President's Day means there's some people off work today. If you're one of those people, then please check out today's game at the Rock.
The Time: 1:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (9-3-3) vs. the Ottawa Senators (7-6-2; SBN Blog: Silver Seven)
The TiqIQ Ticket Link: Need a last-minute for today's game at the Rock? Visit our partners at TiqIQ for tickets now. Here's a link: New Jersey Devils tickets.
The Last Devils Game: On Saturday night, the Devils went to Long Island to take on the New York Islanders. An up-tempo first period saw many great saves by Johan Hedberg and Evgeni Nabokov and no goals. The Islanders eventually took the game over in the second period, out-shooting the Devils by an increasing margin. They broke through in the final five minutes. A rebound off a shot by Brad Boyes went right to John Tavares in a 3-on-2 for the game's first goal. A bad penalty by Bryce Salvador ended quickly when Tavares darted into the slot and batted a puck in mid-air to make it 2-0. A bad penalty by Henrik Tallinder a minute later also led to a quick PPG for the Isles when Matt Moulson was wide-open in the slot for a one-timer. The Devils would respond with a little more aggression in the third period and pulled one back when Marek Zidlicky converted a power play with about 11 minutes left. Alas, more penalties resulted in a 5-on-3 for the home team and a third goal by John Tavares. That goal just about did the Devils in. A literal bad bounce off Zidlicky's skate went into his own net to make it a 5-1 loss for the Devils. My recap of the team getting crushed by Tavares and his team is right here.
The Last Senators Game: On that very same night, the Senators visited their provincial rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs quickly got on the board when Frazier McLaren knocked in a shot by Mark Fraser 3:12 into the game. Then nothing much of note happened until the second period. The Senators unleased their offense to the tune of 19 shots on net but they got nothing past Ben Scrivens. About eight and half minutes into the third period, the Leafs doubled their lead when Tyler Bozak re-directed a shot by Dion Phaneuf through traffic to beat Craig Anderson. The Sens tried again to get on the board but it just didn't happen. John-Michael Liles put in an empty net goal to send the Senators packing 3-0. Not a good result for the first full game without star defenseman Erik Karlsson. Mark Parisi broke down the loss over at Silver Seven.
The Goal: Make quick decisions in your own end and don't give up the neutral zone for all three periods. In the first period against Carolina, the Devils did not do this and were fortunate to come out of it with a 1-0 lead. In the first period against Philadelphia, the Devils did not do this and needed a big comeback from a 3-1 deficit after the first period. In the second period against the Islanders, the Devils did not do this and took two bad penalties that resulted in a 3-0 deficit they did not make up. The Senators are without Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson, but a team doesn't get to about 53% Fenwick in close-score situations or the third highest SF/60 rate in the league during 5-on-5 play by leaning on two players. The Senators even put up 34 shots on the Leafs in a losing effort. This is an Ottawa team that can and will attack often. If the Devils aren't making decisions promptly enough, then the defenders and backchecking forwards will give more space than they should to the opposition. That's just asking to today's game difficult. The Devils really need to sharpen up the pace of their defending and not lose pucks easily in the neutral zone. Both would go a long way to reducing the danger the Ottawa offense can present today.
I cannot emphasize how active the Ottawa offense has been this season. Erik Karlsson obviously led the way with 63 shots on net, which still ranks among league leaders. Beyond him, the Senators have eleven other skaters with more than 20 shots on net. They range from the obvious names like team leading scorer Kyle Turris (4 goals, 7 assists, 28 shots) to rookie Jakob Silfverberg (2 goals, 1 assist, 36 shots) to enforcer Chris Neil (3 goals, 1 assist, 35 shots) to legend Daniel Alfredsson (3 goals, 5 assists, 34 shots). To put that in perspective, the Devils only have six skaters with 20 shots on net this season. Like the Islanders, the Canes, and the Penguins from last weekend, this is a team that has demonstrably proven they can fire pucks from their entire lineup. Their injuries will hurt their cause - Karlsson, Spezza, possibly Milan Michalek (he's been out the past few games) - but they cannot be underestimated for this reality alone.
In addition to their prolific 5-on-5 shooting, they're also third in the league in 5-on-4 SF/60 per Behind the Net. What this means is that they're not going to let up with a man advantage. Their rate of shots is up there with the Islanders. Fortunately for the Devils, the Senators have not been nearly as successful as the Isles on the power play in recent games. It's worse than their below-median success rate of 18.6%. The Senators have not scored a power play goal in their last seven games. They've been scoreless in their last 23 opportunities. I shouldn't have to say the Devils still need to avoid unnecessary calls like, say, beefing with an opposing player behind the net, grabbing a stick on the power play, or tackling someone in the slot. They do. I don't want the Senators to suddenly snap their power play slump this afternoon.
I do want the Senators to keep up whatever they have been doing on defense. The Senators have taken a lot of shots but they've also allowed plenty. In 5-on-5 situations, their SA/60 rate is over 30 and ranks sixth in the league before Sunday's games. The Devils forwards should be able to pierce through the Karlsson-less defense and put shots on the goaltender. In a stroke of great luck for New Jersey, that goalie won't be Craig Anderson. James Gordon of the Ottawa Citizen tweeted on Sunday that Ben Bishop will start this game. The Devils won't have to try and crack a goalie who has an astonishing 94.9% even strength save percentage and a spectacular 93.9% power play save percentage. It's not that Bishop has been awful (he hasn't) or can't possibly do well today (he can). I'm just glad the Devils aren't facing Craig Anderson. That's all the more reason to hope the Devils stay strong in their own end and turn stops into advances up ice which should lead to shots.
