaway opportunity in overtime and scored his second goal of the game to give the Devils a 3-2 win.  My recap of the game is right here.

The Last Hurricanes Game: The Canes hosted the Dallas Stars for a Sunday afternoon contest.  Two days earlier, the Canes got licked 5-1 by the Washington Capitals so Canes fans were eager to see a better effort from their favorite team at home.  They didn't get that.  Instead, they saw their team go down 3-1 after one period, 4-1 after the second period, and a goalie change and a consolation goal for a 5-2 loss. Bob Wage called it "Carolina Ugly" in his recap over at Canes Country and I can't disagree.

The Last Devils-Hurricanes Game:  These two teams squared off in a game a little less than a month ago for an afternoon weekday game. The Devils were coming off a disappointing performance in their home opener, whereas the Canes were looking for their first win of the 2010-11 season.  The Devils put out a much better performance in terms of puck movement, pace, and positioning from just about everyone on the team.  While the Canes answered two of their goals, Ilya Kovalchuk put up an unanswered third goal in the third period and Zach Parise sealed the win with an empty net goal.   The Devils won their first game of the season 4-2 over Carolina. Here is my recap of that game. For the opposition's side, here's Bob Wage's take over at Canes Country.   As for scoring chances, C.J. did the count in this post.

The Goal:  Settle down and make better passes in the neutral zone. While they beat the Jets on Saturday, the Devils' offense was stunted by their sloppy play in the neutral zone.  Passes would go astray for unintentional dump-ins or icings.  Errant passes would also go right to Jets players, killing off any hopes of an attack.  In fact, I noticed the Jets were a little more aggressive going after Devils in the neutral zone or right along their blueline as time went on since they were successful at winning pucks from them.   Instead of trying to test a depleted defense over and over, the Devils left possibilities on the table.   It did hurt that Ilya Kovalchuk was not in the lineup; but making passes going forward should be something any line can accomplish.   I believe for the Devils to have a good chance of winning this game, they're going to have to be sharper in the middle of the rink.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For the opposition's point of view, please check out Canes Country.

Given what happened in Monday's practice per Tom Gulitti's report at Fire & Ice, I would expect to see the same forward lines from Saturday's game against Winnipeg. Yes, I'm expecting Rod Pelley to get a shot at showing his worth yet again.  Eric Boulton was out again and was retroactively put on injured reserve for his sore hand.  More importantly than that news, Ilya Kovalchuk didn't practice on Monday.  Since he didn't practice on Monday, I doubt we'll see him until Friday at the earliest.   I'm fine with that.  As Kovalchuk said about his injury (via Gulitti), it's smarter to let this minor issue go away instead of risking further and more serious injury.

Hopefully, this means we can see a better performance out of the line of Zach Parise, Adam Henrique, and David Clarkson.  While Henrique was the hero and Parise was the helper on two goals on Saturday, this unit didn't do so well overall.   Clarkson was an afterthought most of the time, Parise only shined in spots, and Henrique didn't too much positive outside of his breakaway goals.   Since the Canes are a healthier (and possibly angrier, more on that later) team than the Jets were on Saturday, it behooves the Devils to have more than one line (read: Patrik Elias' unit) achieve success at even strength.

It's not all doom and gloom for the Devils, though. Andy Greene did return to practice on Monday per Gulitti's report. He'll be a gametime decision according to head coach Peter DeBoer in this Monday post by Gulitti.   If he's good to go, then I'd expect him to re-unite with Adam Larsson to maintain the pairing of Henrik Tallinder and Mark Fayne.  If not, then we should see the same pairings from the last two games - which do include the recently waived defenseman Mark Fraser.   In general, I liked how the Devils defense has performed in the last two games.  Sure, there were a few concerning shifts and a few mistakes made; but I can't complain about holding opponents to only 23 shots in over 60 minutes in each of the last two games.  Plus, the penalty kill units have been phenomenal with 14 straight kills on top of a very good 43.7 shots against per 60 minutes rate.  As much as I like Greene, if the Devils want to give him another night off to heal up, then I would not be too concerned. 

I'm also not concerned about the goaltender position.  Gulitti confirmed on Monday that Martin Brodeur will start tonight's game.  Brodeur looked much better on Saturday against Winnipeg than he did in his first game back from injury.

However, I am very much concerned with what Carolina Hurricanes team are we going to see tonight.

