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Game 44 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Winnipeg Jets

The Time: 3:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 1130 AM WBBR

The Teams: The New Jersey Devils (24-17-2) at the Winnipeg Jets (20-18-5)

The Last Devils Game: On Wednesday, the Devils went into Edmonton reeling after a bad loss to Calgary. The Devils didn't exactly put out a great performance against the Oilers. There were a few standouts: Johan Hedberg played well; and Ilya Kovalchuk played well along with the Henrique line. Yet, the game's flow can be best described as "muddy," the bottom six got worked over again, and the Oilers dominated in shooting attempts, albeit most of them went into Devils skaters than at Hedberg. Kovalchuk scored a shorthanded goal in the second, Hedberg only got beat once in the third period on a screened shot, and Zach Parise won it in overtime during a power play. The Devils won 2-1; and here's Kevin's recap of the game.

The Last Jets Game: The Jets returned from a four game road trip to take on San Jose at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Thursday. The Jets have had a very good home record, but that meant nothing against the Sharks. The visitors out-shot the Jets in each period and a few minutes past the halfway mark of the second period, Logan Couture beat Ondrej Pavelec for the first time. The Sharks doubled their lead early in the third period with a goal by Brad Winchester; and the Sharks held on for the 2-0 win. Pavelec had to be good given he faced 37 shots on net over the whole evening. As for the rest of the team, well, it certainly wasn't an ideal effort.

The Last Devils-Jets Game: Way back on December 3, 2011, the Devils were in the middle of a pretty bad road trip. They got creamed by Colorado and they couldn't overcome a first period flurry by Minnesota. The night in Winnipeg showed a better performance by the Devils than those two games. The Devils equalized an early Jets goal and even took a lead on a power play goal in the second period. Of course, that lead wouldn't last thanks to Johan Hedberg coughing up a puck behind his own net that led to a shorthanded goal against of all things. Despite the best efforts of the Devils, the Jets took back the lead when Mark Stuart hammered one in from distance with about 7 minutes left. Evander Kane scored an empty net goal to seal the 4-2 loss for the Devils. Matt Ventolo had the recap of that game and as he noted, the Devils gave a good effort and there were some positives in how they played, but it was still the fourth straight loss for the Devils. For a Jets' perspective, TJCAPS has this short one over at Arctic Ice Hockey.

The Goal: Contain the Antropov and Little lines. Winnipeg's top two lines have been Evander Kane, Nik Antropov, and Alexander Burmistrov. The big threat on the Antropov line is clearly Evander Kane. He leads the team with goals with 18 and shots on net with 161. In fact, only four players in the entire NHL have more SOGs than Kane. That's just plain impressive. With 13 assists to go with his goals, Kane has just one point behind Blake Wheeler for the team lead in points. The guy is a clear threat whenever he's on the ice. However, their other offensive line may be a more offensive threat. No disrespect intended to Antropov (5 G, 15 A, 53 SOG) or Burmistrov (8 G, 9 A, 72 SOG); but the other line is staffed by Bryan Little (11 G, 10 A, 79 SOG), Blake Wheeler (9 G, 23 A, 96 SOG), and Andrew Ladd (14 G, 6 A, 141 SOG). All three forwards are more balanced in shooting the puck in addition to their production. That makes matching the Little line more difficult for New Jersey; they just can't stop, say, Ladd and call it success. Since Winnipeg is at home, it's going to depend partially on what Claude Noel wants to do; but the Henrique and Elias lines need to be prepared for a challenge. The third line will also have to be ready to defend because I'm sure Noel would love to catch the bottom six with either the Little or Antropov units. If the Devils can hold those two lines back, then that would go a long way towards achieving success in Winnipeg today.

As usual, I have a few more thoughts on today's game after the jump. For the opposition point of view, please visit Arctic Ice Hockey.

Regardless of who they'll get, I have some confidence in the Henrique line getting some success tonight. Simply put, they're hot. In recent games, we've seen Zach Parise, Adam Henrique, and especially Ilya Kovalchuk produce points and generate plenty of shots on net. Over the last four games, Parise has 2 goals, 5 assists, and 14 SOG; Henrique has 3 goals, 3 assists, 12 SOG, and a three game point streak snapped in Edmonton; and Kovalchuk has 5 goals, 3 assists, and 29 SOG. Yes, Kovalchuk has been ridiculously good over the last four games. Sure, some of these points have come on special teams, but the point is that all three guys are getting on the scoresheet regularly. They've been carrying the Devils offense and that's both a good and a bad thing. The good is obvious: they're hot and they're clearly contributing. The bad is that opposing teams will know who to target and focus their defensive efforts accordingly. So far, those three - particularly Kovalchuk - have found ways to produce in spite of that reality. Let's hope it continues tonight. To guard against the case that it doesn't, hope the Patrik Elias also contributes on offense against Winnipeg's defense.

By the way, Adam Henrique did not practice on Friday. Henrique was resting according to Tom Gulitti over at Fire & Ice; he's expected to play today. That's certainly a plus as he's grown to be a key part of the Devils forwards this season.

