Back at the Rock and just before a two-day break in the schedule. Can the Devils extend their winning streak?
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
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The Last Devils Game: The Devils went to Pittsburgh for the second half of a home-and-home with the Penguins. The first period was pretty much all Penguins with two exceptions: Johan Hedberg remaining hot in net and David Clarkson netting a goal on one of the very few offensive opportunities for the Devils. The Devils escaped the first with a 1-0 lead and then proceeded to work over the Penguins repeatedly in the second period. They dominated the shot count, the possession game, and the scoreboard. The latter is thanks to Ilya Kovalchuk torching Tomas Vokoun's five-hole off a rush and Clarkson banging in a loose puck on their lone power play. James Neal converted an early power play in the third period but the Devils kept them at bay for another ten minutes before Pittsburgh started to try to throw the kitchen sink at the visitors. Alas, Moose and the skaters held on and the Devils swept the home-and-home with a 3-1 win. My recap of the Devils' fifth win in a row is here.
The Last Hurricanes Game: The Hurricanes went up to Long Island to take on the New York Islanders on Monday night. The Canes and Isles battled each other in a high-scoring affair. Frans Neilsen opened up the game with an early power play goal; however the Canes found a first period equalizer from Tim Wallace, his first for the franchise. The Isles' power play took back the lead fairly early the second with a blast from John Tavares. However, the Canes responded in 29 seconds when a Jeff Skinner slapshot found the back of the net. Another Carolina penalty and Matt Moulson put the home team back up 3-2 not long after that. The third period was all about Carolina and their first line. Thirty seconds in, Jiri Tlusty re-directs a shot from Alexander Semin to tie up the game. About five minutes later, Semin scores off a feed from Tlusty. Just before halfway through the period and the Canes make it 5-3 when Eric Staal tips a Tlusty shot into the net. Lubomir Visnovsky's first goal of the season not only was the Isles' fourth power play goal but it made it a dramatic 5-4 scoreline. Alas, that would be all that they would get in the third, save for a couple more shots as they were out-shot 11-4 in the period. Tlusty knocked in an empty netter to seal a 6-4 win for the Carolina in spite of their special teams. Check out Canes Country for coverage of their road win.
The Goal: Be more accurate with passes out of the zone and within the neutral zone. The Devils were rather fortunate to survive the first period against Pittsburgh on Sunday night. One of the main reasons why the Penguins just blew away the Devils, 23-6, in attempts was because the Devils struggled mightily with their puck movement. Even when they got a stop on defense or knocked a puck away, the team just misfired or mishandled the pass in the neutral zone constantly. This allowed Pittsburgh to keep on rolling. It's no coincidence that when they were more successful in making those passes, the Devils were able to attack far more often in the second period of that game. It's important that the Devils get going right away in this regard tonight because the Canes have been adept at putting rubber on net. The Hurricanes have been the most prolific shooting team in the league with an average of 36.0 shots per game in all situations. They also lead the league with a 36.8 SF/60 rate in 5-on-5 play according to Behind the Net prior to Monday's games. It's going to be a long night for New Jersey if Carolina gets within those averages on the shot count. If there's one team that can slow them down, it's the Devils. But they will need to make those breakout passes and clearing passes up-ice count.
Now, the Devils did not practice on Monday according to Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. They get a deserved day off after sweeping the Penguins in a home-and-home. Martin Brodeur got some love from the league for his last three starts. I suspect we'll see him tonight since he's been the starter this season. Don't worry, Moose fans. There's a back-to-back later this week so it won't be long for the next appearance from the currently super-hot Johan Hedberg. I also wouldn't expect too many changes to the lineup for this game by the Devils. They've been winning so there isn't any real reason to change things up. Plus, whoever was out remains out. On Monday, Gulitti asked Lou about Zubrus' status and Lou's response was that Zubrus needs to be reevaluated. That most likely means we won't see Big Z tonight. More will be revealed today when the team has their morning skate.
The Hurricane offense is the biggest threat tonight. As noted in The Goal, the Canes have been very successful in generating shots. They've almost had to be high-volume shooters given that their 5-on-5 shooting percentage is a mere 6.6%. I got that value before the Isles game, so it should go up a little bit - it's still relatively small. The shot leaders are exactly who would you'd expect on this roster: Jeff Skinner, Eric Staal, and Alexander Semin. Staal and Skinner lead the team in production. Staal has 8 goals and 14 points and Skinner has 7 goals and 12 points. Semin hasn't been as fortunate in terms of shooting percentage but he's got 3 goals and 9 points already. Their big draft-day acquisition of Jordan Staal hasn't lit the lamp much but he's been very supportive with a goal and ten assists already. He regularly plays with Skinner, so the Devils will have to maintain focus against two lines with dangerous talent in their gameplan. I'm not sure who Peter DeBoer will match-up his defenders but you can bet on the pairings of Bryce Salvador & Mark Fayne and Adam Larsson & Andy Greene to go up against the Staal lines the most.