The Devils' power play should also enjoy facing Bishop instead of Anderson. The Senators have the second best penalty killing rate in the league at 89.7%. That's largely due to Anderson's extraordinary save percentage on the power play. In 4-on-5 situations, the Senators are above the league median in SA/60 so they are vulnerable to allowing shots. With Anderson not playing, the likelihood for goals should go up. It's definitely not a guarantee but it's one more aspect to note.
As a final point about the Senators in general, the large amount of injuries to their lineup (Karlsson, Spezza, Milan Michalek, etc.) has meant a lot of young guys getting thrown into the fire. They've already given their first appearance to eight rookies this season. You'll see many of them today: Mika Zibanejad, Silfverberg, Stephane Da Costa, Derek Grant, Eric Gryba, Dave Dziurzynski, Mark Borowiecki, and Patrick Weircioch (scratched against Toronto). They have other young guys that we'll see today such as Jim O'Brien (who has four goals on 21 shots already), Zack Smith (entering his second full season with the team), and Kaspars Daugavins (ditto). With such a young team, it's hard to get a bead on what they'll actually do. Some of these guys, like Zibanejad, Silfverberg, and Da Costa, could make a lot of noise on one shift and promptly do little elsewhere. Someone could have a good game and then not follow it up. As much as the Devils have to be rightfully concerned about Alfredsson, Turris, and Sergei Gonchar, they have to be just as aware against the younger set. I'm confident the Devils coaches and players know that; but it's worth starting in the hopes that we'll see that seriousness on the ice.
The Devils themselves will have at least one change to their lineup from Saturday's loss. On Sunday, Tom Gulitti reported that the Devils sent down Jacob Josefson to Albany and called up Andrei Loktionov. Loktionov was called up earlier last week but was sent back down to make room for Alexei Ponikarovsky. With Josefson sent down, Loktionov should be plugged in as center of the fourth line alongside Bobby Butler and Krys Barch. If you figure Barch will only play a handful of minutes, then we'll get a chance to see what the new guy can do alongside Ilya Kovalchuk.
I'm all for giving Loktionov a chance. I'm curious to see what he can do for New Jersey. I just don't understand why Josefson is the fall guy. In Gulitti's post, Peter DeBoer says that Josefson needs some confidence. Of course he does. He goes from playing a significant amount of minutes due to being moved up to the top six a few weeks ago for an in-game replacement of Mattias Tedenby or Stefan Matteau to getting stapled to Barch and Butler. That could do plenty of damage to one's confidence. It certainly doesn't lead to much offense; just look at Butler's numbers at even strength (hint: it's zero). Regardless, I hope Josefson does whatever the Devils need him to do to get back here soon. While Loktionov will fill the fourth line center position, who fills in Josefson's role on the penalty kill? Josefson has been leading all Devils forwards in shorthanded ice time per game with 2:33, so his role certainly wasn't a small one. I suspect it will mean more time for the likes of Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, and Ilya Kovalchuk. Alexei Ponikarovsky could see a bump in time too. Hopefully the Devils won't find themselves taking so many calls today such that it becomes an issue.
Based on Gulitti's report from practice, Martin Brodeur will start this game and that may be the only other change to the team from Saturday's game. Gulitti noted that Mark Fayne skated with Matteau and Peter Harrold after practice, which could mean they will be scratched tonight. I really hope that isn't the case for Fayne. I know he didn't have a good game against Philly but outside of that, Fayne's been fantastic for the Devils this season. When he steps on the ice, the other team's shooting rate drops like a stone; and he's done very well against tough competition at 5-on-5. He even made Bryce Salvador look good in the time two were paired up. Keeping him out after that Isles game is just baffling in my eyes. I'd like to think Henrik Tallinder will have a better game today along with the rest of the defense. Still, Fayne possibly being kept out just strikes me as a poor idea.
As a final point regarding the Devils, I would love to see the Zajac line get going in terms of possession. They've been out-done in recent games when it comes to shooting attempts at evens. While they created three goals against Philadelphia, they're not leading the charge on most nights. That's been the job of David Clarkson, Patrik Elias, and Adam Henrique. Those three should continue to do the same. I'd love to see Kovalchuk, Ponikarovsky, and Travis Zajac actually beat their competition and put up a good number of shots more often and today could be that game. They're playing a banged-up Senators team without their amazing-so-far goalie in net. I think opportunities will be there for the taking for the Zajac line. I want to see them take it without giving up as many for a change.
That's my take on today's game. I should be there in my usual spot in Row 16 in Section 1 (I'm luckily off for the holiday). What's your take on this one? How concerned are you about the Senators now that they're without Karlsson among other important players? Will the Devils quell the Senators' offense? Can the Devils make the Senators regret starting Bishop today? What are your expectations for Loktionov's first game as a Devil? What do you think the Devils need to do to win this game (other than the obvious) and will they do it? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.