The Devils will get a shot at revenge and a chance to avoid a three game losing streak in Winnipeg tonight.
The Time: 8:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (10-5-4) at the Winnipeg Jets (9-9-1; SBN Blog: Arctic Ice Hockey)
The TiqIQ Ticket Link: In Winnipeg for some reason and want to go to tonight's game to cheer on a team that won something once? Visit our partners at TiqIQ to get something from the secondary market, which may be your only chance. Here's a link: New Jersey Devils tickets.
The Last Devils & Devils-Jets Game: The Devils' previous was against the very same Jets team, only at the Rock on this past Sunday. Right from the beginning there would be some injury concerns for both teams. Martin Brodeur tweaked his back in warmups so Johan Hedberg got the start. Seconds into the game, Antti Miettinen took a puck to the groin and did not return. Ouch. The game opened up with an early goal by Zach Bogosian, trailing on a rush up-ice. The Devils would equalize when Travis Zajac finished off a pass from Patrik Elias to snap his scoreless streak minutes later in the first. A jam play by Steve Bernier dropped in past Ondrej Pavalec to make it 2-1. The run of play was even but the Jets broke through in the second period. Grant Clitsome got an open shot, screen by a stuck Bryce Salvador, and Hedberg not getting enough of the puck to score a power play equalizer. It was the Jets' first power play goal in their last 21 chances. Near the end of the second period, shot/pass block by Alexander Burmistrov turned into Evander Kane splitting the defense on a breakaway, getting around a diving Hedberg, and sliding the puck in for an easy score. Despite it being 3-2, the Jets continued to attack and Andrew Ladd sniped a shot to the top corner to make it 4-2. The Devils, well, didn't really push for a comeback in the third. They matched the Jets in attempts, only put up five shots on net, and settled for consecutive regulation losses for the first time this season. My recap of the loss is here. Over on the opposition's side, Derek Gagnon was appropriately pleased with win over at Arctic Ice Hockey.
The Last Jets Game: The Devils have been off until today, but the Jets had a road trip to finish up at the World's Most Overrated Arena on Tuesday night. The first period was scoreless but the Jets got through to Henrik Lundqvist eventually. 5:55 into the second, Kane set up Olli Jokinen in front for a tap-in after a long offensive shift by Winnipeg. The Jets doubled their lead minutes later when Kane ripped a wrister from the left dot. The Rangers got on the board a few minutes after that when Ryan Callahan potted one in; but the Jets took back the two-goal lead when Anthony Peluso's second assist found Jokinen on Lundqvist's left flank. The Jets looked good up 3-1 and having just out-shot the Rangers 17-12 in the second. The Rangers would respond with shots but the Jets didn't stop scoring. Thirty seconds after Tayler Pyatt tipped in an Anton Stralman shot, Kane carried the puck from his end, up to the right circle, and fired a laser through Lundqvist's five hole to make it 4-2. Kane was a stud out there and if you need to a see a goal from that game, make it that one. Stralman would score about a minute later to make it close, but Pavalec and the Jets held on to the 4-3 win. The Jets won four out of five away from home and arby_18 was happy with the performance in his recap at Arctic Ice Hockey.
The Goal: Take the defenders on with the forecheck, especially if they have a lead. The Jets have been playing quite well as of late but on Sunday, I noticed their defense was prone to giving up the puck either in board battles, in open play, or while they were trying to breakout. This was the case in all three periods, though the third was a disappointment. The Devils had opportunities in a one-shot game and later in a two-shot game but they chose not to fire pucks on net even if they won them in their end. Even though they could and should have done more, the Devils still managed to match them in attempts. Against the Rangers, the team's attack flatlined as they sat on a 4-3 lead late according to truck's posting of the Fenwick Timeline of that game at Arctic Ice Hockey. Ondrej Pavalec definitely earned his money as he witnessed a lot of pucks in his way in the third. Basically, if it's close, then don't be afraid to turn up the pressure against the Jets because it can lead to a plethora of shots. If Pavalec or some other goaltender plays out of his mind, so be it. But there were signs that the Devils can succeed with a strong forecheck from the last Jets-Devils game and the Rangers certainly pinned the Jets late in the game. It can be done, so I want to see it.
Without a presence of Tom Gulitti or Rich Chere in Winnipeg, it's unclear what exactly what the Devils put out on the ice in Wednesday's practice in Winnipeg. Usually, whatever Peter DeBoer does We do know that Martin Brodeur is on injured reserve, so Johan Hedberg will start tonight's game. The Devils did call up Keith Kinkaid but I doubt he'll get any minutes unless Moose gets hurt or horribly lit up. The Moose should be fine provided he doesn't come out of his net 10-15 feet on a breakaway and snag all the pucks he can reach at. We also know Ryan Carter remains on injured reserve, but did travel with the team per Gulitti's post on Tuesday. Unless he's suddenly moved off IR, he's out for tonight. Additionally, Jacob Josefson was sent back to Albany on Monday according to Gulitti so he's out. Gulitti did report at Fire & Ice on Wednesday that the Devils called up (sigh) Tim Sestito so if Stefan Matteau can't perform, the Devils could be induced with the type of energy that brings little to the table. His recall means Carter can't be activated unless someone is sent down, so I suspect Sestito is just here for cover as opposed to an extended stay.