The rest of the roster has been chipping whenever they could and it's with them where the shooting percentage woes hurt them. Drayson Bowman is fourth on the team in shots on net with 27 and he has no goals. Jiri Tlusty has 25 shots on net and only three goals in spite of playing with Staal and Semin as of late. He did just get two goals last night so perhaps he's just getting out of his slump. The only forward not named Skinner, Staal, or Semin with two or more goals this season is Patrick Dwyer with three out of 22 shots while averaging 12:53 per game. I wouldn't sleep on them entirely; just that they haven't been terribly successful. Their high-volume in shots have made up for their low percentages; therefore, it's important that the Devils clamp down on them as they did to Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh.
Interestingly, their power play hasn't followed their shot-machine ways at even strength. They have an OK shots for per 60 rate in 5-on-4 situations at 49.1 (just below the Devils, to be exact) according to Behind the Net. However, they only have a total conversion rate of 15.6% before Monday's game. And it's bound to go down after a 0-for-3 night on Long Island. Why? I think it's the shooting percentage. Prior to Monday's game, they were at 10% in 5-on-4 situations isn't so bad but it's in the lower-third in the NHL. They've been fantastic in 5-on-3 situations but they've only had a couple at most. This doesn't mean the Devils should be perfectly fine with, say, handing them a lot of power plays. For all we know, tonight may be the night they start finding some success. It does mean that the Canes are more of a threat at evens when they have the puck.
Fortunately for the Devils, the Canes have been quite vulnerable on defense. As much as they shoot, they have allowed a lot to get to their goaltenders. Their shots against per game average is 34.1, tied for the most in the entire NHL before Monday's games. They aren't dead last in 5-on-5 SA/60 according to Behind the Net; only third from the worst at 31.6. Yes, they have been fantastic at generating offense and pathetic at thwarting it so far this season. Cam Ward hasn't been consistently stellar so the Canes go into Monday night averaging three goals against per game. If there's a game where the Devils should be able to pile on the rubber, this is the one. And it's not just at even strength. Their streaking power play, with seven goals in the last five games, should be looking forward to facing a Carolina penalty kill that has the highest SA/60 in 4-on-5 situations before Monday's game and an overall success rate of only 77.3%, ranking 23rd in the league. And that PK got ripped apart by the Islanders last night with four power play goals allowed out of five attempts. Clearly, it would be to the Devils' advantage to force Carolina to take a few calls tonight.
The Canes' main players on defense are Joni Pitkanen and Justin Faulk and the Devils will see a lot of the two of them. Pitkanen has been averaging 25:37 per game while Faulk's at a "lighter" 23:31. They weren't used as heavily last night, but don't be surprised if you see the duo out there against the Devils' top lines. Pitkanen has been around for a while and he's been a two-way threat for most of his career. Faulk's in his second season of hockey and the Canes clearly think he'll be their defensive general of the future. They're backed up by the recently returned Jamie McBain, the veteran presence of Joe Corvo, the steady Tim Gleason, and Jay Harrison. Individually, they're not bad and their on-ice Corsi rate is largely very good except for McBain. Yet, the shots against average is so high that I really don't feel comfortable saying that they're a really good defense. Given how the Devils' offense did against Pittsburgh at times this weekend, I think the Devils forwards can find holes to exploit and get some good shifts tonight. Clarkson, Kovalchuk, and Adam Henrique did well on Sunday; so I'm hoping they can lead the way on offense tonight.
In terms of goaltenders, Cam Ward did play against the Isles and made 24 saves out of 28 shots. His even strength save percentage rose to 91.8% but his penalty kill save percentage plummeted to 84.1%. Ward does play a lot so it wouldn't be a big stretch if Devils faced him tonight. I would almost hope for it given the play of his back up, Dan Ellis. Crack all the lame jokes you want but the game doesn't care about Tweets and his 95.9% save percentage at evens speaks for itself. Like Ward, he's been beaten pretty badly on the PK; but overall Ellis has been hot almost like Hedberg. Should the Canes' defense - especially their PK - play like they have been this season, then the Devils will be able to make either goalie work tonight. Let's hope a few get through.
As a final point for this game, it is noteworthy that despite the big disparity in shots for and against for Carolina, they're not bad in terms of possession. The team's on-ice Corsi rates are very positive for the vast majority of the lineup according to Behind the Net. Their team Fenwick percentages have been just below the league median, but it's not too bad at about 49% in tied and close score situations. After last night's game, it should go up a bit. The Canes aren't like Tampa Bay at all, where they got rocked in possession regularly. It seems to me that they just play a lot of high-event games at evens. They allow a lot, but they dish out a lot too. The Devils will need to be careful that they don't find themselves in such a free-wheeling game and stick to their own ways. If they can do that, then they have a shot at making it six in a row heading into a two-day break.
Will the Devils be able to fend off the Canes' shooting barrage? Can the Devils' power play keep their streak alive and use it to keep the Canes down? How do you think the Devils will perform against two Staals, a Semin, a Skinner, and a Tlusty? What do you think the Devils need to do tonight - other than the obvious - to make it six wins in a row? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.