Back at the Rock, the final week of November begins with one more game against a Western Conference opponent.
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: On Saturday night, the Devils wrapped up their California road trip against San Jose. The Sharks dominated the first period. It was even strength but it resembled a power play for the high-shooting team in teal. Scott Hannan scored from distance and an open Tyler Kennedy beat Martin Brodeur with an open one-timer for a 2-0 lead. The Sharks could and should have made it a larger lead but they couldn't do it. The second period saw some signs of life but the Sharks controlled the majority of play again. Brodeur stopped all shots, however. The Devils made it a game in the third period. Patrik Elias scored at the final second of their lone power play through a screen to make it 2-1 and the Devils actually got some offense going. It's funny how stringing two or three passes together can do that. Anyway, Antti Niemi and the Sharks responded to the pressure. While the Devils had some chances, there would be no dramatic equalizer in the Bay Area. So the Devils lost 2-1 in a game that probably should've been a blowout from the opening frame. My recap of the loss is here.
The Last Jets Game: Before the Devils took to the ice, the Jets visited Minnesota. The opening of the game was very good for the visitors. The Jets got out to a lead in possession and never let up all game long. The team looked crisp, but it wouldn't be until the second period where their work was rewarded. Michael Frolik banged in a rebound off a Matt Halischuk to make it 1-0 Winnipeg. The score held until the third period when both teams got on the board. Nino Niederreiter provided an equalizer. The Jets' third line responded with another score, this time from Matt Halischuk lighting the lamp. However, a late power play for the Jets turned sour when they conceded an odd-man rush. Zach Parise finished it with a game-tying shorthanded goal. Both teams tried to create the breakthrough but that only came in a shootout. The Wild took that so it was the Jets' their fourth winless result in a row, 3-2. Daniel Lipson provided this instant recap at Arctic Ice Hockey and garret9 put up some advanced metrics from the game. Appears the Jets did a lot right, yet they lost. So it goes.
The Last Devils-Jets Game: Way back in October, the Devils visited Winnipeg as part of their five-game road trip through Canada. For those who remembered that stretch, then you know it didn't go well. The Devils' defense was poor. The Devils' offense was poor. Their power play performances were a waste of time. The Jets controlled most of the game by doing things like "making passes," "keeping pucks in play," and "communicating with each other." Cory Schneider was great as he was only beaten by a fluke of a goal from Evander Kane for a majority of a game. The Devils responded to this one-goal situation by doing very little to make Al Montoya work. The Jets got the empty net goal and Andrew Ladd pounded a loose puck after that to pad the score to 3-0. It was a disgraceful game from the Devils, their sixth winless game in a row, and nobody was happy after watching that, as indicated in my recap. On the flipside, Derek Gagnon had this obviously more positive recap at Arctic Ice Hockey.
The Goal: Set the match-ups and win them, especially against Winnipeg's depth. The Jets are winless in their last four and one of the recent losses caused an article in the Winnipeg Free Press to be entitled "Trying might help," suggests a team on the downside. But a closer look reveals that the Jets have plenty going for themselves. Check out this post by garret9 at Arctic Ice Hockey that focuses on the possession play by the Jets' most used players. Many are doing really good. They're also the ones producing. Their top line of Bryan Little (12 goals, 11 assists), Andrew Ladd (6 goals, 13 assists), and Blake Wheeler (5 goals, 11 assists) are 1-2-3 among Jets forwards in scoring while pushing the play forward. Defenseman and noted big man Dustin Byfuglien has been Zdeno Chara in disguise. He's second on the team in scoring (6 goals, 13 assists), he plays a ton of minutes (an average ice time over 26 per game), and whether he's with Grant Clitsome or Tobias Enstrom, the play usually goes forward when he's out there. What this all tells me that the Peter DeBoer needs to neutralize these top players as much as possible with the last change while making the most of their lower lines. The Devils should go right at any pairing that doesn't have Big Buff on it, for example. For another, when the Devils see the Mark Schiefele line out, then they need to strike at them. I doubt the Devils are going to go power-for-power and win. Now that they're home and the Jets aren't super-deep like L.A. or S.J., then they can and should and perhaps need to make the most of their match-ups to win tonight.
Oh No, Not Another High Shooting Team: Unlike the Devils' last two opponents, the Jets aren't a superior possession team than the Devils at evens. In terms of all shooting attempts in 5-on-5 play, their Corsi percentage is 50.9% according to Extra Skater. That's not too bad. It's above the league median, though not by much. (Aside: Fenwick close is less kind, putting the Jets at 48.5%.) However, they are like the Sharks and Kings in that they fire a lot of pucks. The Jets are sixth in the NHL in terms of attempted shots per 60 minutes in 5-on-5 play with 58.1. Over all situations, the Jets are fourth in the NHL in average shots per game with 32.6. The Jets' problem is that they take almost as much as they dish out given their CA/60 rate of 56.1 and an average shots against per game rate of 32.2. While this means the Devils should be able to get rubber on net, the Jets will definitely generate plenty of chances unless they are slowed down quite a bit.