These roster moves don't even consider the possibility of any changes on defense or up at forward. Since the team has won only two out of their last seven and have struggled to find the net, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility of some shifts. In Tuesday's practice, Gulitti did report the following: Peter Harrold was paired with Anton Volchenkov, Henrik Tallinder and Mark Fayne were on the dreaded fourth pairing, Adam Henrique moved to left wing as Andrei Loktionov centered him and Ilya Kovalchuk, and Stefan Matteau and Bobby Butler joined Krys Barch on the fourth line. I imagine if the coaches and trainers think Matteau should sit one more out, then Sestito goes in for him. I don't mind him for a few fourth line minutes, to be fair. I just hope the top six are able to carry the load in all three periods. I'm confident that the unit of Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, and David Clarkson will likely be fine. How Loktionov will handle stiffer competition is a question mark; as is Alexei Ponikarovsky in the Carter role with the other two-thirds of CBGB. Defensively, I'm not going to be pleased if the change is Harrold coming in for Fayne since he didn't do anything terribly wrong in Sunday's game. But again, that's all from Tuesday's practice. For all I know, DeBoer did something completely different yesterday that we'll see tonight.
What I definitely know is that the Devils need to gameplan for the Jets' top six. The big star is, of course, Evander Kane. Kane lit up the Devils for five shots and a breakaway goal on Sunday. He's currently on an eight-game point streak. He came up huge against the Rangers with two goals, one assist, and seven shots on net to make him the team's leading scorer with nine goals and nine assists. Like a lot of top players, he plays in all situations and does quite well. Joining him regularly are Alexander Burmistrov and Olli Jokinen, two other offensive players who can make things happen. They got attempted against quite a bit, but they generated quite a lot on Sunday. They did so on Tuesday. They will likely do so again unless the Devils have a great plan for them or they just have a bad night. Adding to the strength of their top six, Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd (the team's leading goal scorer with ten), and Bryan Little make up one solid line. And they've been going up against the toughs this season - and coming out pretty well. While they ended up even in the possession battle, they did generate the first and fourth goals for the Jets. The Devils can't solely deny Kane and his unit and think they'll be fine. I wonder whether the Zajac line will get the Little matchup.
As for the Jets' defense, the big guys are the worrisome ones. Dustin Byfuglien plays a lot, has a heavy shot, and takes up a lot of space. The Devils did pretty well against him on Sunday, I hope they can do it again. The other pairing, not as much, as Zach Bogosian has been getting it done in terms of getting stops and helping the puck forward. His on-ice Corsi rate of 0.43 at Behind the Net doesn't seem so great, but consider he usually starts in his own end and he's got the highest quality of competition in Corsi Rel QoC among his fellow blueliners. I would expect either the Zajac or Loktionov line to see plenty of him. He, at least, will present a challenge as he did on Sunday.
There could be a few changes to the Jets' lineup. On Wednesday, Tim Campbell at the Winnipeg Free Press reported that the team has called up defenseman Derek Meech and goaltender Al Montoya may be ready to play. It's not clear whether either will play. As far as I can tell, Meech will be the #7 guy on defense unless they want to spell Paul Postma or Mark Stuart. So I'm not expecting to see him. I'm also expecting Pavalec to be in net again tonight. The Jets don't have any games tomorrow and a three-games-in-four-nights set next week, so I would be surprised if he wasn't starting this one. I could be wrong. For what it's worth, Pavalec has been very good at even strength (92.3% save percentage) and very beatable on the penalty kill (76.5% save percentage). Not that the Devils' current power play will necessary take advantage of the latter, but if they somehow, some way get shots through, then they may even go in. Just a thought as we witness Elias, Marek Zidlicky, and Ilya Kovalchuk roam around above the circles for little result.
Speaking of special teams, the Devils have to be careful of their coverage on the penalty kill. As I've showed in this post on Monday, it's been killing them for most of this month and it showed up again on Sunday for Clitsome's power play goal. It didn't look like much when Josefson decided to go after Paul Postma keeping the puck in at the left point but it's what opened up the lane for Clitsome to get some space and light a lamp. Penalties will likely happen for both sides; the Devils just need to be aware of where the Jets are when they have to kill one. It sounds simple, it isn't, but it's still something that has to be done. Another failure could cost them - again.
As a final point, I'd really like to see the big shooters rack them up tonight. Kovalchuk only had two in Sunday's game after doing what he could do in D.C. for two straight. David Clarkson got three after two straight one-shot games. Those aren't terrible but I'd like to each of them take more attempts tonight. Given how Patrik Elias has driven the play all season, I'm a little more confident in Clarkson being able to do just that. Loktionov is also being given more responsibility early and Henrique has been slumping so Kovalchuk may not get as many opportunities. Still, they're going to be the big targets for Winnipeg's backchecking tonight, I hope they can break through. It would help the Devils out a long way as they try to get back to scoring goals and winning ways.
What do you think will happen in this re-match? Will the Devils be more aggressive and manage to generate more offense against Winnipeg? Will the Devils have a confident opponent to give them more to handle than they thought? What do you think the Devils should do with their lines? How can they handle their top six, featuring Kane and Little's line? Can special teams not be such a bummer for New Jersey tonight? Will the Devils avoid three straight regulation losses? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.