Fortunately for New Jersey, Winnipeg is currently without one their top defenseman: Dustin Byfuglien. Big Buff has been sidelined with a knee injury. Since he's been a 23+ minute per game defender with 6 goals, 18 assists, and 123 shots on net, he's dearly missed by the Jets. According to this article by Tim Campbell in the Winnipeg Free Press, he's hoping just to get healthy by the All Star Game. Suffice it to say, he won't be out there today alongside Tobias Enstrom - Winnipeg's leader in average ice time per game with 23:55. The solid Enstrom was paired with Ron Hainsey against San Jose, and I suspect we'll see that again today. Based on the advanced numbers at Behind the Net, I hope Parise or Kovalchuk attack Hainsey's side of the ice over and and over and over this afternoon if that is the pairing.

Let's take a step back and consider Winnipeg as a whole. According to Behind the Net, they're just ahead of the Devils in close-score Fenwick% with 50.34% and behind the Devils in tied-score Fenwick% with 50.05. Like the Devils, they're not necessarily a bad possession team, but they're not doing so well to say they're a good possession team. In 5-on-5 situations, the Jets (listed at Behind the Net as ATL for these numbers) do out-shoot their competition somewhat: 30.4 SF/60 and 29.9 SA/60. They're not all that great at generating shots on net in 5-on-4 situations, but they do boast an excellent shooting percentage. All the more reason for the Devils' bewildering and brilliant penalty kill to avoid taking calls against the Jets. Or at least avoid taking multiple offensive zone penalties like they did in Edmonton. As for the Jets' own penalty kill, they're about average in 4-on-5 situations. If it seems like the Jets are average as a team, then you're not alone. Ben Wendorf of Arctic Ice Hockey came to that very same conclusion a few games ago in this mid-season report post.

The important Jets were noted in the goal: Kane, Wheeler, Ladd, and Little are their top forwards. They're threats at getting shots and making said shots count. I'd also have to highlight Kyle Wellwood a little bit. He's been fat with a p this season, leading all Jets regulars in on-ice Corsi (the offensive zone starts really help, but he's not wasting them) and chipping in with 8 goals and 13 assists. Given his average ice time of 15 minutes per game, he's likely going to see plenty of the Devils' bottom two lines. I'm a little fearful the Devils' weak bottom six could make it seem like a long day when he's out there.

By the way, based on Gulitti's report from Friday's practice, that bottom six will likely consist of some combination of the same six players from the Edmonton and Calgary games. With Henrique resting, the lines got jumbled. It's still a toss-up whether Nick Palmieri gets another shot to prove his worth or if both Eric Boulton and Cam Janssen will be in the lineup instead. Maybe Ryan Carter and Steve Zalewski get swapped at center. We'll see closer to game time what will happen. In my opinion, the ideal situation would be for Peter DeBoer should play Palmieri, have Carter center the fourths, and hope David Clarkson, Mattias Tedenby, and Zalewski have a good game. That's a third line that has some "go" to it and the fourth line minimizes the goon element. Whether we'll see that, who knows.

I'd expect the defense to remain the same, though they'll be defending for Martin Brodeur today. On Friday, Gulitti confirmed that Brodeur will get the start. Brodeur was awful in his last start. Against Calgary, he allowed 2 goals on 5 shots and was pulled in the first period. Hedberg was just as awful as he allowed 4 goals on 9 shots; but Moose bounced back the very next night with a solid start against Edmonton. That should be the goal for Brodeur: just to have a solid night in his first start after a bad game. Historically, Brodeur's been pretty good after a poor night. Just last week, after Boston lit him up for 6 goals (mostly not his fault, but still), he was simply fantastic in his next start against Pittsburgh last Saturday. As with the hope that the Henrique line gets hot, let's hope Brodeur does put up a good afternoon in Winnipeg.

2011-12 - Ondrej Pavelec 36 2056 15 15 5 100
2.92 1105 1005
.910 .916 3

Whereas the Jets forwards will have to deal with Brodeur, I think the Devils will likely see Ondrej Pavelec. Pavelec has had the lion's share of starts for the Jets this season, so it's a fairly safe guess. His numbers aren't all that great; like the Jets, they're average - maybe below it a bit. One thing is for sure, Pavelec is used to seeing a lot of rubber. He's fourth in the NHL in saves attempted and saves made. The Devils just can't throw rubber at him over and over and expect he'll be thrown off from the deluge alone. No, they'll have to get to rebounds, get him to over-commit, and/or the other things forwards do to get goaltenders out of their comfort zone.

One final point, the Devils will play the Jets in their next two games: tonight and again at home on Tuesday. While the Devils have a 5-point lead on the Jets in the standings, we can expect Winnipeg to hang around in the playoff bubble for the rest of this season. That makes these next two games rather important as the Devils. While still early in the season, they are competing directly with the Jets for a playoff spot. So it's not just important for the Devils to get points for their own benefit, but also to keep Winnipeg down in the East. Unlike the last Jets-Devils game, a good effort just won't do. A result of some kind should be the goal today for NJ. As usual, it won't be easy; after all, the Jets are 1-4 in January, they've been shutout twice, and they sure would want a win before they go back on the road. Then again, no game is ever easy in today's NHL, now is it?

That's my take on today's game; now I want to know yours. What do you expect to see from the Devils today as they end their road trip? What is your take about the Winnipeg Jets in general? What do you expect from them? Will Martin Brodeur bounce back today? Will the Henrique line remain productive? Will Ilya Kovalchuk extend his goal streak to 5 games? Will the bottom six not be terrible to watch and by the numbers? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on today's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.