The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (21-30-4) vs. the San Jose Sharks (30-19-6)
The Last Devils Game: It was close against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but not defensive. The Devils attempted a lot of shots, got 39 on net, but put 2 past James Reimer at 4-on-4. The first was an equalizer in the third period off a Dainius Zubrus deflection to make it 1-1. The second was in overtime, when Ilya Kovalchuk just took over, took on two Leafs, and beat Reimer to make it a 2-1 win. It wasn't a perfect performance, but the Devils were the better team in Toronto. I recapped the game here, faulting the Devils' penalties while praising their offensive work.
The Last Sharks Game: Rolling, rolling, rolling. Those Sharks kept on rolling. Rolling, rolling, rolling. Sharks rolled through Columbus. Rolling, rolling, rolling, Those Sharks won 3-2. Rolling, rolling, rolling. It was their fifth straight win, and now they're 9-0-1 in their last ten. OK, I'll stop. It really wasn't the best of performances, but Antti Niemi was on fire making 42 saves, Patrick Marleau completed the come-from-behind effort, and the Sharks remain perfect on their current 7-game road trip. Fear the Fin has a recap of the team's victory on Wednesday.
The Last Devils-Sharks Game: On the road? Before the Langenbrunner trade? John MacLean behind the bench? You better believe this was a Devils loss. Way back on October 27, the Devils took on the Sharks in their house and came away with what was then their third-straight loss. The Sharks' top line of Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Dany Heatley put New Jersey to the sword in a 5-2 win for the Sharks. Matt did the recap way back when on this very site, and people were quite unhappy then. Little did we know what was to come. For a perspective from the winning side, TCY at Fear the Fin has this recap noting that it was San Jose's first home win of the season.
The Goal: Be prepared to weather the storm of shots; forwards better backcheck and defensemen better keep guys to the outside as much as possible. The San Jose Sharks' shooting percentages aren't all that great. According to Behind the Net, they have been shooting at only 7.2% at 5-on-5 (5th lowest in the NHL) and 10.8% at 5-on-4 (10th lowest in the NHL). What they lack there is made up in volume. The Sharks have a shots for per 60 rate of 31.2 at 5-on-5 (12th highest in the NHL) and an astounding 72.9 shots for per 60 rate at 5-on-4 (1st in the NHL by a lot). Overall, NHL.com states their shots per game average at 33.8, the second highest in the league (not including Thursday's games). Basically, these Sharks can and will shoot all night long.
With the real possibility of Moose starting tonight after starting in Toronto, the Devils skaters need to do their best to help out their goaltender. This means containing the Sharks by keeping them out of the slot, forcing puck carriers to go wide, and to clean up rebounds. That's going to be easier said than done given the top forward on San Jose. Though I think it's a more likely goal en route to a win than hoping Johan Hedberg will stop everything or the Sharks will have an off night.
I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For Sharks analysis, please check out Fear the Fin.
Devils fans know what a hot streak is like. The Devils are still in the midst of one, having only lost two games in regulation since the Jamie Langenbrunner trade. Breaks just keep going your way. You win some games that you might have lost on some other night. Most of all, everyone's feeling good.
The Sharks are definitely in that zone with 5 straight wins overall (their last 4 all on the road). Despite what Fear the Fin felt wasn't a great performance, the Sharks savored their ninth win in their last ten games. As reported by David Pollak at the San Jose Mercury News' hockey blog Working the Corners on Thursday, head coach Todd McLellnan canceled practice for an optional trip into Manhattan. And why not? A little reward of relaxation in the middle of a long road trip can help keep the good feelings going.
|2010-11 - Devin Setoguchi||46||11||9||20||-10||21||2||0||1||113||9.7|
Among the many Sharks who are enjoying this current run, Devin Setoguchi has re-appeared on boxscores recently. As his stat-line indicates, he's not having a great season. He is now eighth on the team in scoring, only behind defenseman Dan Boyle by 16 points. That's actually a rise for Setoguchi, as he has 4 goals and 4 assists in his last 7 games. He was finally held off scoresheet in Columbus, but this recent outburst of production hasn't gone unnoticed. Greg Wyshynski has a good post about his recent play at Puck Daddy, which is leading to an increase of trade rumors.