On the one hand, I should be looking forward to this game.  The Canes have been pitiful in their last two games.  They've allowed 10 goals while only scoring 3 in those two games. Just read Bob Wage's recaps of them at Canes Country, or this post by Cory Lavalette summing both of them up.    Their most talented forward, Eric Staal, has not picked up a point in his last 5 games and has not scored a goal in his last 8 games.  Their big minute defenseman with an average ice time of 23:36, Joni Pitkanen, has been cold on the scoresheet and a bit too sloppy in his own end of the rink.  The team has allowed 32 shots per game on average this season, which has been a consistent problem.  Their power play at least scored 2 of those 3 goals, though that was in a game where they had nine power play opportunities so I wouldn't call them recently hot.   When it comes to possession, their only positive players in on-ice Corsi are fourth liners Zac Dalpe (recently called up) and Zach Boychuk (who has played exactly one game), according to Behind the Net.

Carolina's situation is starting to get a little dicey.  The fans are getting ever more restless with their team's woes that they're looking right at head coach Paul Maurice as a source of said woes.   It was enough for the team's general manager Jim Rutherford to emphasize that they're not worried about the coaching, as reported by Chip Alexander at Canes Now.  Devils fans should be somewhat familiar with those kind of feelings - as well as the comments by the GM.   Times aren't good for the Canes, which makes it ripe for a Devils beatdown.  The Devils could certainly use one with a back-to-back set with the Capitals coming up later this week.

On the other hand, I'm sincerely wishing the Devils will take the Canes seriously as an angry, driven team tonight.  When the GM tells the press that "changes need to be made" and they aren't going to be coaching changes, I have to figure that some of the players will understand that message.  I don't know who they are or who they should be, but I bet whoever it is will come out flying right from the get-go to try and keep their spot on the team.  Staal has publicly addressed his slump, and more over, Chip Alexander's article notes that the team had the infamous closed-door meeting with Maurice.  Unless Jamie Langenbrunner became a Cane without anyone knowing, that meeting may result in a more spirited performance by the Canes.

More importantly, the Devils have to at least respect the Canes' talent.  Staal may not be scoring, but he's still an all-situations offensive player who can make things happen. He leads the Canes in shots on net and as we all know, some of them will eventually go in over time.  Law of averages and all that.  Carolina leading scorer Jeff Skinner (6 G, 8 A) hasn't been slumping at all; he has a three-game point streak with 2 goals and 2 assists.  Carolina second-in-scoring forward Chad LaRose picked up at least a point in four out of the last five games.  Those three alone are worth the Devils' attention, perhaps the attention of the Elias line if they're kept together.  While the Canes are without Jussi Jokinen, they can't fully ignore the likes of Tuomo Ruutu, Brandon Sutter, Jiri Tlusty, or Alexei Ponikarovsky who can ruin the Devils' night if given too much space.   The Canes power play hasn't converted a lot of their chances (14.5%, just ahead of the Devils' 14.3%), but according to Behind the Net, they are in the top ten when it comes to shots for per 60 minutes (56.7) in 5-on-4 situations. That tells me their power play is due for some goals to go with those shots.  The Devils will have to be disciplined as they take on a Canes team that has a lot to prove.  In general, the Canes may be hitting some bumps in the road, but they're not doormats like Columbus.

2011-12  - Cam Ward 11 631 5 4 2 30 2.85 340 310 .912 1

Oh, and despite the recent woes, Cam Ward is still rocking a 91.2% save percentage. The last two games proved that he can be beaten, but I wouldn't say he's really been the problem either.  Should the Devils be able to get through the neutral zone and get space for shots, Ward has the ability to make it a long night for the New Jersey offense. 

In my opinion, the Devils need to go into tonight's game expecting the worst: a pumped-up, inspired Canes team looking to avoid a losing streak by any means necessary.   Therefore, they really can't afford to be sloppy in the neutral zone, allow the Canes to hang out in the Devils' end of the rink for too long, take many penalties, or any of the other things teams do to lose games and/or make them difficult.   Should the Canes come out like they did against the Caps or Stars, then great; the Devils would be over-prepared and have everything in place for a solid outing.  It's the safe option, and I surely hope DeBoer and the players recognize that as they step onto the ice on Tuesday evening.

Those are my thoughts on tonight's game, but now I want to know your take.  What do you think the main goal of the game should be for the Devils? Do you think the Devils will be sharper in moving the puck forward, or do you fear they'll be sloppy again?  Which Canes team do you think the Devils will see tonight?  How important is this game with the back-to-back against the Capitals coming up by the end of this week?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments.  Thank you for reading.