As with their last two games, that's a lot easier said than done. Byfuglien loves to shoot, given his 87 for the season. He will bomb away all day long if no Devil is able to get in his way to dissuade him. Their top line of Little (55), Ladd (67), and Wheeler (73) share the load of shots created. Their second line will be threatening if only because Evander Kane has been excellent at firing pucks all season. He's got 98 already and if he wasn't shooting at 6.1%, he's be right up there for the team lead in scoring instead of only having six goals and seven assists. His linemates of Olli Jokinen (4 goals, 9 assists, 50 shots) and Devin Setoguchi (4 goals, 7 assists, 51 shots) aren't slouches either, which only reinforces my point about how the Devils need to pick on the Jets' depth. They're a top-heavy team on paper in terms of shots and, not coincidentally, points. Whoever is in net for New Jersey better be prepared for plenty. It also almost goes without saying that the Devils' defensive effort and neutral zone play needs to shape up after getting worked over by the opposition in the last two games. The Jets can definitely unload shots with the best of them.
Returning Defender: Jacob Trouba had an awesome game in the previous Devils-Jets game. He also elbowed Ryane Clowe in the head. Clowe has been out ever since with a concussion. On Sunday, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that Trouba did practice and "he's a game-time decision." I suspect he'll play. I doubt the Jets would have sent down a defenseman and have him travel only to not use him. The Jets' defense has been without Zach Bogosian and Paul Postma so his return helps. While Trouba has been forced to defend more often than not at evens, the last Devils-Jets game showed how he can threaten. He's big, quick, and packs a heavy shot. He can also be rather physical. The real threat on the Jets' blueline will likely be Byfuglien and his partner (Enstrom played with him last game, so I think it'll be him). But I wouldn't count him out. I would hope he doesn't elbow any more Devils in the head.
Possible Goalies: I get a M-A Fleury vibe when I think about Ondrej Pavelec. Winnipeg's #1 goalie has some good numbers this season. He's got a solid 92.4% save percentage at evens and 86.4% on penalty kills. He's not an easy out. Then again, his career best overall save percentage is only 91.4% and he's currently at 91.3%. That suggests that he's had some problems. Should he start tonight (I think he will), I would expect him to be good if only because he did well in Minnesota with 33 saves on 35 shots. Though, the Devils should challenge him early and often to see if he will play to that level again or not.
As for the Devils, they didn't skate on Sunday so it's not clear who will start. I would guess it would be Cory Schneider. The Devils have a busy week ahead and they've been splitting duties about evenly between Brodeur and him. Adding to my guess was the scary moment involving Brodeur near the end of the Sharks game. While sprawled out, Brodeur took a Brent Burns shot to the back of his helmet, right at the neck. He just laid right out on the ground and didn't move for a little bit. He recovered and finished off the game (skating to the bench after the Devils got the puck about ten seconds after the moment). While he said he was OK afterwards per this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, I don't think a night off would hurt. Besides, he won't have to wait long to get in a game since the Devils have four in six nights this week. Devils skaters: go get some shots and goals for Cory.
Banged Up: The Devils suffered two other injuries in that Sharks game. Stephen Gionta re-injured his right ankle early in that game, as confirmed after the game by Gulitti. The last two times he had an issue with his ankle, he missed some games. I suspect he'll miss a few now. That could mean Jacob Josefson remains in the lineup as Andrei Loktionov gets back to where he was on the third line. Or it might not since I'm just guessing since the Devils just traveled back to New Jersey on Sunday. Or we see Mattias Tedenby for some reason?
Defenseman Adam Larsson had an ugly spill into the corner boards in the third period. He finished that shift and I think took one more before going to the locker room for the rest of the game. There's no update as to the nature of his injury prior to Monday morning. I think there will be one and if he's out, then the Devils will need another defender. Given that Anton Volchenkov has been skating according to this Saturday post from Gulitti, then he could step right back in if he's ready. That's also just a guess, of course. If Larsson is OK (and I hope he is), then we could see him back with Eric Gelinas.
Please Do Better: Damien Brunner, please, please, please recognize when to shoot, when to pass, and when to cover your man on offense. In order that's "when you get a clear look," "when you can see your teammate and he's open," and "always cover your man."
Your Take: The Devils will return to the Rock tonight. Will you be there? I should be in my usual seat in Section 1, Row 16, Seat 5. In any case, what do you think of this game? Can the Devils quell the Jets' shooting? Can they win those match-ups, especially against the Jets' top players? Who would you like to see in the lineup? What do you expect to see? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.