Can the Devils avoid going winless on the road in October?
The Time: 7:00 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (1-5-4) at the Boston Bruins (7-2-0; SBN Blog: Stanley Cup of Chowder)
The Last Devils Game: The Devils hosted Vancouver on Thursday. The first two periods were sloppy in the same way as the Devils' win over Our Hated Rivals were. That is, there were plenty of turnovers in the neutral zone, quick stops on defense, and pressure with few shots on net. There were goals, however. Andrei Loktionov found Patrik Elias behind the defense and on Roberto Luongo's flank to create the game's first goal. Eric Gelinas was called up and contributed with a great wrist shot on a power play. Alas, Cory Schneider was responsible for two against. He misplayed a dumped-in puck by leaving it out in front of him. Henrik Sedin picked it up and Ryan Kesler made him pay for the gift. In the second period, Daniel Sedin had a clean look at net and Schneider's five-hole was gaping as the puck got in. The third period was mostly Devils dominating possession as they out-shot a shortened-Canucks squad 17-7. Luongo was up to the task though. Vancouver showed up in overtime but the Devils held on for a shootout. The Devils have yet to score a goal in the shootout and didn't score. So Mike Santorelli's goal was the only one they needed to make it a 3-2 shootout loss for the Devils. The result wasn't ideal but at least the Devils played a far better game than in other losses. My recap of the game is here.
The Last Bruins Game: Boston hosted San Jose on Thursday night in the hopes of extending their winning streak to four games. The Sharks did what they could to ruin those hopes. They pounced on Boston early with 16 shots in the first period. Tuukka Rask was tested early and often, passing nearly every one. The Big Bad B's responded with a paltry three in the first. The second period was far more even, at least in shots, but Boston managed to get on the board first. Jarome Iginla scored his first of the season late in the second. The lead would not last as the Sharks not only took back the ice in the third, but Patrick Marleau tied it up eighteen seconds into the third period. Rask was peppered with thirteen more shots, a total of 39 against. However, hockey is not a fair game and as we know in New Jersey, outplaying someone doesn't mean you'll win. In the game's dying seconds, Adam McQuaid attempted a shot on net and David Krejci re-directed it in the slot to knock it through Antti Niemi's legs with 0.8 seconds left in regulation. It was only the fourteenth shot on net for Boston, but it gave them a dramatic 2-1 win. Their streak remains. Sarah Connors was understandably ecstatic about the result in her recap at Stanley Cup of Chowder.
The Goal: Don't press so much. This seems strange as the Devils did this to Vancouver and did well. That Vancouver also shortened their bench and they were gassed from a long road trip. Claude Julien regularly plays all four lines and three pairings. Not only are they home, but they just got home for Thursday's game so they won't be as tired. In past seasons, the B's were very much an in-your-face team physically and on the puck. With most of the same roster, I expect them to play the same way. Unless the Devils see something they can exploit or Boston comes out flat-footed, I think the Devils shouldn't be as aggressive. It could very well work against them, especially since Boston's production runs deep. I want them to build on what they did on Thursday, but I am not confident that they'll find as much success with the approach to what they did to Vancouver tonight.
Shooting & Scoring by Committee: The Boston Bruins have played twenty skaters in nine games this season. Only one - Gregory Campbell - does not have a point. Out of those same twenty skaters, only five have not scored at least one goal this season. The production has been spread out among this team. Their shot counts are also spread out, too. While Jarome Iginla leads the team in shots with 27, five other players have cracked 20 shots on net, and another seven have at least ten. Those at one shot per game or less comprise the lesser part of the roster. This shows why the Bruins have been a difficult team to defend against. They average just over 31 shots per game, their Corsi differential in 5-on-5 play is in the top ten at 52.3% going into this game, and the majority of the roster is above break-even in possession. The Devils cannot just focus on one unit or one player; they have to expect something from any one of their lines or pairings.
That being written, the B's do have one line of particular note as it contains the two Bruins who are currently tied for the team lead in points. Milan Lucic has five goals (team lead) and five assists. David Krejci's six-game point streak has put him at ten points as well, with two goals and six assists. The duo has played on the same line with Iginla (one goal, four assists) in recent games. If the Devils have to be concerned about one particular line, then that's the one. But stopping them won't do much good if Patrice Bergeron's unit gets going - a line that would be more dangerous if Loui Eriksson wasn't recklessly hit by supposed hockey player John Scott - or if their D bombs away with impunity.
