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New Jersey Devils vs. Vancouver Canucks: Game Preview #10

The New Jersey Devils return home for their first rematch of the season against the Vancouver Canucks. This preview goes into what changes the Devils may or may not make with their roster and how good the Canucks' top forwards currently are among other points.

It would be cool to see this a bunch of times tonight.
It would be cool to see this a bunch of times tonight.
Ben Nelms

The Devils are back home and still looking for a second win. Perhaps revenge will do nicely?

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (1-5-3) vs. the Vancouver Canucks (6-4-1; SBN Blog: Nucks Misconduct)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils went into Columbus and regressed through the game. After an even-ish first period, the Devils' lackluster power play got a glorious moment when Michael Ryder got alone in the slot. He finished the play to put the Devils up 1-0. Columbus would respond. Brandon Dubinsky slammed a loose puck of R.J. Umberger's skates into the net on a power play to tie it up. Cam Atikinson rifled a backhander from the high slot that fooled Cory Schneider to put them up 2-1. Columbus kept attacking while the Devils struggled to put three passes together. In the third, James Wisniewski put the home team up 3-1 when a Peter Harrold pass touched off Andrei Loktionov's stick and went right to the defenseman. He fired and it got through. The Devils couldn't must much in response and Marian Gaborik iced the game with an ENG for a 4-1 loss. The Devils built on nothing from their first win of the season and any strains of optimism formed after said win was deflated by the performance. My recap of the loss is here.

The Last Canucks Game: The Canucks went to Long Island to play the New York Islanders on Tuesday night. The game itself was sloppy but with plenty of goals being scored. The Isles stormed the visitors early when Brock Nelson and Matt Moulson put the Isles up 2-0 early. Vancouver matched each in the first period with goals from Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin. Moulson re-took the lead for the home side early in the second with a second power play goal. Vancouver would put up two more goals again: first from Henrik Sedin and a late period strike by Chris Higgins. The Canucks tried to hold on in the third period and did nearly match the Isles shot-for-shot. However, with the extra man, Frans Nielsen was free for a rebound created off an Andrew MacDonald shot and tied it up late in the third. In overtime, Brad Richardson became the hero for the visitors. Off the rush, Richardson tried to feed his teammate the puck. But the pass was angled such that it went towards Evgeni Nabokov and snuck through the goalie's pads. Vancouver won 5-4 and vancitydan cited the Raiders in describing the win in his recap at Nucks Misconduct.

The Last Devils-Canucks Game: Back on October 9, the Devils visited Vancouver as part of their five-game road trip. The game came the day after the Devils earned a shootout loss in Edmonton that should have been a win. The Canucks are superior than the Oilers so it wasn't a surprise that they dictated much of the play. The Devils did go up early. Patrik Elias feathered a great pass to Jaromir Jagr in the first period to put the Devils up 1-0. The second period was largely Canucks hockey and much of the action was in Cory Schneider's end. One of the few reprieves ended up being 2-0 for New Jersey as Elias attempted a pass (a shot?) that bounced around and got through Roberto Luongo. However, the Devils would be beaten. Daniel Sedin got the home team on the board with a long shot that was re-directed past Schneider by Anton Volchenkov. Later in the period, Ryane Clowe was visibly shaken up by a blocked shot. As he hobbled to the bench, the Devils were temporarily shorthanded. That allowed Alexander Edler to get free and make it 2-2. The two teams matched each other in the third so post-regulation play was necessary. Vancouver took control, Jason Garrison got the puck at the right point, and he fired a shot that went off Mike Santorelli, who was standing in front of Schneider, and into the net. The Devils lost 2-3 and while they didn't have a win then, they did get a point against the run of play. Mike Stromberg graciously stayed up to write this recap of that game, which you should read. For the opposition's side, Sean Larson wrote this recap at Nucks Misconduct.

The Goal: Work for fewer shots from the point, more shots closer to the net. The Devils' offense in even strength play against Columbus and in many other games has been easy to figure out. Get the puck in deep, work it out to the point, and then wait for a shot or a pass back down low. The opposition knows that they shouldn't be too concerned with the Devils defensemen shooting the puck. It's a low percentage shot to begin with and the blueliners aren't all that impressive with their shots. Especially when it seems like they're not even looking for the guy in front of them ready for a block. There needs to be more movement and crisper passes to create space in those mid-range locations and places down low. The forwards in Columbus and other games didn't penetrate the slot all that often. Yes, Ryder scored there and Travis Zajac had a glorious opportunity in the first; but those were the only real moments. They're not going to beat Roberto Luongo from distance short of a fantastic deflection or screen all that much. I think they need get into those difficult parts of the ice to succeed tonight. That means looking for seams and gaps in the Canucks' coverage and not settling for a lame slapshot.

A New Defender May Appear: Bryce Salvador did not play in the third period last night. He will not play tonight, but it is not because of injury. Unfortunately, as Tom Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice on Wednesday, there has been a death in his family. As a result of his absence, the Devils have called up Eric Gelinas from Albany. Those who followed the team during preseason are probably pleased with this development. Gelinas has been a proponent on the Albany power play and he demonstrated a great shot in this year's exhibition games. Given that the Devils had seven defensemen on the roster, they didn't have to call anyone up in place of Salvador. So either they expect him to be out for a few games and need an extra man just in case, or they want to give him a look in an actual game. It may be the latter and it may be tonight. If so, I wouldn't expect much out of Gelinas since it would be his first NHL game that isn't at the end of a season. He should be limited in his minutes; maybe given some PP time to see what he can bring. If he gets a few shooting attempts without getting torched, then I'd call it a successful night. But that presumes he plays at all.