More germane to tonight's game, if he remains on Joe Thornton's line, then he's definitely an offensive threat regardless of the fact that he only had 7 goals before San Jose's current 9-0-1- run. The following are also offensive threats, though their basic stats speak for themselves.
|2010-11 - Joe Thornton||53||14||32||46||-11||31||8||1||3||96||14.6|
|2010-11 - Dany Heatley||55||19||27||46||2||42||8||0||3||155||12.3|
|2010-11 - Ryane Clowe||51||14||30||44||8||69||2||0||2||123||11.4|
|2010-11 - Patrick Marleau||55||20||20||40||-15||10||8||2||4||184||10.9|
|2010-11 - Joe Pavelski||47||11||26||37||-9||18||7||0||3||175||6.3|
|2010-11 - Logan Couture||52||24||12||36||13||27||7||0||8||176||13.6|
|2010-11 - Dan Boyle||55||6||30||36||-8||40||4||0||1||157||3.8|
On the one hand, I feel like I will be missing Anton Volchenkov on the blueline tonight. On the other hand, I feel like that even if he was available, it may not matter. On paper, it seems like a game of Pick Your Poison for the Devils. Do you prefer to have Joe Thornton set up plays all game long for Setoguchi, Heatley, or anyone else he plays with? Would you roll the dice on rookie scoring sensation Logan Couture tonight? Should the Devils try to let Marleau and Clowe beat on them? Is hoping Dan Boyle doesn't do too much damage from the point possible? With Setoguchi's recent hotness, it only makes their offense a deeper concern.
Hence, the goal for the Devils forwards to backcheck hard and the defensemen to keep them to the outside. Because it could be their doom if they don't.
By the way, the Sharks' power play has been fantastic this season and not just in having a ridiculous shooting rate at 5-on-4. Whereas they have only scored 98 goals at 5-on-5, they have scored 48 power play goals, the second highest total among all NHL teams this season. They have a conversion rate of 22.6%, the fourth best in the NHL; and they are tied for fifth in the NHL in power play opportunities. They draw calls and they make teams pay. San Jose's great talent up top means plenty of options for the Shark's power play units; whatever tactics they use have clearly yielded results. Needless to say, the Devils would be wise to stay out of the box as much as possible.
In general, the Sharks have been pretty good in limiting shots. Their shots against per game average this season is the eighth best in the league at 28.9 shots. Of course, when the Sharks are shooting, it usually means the other team isn't firing away. In the case when the opposition is able to tear through the San Jose blueline, like in Columbus on Wednesday night, Antti Niemi has been fairly solid in helping them out. Like against Columbus on Wednesday night.
|2010-11 - Antti Niemi||34||1967||17||13||84||2.56||1013||929||.917||4|
The big challenge on top of all of these lovely numbers by San Jose is that the Devils are going into this game having just played a game. 64+ minutes of physical, tense hockey since it was a tight score throughout the game. Back on Wednesday, Tom Gulitti reported that Jacques Lemaire planned to use Johan Hedberg for both games of this back-to-back. After 31 saves on 32 shots, let's hope the Moose is got plenty of sleep on Thursday night if this is still the plan. He'll need to be as fresh as possible given that tonight's opponent averages more than 32 shots in regulation. Hence, the goal of the skaters needing to help out the goaltender. It's especially important for the team to pull together and help each other out since they will be tired from the Toronto game.
That said, I also hope Andy Greene got plenty of rest too. He played over 29 minutes in Toronto (29:07 to be exact) which is a lot no matter how it's divided among situations. With Anton Volchenkov serving the second game of his suspension tonight, Greene may have to log heavy minutes again. Either that or someone else will have to pick up the slack. Mark Fraser was the only one who had limited minutes on defense against the Leafs with only 10:51 of even strength ice time. If he gets some more minutes tonight and do a decent job, that would help spread the workload around. It couldn't hurt to give Colin White more than 18-19 minutes for a night, either. Especially if he's as solid as he was last night.
In terms of offense, watch out for Ilya Kovalchuk. The guy's not just helping out on defense and picking up positive Corsi recently. He's hot right now. Kovalchuk currently has a six game point streak, consisting of 4 goals and 3 assists. That's at least one point for every game in February so far. In these 6 games he has played no less than 21 minutes of total ice time, no fewer than 24 shifts, and has registered 23 shots on net. If you can, get tickets to the Rock; set your DVRs, or whatever to make sure you get to see him play right now. It's wonderful.
Beyond Kovalchuk, keep an eye on that fourth line. From what I've seen, they've had two good games in a row. David Clarkson is shooting plenty of shots again, 11 total in those two games; and they've actually won pucks down low regardless of line. Maybe they're getting hot, too? If they can out-do the Sharks' fourth line, then that would be great. I'm not saying they have to out-score them when their top players aren't on the ice (though, that would help), but forcing McLellan's hand would be huge.
In any case, keep your eyes peeled on Fire & Ice and NJ.com prior to gametime. With the Sharks not practicing on Thursday and the Devils having just played, more news will be available during the day. If there are any news updates relevant to the game, then put them in the comments and please provide a link to the source.
Otherwise, please feel free to discuss tonight's game in the comments. I'll be there live in my usual seat in Section 1, hoping that the Devils just don't get rolled by the San Jose steamroller. How do you like New Jersey's chances? Are you more worried about San Jose given what I just wrote about them? Or is there a weakness I overlooked that doesn't make them so threatening? Either way, thank you for reading. Let's go, Devils.