Know This Defender: The first name that comes to mind on Boston's blueline is Zdeno Chara. Of course. He's their all-situation, tough-minutes, hard-shooting, big-man-wrecking-crew-with-or-without puck defenseman. He's the stud. You already know him. Young defender Dougie Hamilton has been raved about and they'll likely continue as he averages over twenty minutes a game and has a sweet shot of his own. But the man you may not be familiar with is Torrey Krug. Believe it or not, he leads the defense in scoring with three goals and two assists as well as in shots with 24. He's only behind Bergeron and Iginla in shots on net; he's clearly firing away when he gets the chance. Krug plays on Boston's third pairing, usually with Adam McQuaid. He gets plenty of power play time and offensive zone starts. It would behoove the Devils to force him to defend because if he gets open looks from the point, then he's going to take them - and could make an impact tonight. Watch for him, if you can.
Brilliant Goaltending: Who would have ever guessed that the Boston Bruins would be fine in net without Tim Thomas a few years back? Tuukka Rask has been fantastic and the start of this season is no different. Rask has only allowed ten goals in eight appearances this season. Ten! His even strength save percentage is at an astronomical 96% and he's at 92.5% in shorthanded situations. Those are percentages that will surely fall a bit during the season but right now, the man is hotter than hot. Just ask the Sharks, who threw everything but the kitchen sink at him but still was only beaten once. Even if the Devils are able to get through a tough group of forwards and defensemen, Rask alone could repel their best efforts.
Somewhat Vancouveresque: That's not a real word but it does describe their special teams' situation. The B's have a great penalty kill. Their success rate is at a lovely 87.5%. Their shot prevention in 4-on-5 situations isn't bad, their SA/60 ranks around the middle of the league at 48.7. Rask has been the big factor for their success so far. Their power play, however, has been rather unsuccessful. Their success rate is only 12.9% (and lower than the Devils', which now has a four-game PPG streak - weird) and unlike the Canucks, Boston's SF/60 in 5-on-4 situations is below the league median at 51. This isn't to say the Devils should just hand the Bruins opportunities and be fine with it. Just that not every power play is a reason to get incredibly worried - or in the Devils' case, get incredibly excited.
A Change in Goal: The Devils will make a change in net for this game. Cory Schneider, who started and played in the last three games, will sit. Martin Brodeur will start this game, as reported on Friday by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. On the one hand, I'm not a fan of this move. Brodeur deservedly got the bench after a poor game in Ottawa where his soft goals allowed. I don't think he'll necessarily do better than Schneider would against a tough Boston team. Over the whole season so far, it's clear who has been the better goalie. On the other hand, Schneider hasn't played up to expectations in the last two starts. While he was low on the list of players to blame for the result in Columbus, it's arguable he could have stopped two of the three goals he allowed. On Thursday, the team did very well but Schneider made a critical error handling the puck that cost the team a goal and the equalizer he allowed was softer than the soft serve at the Rock. A cruel turn of events given that he was all but publicly named the #1 guy prior to that game. In any case, if we're going to demand accountability and if we honestly want and mean it, well, this is what it looks like. At least Brodeur will be better at handling the puck.
Other Changes?: The team didn't have a practice on Friday. Gulitti did report that Bryce Salvador will not play, so I suspect there may not be any other changes on defense. If true, don't be surprised if I keep bringing that fact up. As far as forwards, I'm not sure. As much as some fans may want to see Jacob Josefson in the lineup, who do you put him in for? Would you take Andrei Loktionov away after a good game against Vancouver? Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique aren't likely to be moved. Stephen Gionta would be a popular choice, except I don't know if Josefson would do well in a role that will likely involve dumping, chasing, and banging bodies for 10-12 minutes.
Rookie's Third Game: Yes, third. He played a game last season.
Eric Gelinas had a great 2013-14 season debut against Vancouver. He got power play time, he got a regular shift with Adam Larsson, and he even got shifts in overtime. A few shots, including a goal, and it's as good as a debut as one could reasonably expect. Now comes the next challenge. One of the concerns about Gelinas was his propensity for physical play. He's got a big body but it's questionable whether he uses it enough. When there was a one-on-one going into or along the boards, he was the second one in - which wasn't an issue then but could be if the first guy got the puck away faster. It wasn't at all an issue on Thursday but against a fresher and arguably meaner Boston team, he may have to use it in some cases. I'm not saying he has to throw body blows like he's Anton Volchenkov with better timing, but it's something I've been wondering how he'll handle, especially as the game goes on.
Even if he doesn't get very physical by way of usage or happenstance, the next step is arguably harder than a debut. Will he take as much initiative at shooting the puck as he did on Thursday night? Will he be calm on the puck now that the initial rush of playing in a meaningful NHL game has past? Will he do well defensively given the situations he gets? We can only see but I look forward to the answers within the game itself.
Your Take: There's really only one major question to ask: will the Devils get their first road win tonight? On paper, it's a daunting task because Boston has been so good. The four game winning streak - as lucky as their recent win may be - may make it even harder to imagine. But that's why the game's played. Please leave your answer and other thoughts and complaints ahead of the game in the comments. Thank you for reading.