Smart-Aleck Question: So does Peter DeBoer still hate youth if he plays Gelinas in this game ahead of Adam Larsson? (Note: Ignore the forwards as you answer this too.)

But Larsson Should Probably Play Anyway: The Devils didn't have a full practice on Wednesday so it's not clear what the lines and defensive pairings will be until later today. Peter Harrold didn't have a good game, Mark Fayne wasn't particularly impressive, and if the team doesn't want to throw in a rookie against a deep Vancouver team, then we should see Larsson in the lineup ahead of Gelinas. It would be the move I would make as he could definitely handle significant minutes. Should Peter DeBoer need to make in-game changes, he can move Larsson up and down more easily than he would with Gelinas. Should he play, I hope he plays with his head up at both ends of the rink.

Please Come Back, Patrik: Gulitti wrote that Elias was not at the optional practice but he did skate on his own. I hope he does return tonight because that makes the forwards much better. It would mean some lines have to be shuffled and they really should be. Mattias Tedenby hasn't shown much of anything in his three games. The unit of Dainius Zubrus, Andrei Loktionov, and Damien Brunner was simply invisible in Columbus. The Devils were a two-line team in that game and even they struggled at times. Elias remains a very good passer and leader on offense. So his return should not only bolster the top six but someone from that top six will move down - probably Rostislav Olesz - and that could benefit the bottom six. The only other switch I'd make roster-wise would be Jacob Josefson coming in for either Tedenby or Loktionov. And from there, see what would work in terms of getting Brunner going while keeping Ryder and Jagr going since if those three aren't attacking, then they're not helping too much.

So Much for Your Storyline, Media: The Devils will start Cory Schneider tonight. Given that the opposition goalie will likely be Roberto Luongo and his not-crazy save percentage (91.3% at evens, 88.1% on PK), I'm sure the Vancouver media will make a deal about that. Likewise, there were hopes of an ongoing storyline about whether Schneider or Martin Brodeur is the #1 guy. Well, Brodeur poured some cold water on that based on his comments to the media, as reported by Gulitti in this Wednesday post at Fire & Ice. Brodeur isn't happy about it but I'm pleased to see he recognizes that Schneider has been the better goalie. As such, he's getting his third straight start while Brodeur will likely see his next appearance next week in a back-to-back set. Anyway, Schneider wasn't totally great last night in Columbus but I'm confident he won't give up any soft goals. Because Vancouver is a team you don't want to easily give up anything to if you can help it.

The Top Canucks Will Be Seen a Lot: Brad Ziemer wrote in the Vancouver Sun this post about how head coach John Tortorella has been leaning on his top forwards to start the season. Ziemer pointed out that Jannik Hansen was hurt in the game, Tortorella iced only eleven forwards to begin with, and the seventh defenseman was Andrew Alberts, who was Andrew Alberts and didn't play much. The concern is that by leaning on the top players so much so early is that they may wear out later. Tortorella doesn't agree, obviously. I think I have to side with the coach on this one. Vancouver's top forwards are playing a lot and should be because they're that much better than the rest. Especially if the fourth line includes Tom Sestito.

From a possession standpoint, the only player to have played significant 5-on-5 minutes that is below 50% Corsi for the season has been defenseman Jason Garrison according to Extra Skater. The Sedins, Kesler, Higgins, Santorelli, and David Booth (he was scratched for the Isles game, I presume he'll be back tonight) all have pushed the play forward this season. From a production standpoint, all but Booth have brought it so far this season. Henrik Sedin leads the team in points with three goals and ten assists. Daniel Sedin is behind him with three goals, seven assists, and can arguably be called the more dangerous as he's got 42 shots on net. Kesler has four goals, two assists, and is tied with Higgins (three goals, two assists) for the team lead with 43 shots. Santorelli has four goals as well along with three assists. The only non-big-minute player of note on offense has been Brad Richardson, who has four goals while averaging 12:13 per game. Only Booth has struggled to produce but when he gets going, he'll only make a strong top six even better.

Tortorella realizes these guys can play a lot of minutes and they haven't got creamed in possession or come up lame on the score sheet. Therefore, he should - and he will - keep going with it. I hope the Devils are ready to see a lot of the Sedins, Kesler, Higgins, and Santorelli again. They will make it very difficult on the Devils' skaters and Schneider. At least DeBoer will have the last change to match them up as necessary.

Oh, one other thing, please watch for Jason Garrison. The Devils forwards will see plenty of Edler, Kevin Bieksa, and Dan Hamhuis, but among them, I think Garrison is the biggest threat. He's got a very powerful shot from distance and the Canucks set him up for it. He's got 33 shots on net, two goals, and seven assists. With the Devils not always being the greatest at getting successful zone exits, they have to make sure they don't give Garrison any additional pucks to play with. He could easily send it back the other way and create chaos, if not a goal.

Vancouver Is 1/2 Awesome on Special Teams: That one half is the same thing the Devils are good at on special teams this year: the penalty kill. Their success rate is the third highest in the league at 87.2%. Extra Skater's 4-on-5 team stats have the Canucks tenth in the league in shots allowed per sixty minutes. The Devils' own awful power play lends one to expect no success on it's own. Given how good the Canucks have been down a man, that expectation should be stronger. The other half of their special teams has not at all been successful. Believe it or not, but the Canucks' power play success rate is only 10.3%. That's worse than the Devils. However, they're fourth in the league in shots for per 60 in 5-on-4 situations per Extra Skater. So I would expect them to be much more successful in time. Hopefully that doesn't start tonight.

Your Take: We all want a second win from the Devils. But will they get it tonight? If so, how do you think it'll go down? Can we get better performances out of some of the other players? Who would you have on defense tonight? What do you expect Vancouver to do tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.