Can the Devils avoid a three game losing streak and get some points on this trip? Can I avoid seeing a similar sentence for Friday's preview?
The Time: 8:30 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (22-21-11) at the Dallas Stars (24-21-8; SBN Blog: Defending Big D)
The Last Devils Game: The Devils continued their travels into Missouri to play the St. Louis Blues. Unlike the previous week, this game didn't feature nearly as many favorable bounces. Though, the Blues' defense tried really hard in the first period to do so. The Blues went up first in the game when Alex Steen trailed just enough in a 3-on-2. Giving Steen time, space, and Anton Volchenkov in Cory Schneider's field of vision ends badly for any team. The Devils tried to beat Jaroslav Halak throughout the game, but they couldn't do it. Not with two good power plays (their third was awful and their fourth was just "whatever") and not much action at evens. The Blues did a very good job defensively to get in the Devils' way and make life hard for them at moving thepuck. The Blues would add to their lead in the third period. Brendan Morrow was in the right place at the right time to rightly deflect a shot by Jay Bouwmeester past Schneider to convert a third period power play. The 2-0 scoreline looked like a mountain to climb, and so frustration set in. Maxim Lapierre lofted in an empty netter shortly after the Devils were close to getting on the board and that was that after some dumb stuff. The Devils lost 3-0 as their season-long offensive issues arose again. My recap is here.
The Last Stars Game: On Monday, the Dallas Stars hosted the Colorado Avalanche. Very early in the game, an Alex Goligoski turnover and some defensive sketchiness led to Nathan MacKinnon giving the visitors a 1-0 lead. Far later in the first, the Avs increased their lead when Jamie McGinn popped a puck past Kari Lehtonen. The Stars would cut the lead in half when Jamie Benn picked a corner from the slot off a great clearance-stop-and-pass by Tyler Seguin. In the second period, the Stars struck early with a power play goal from Seguin to tie up the game. The Stars continued the pressure as they crushed the Avs in shots, 19-8. Alas, the Avs would go up late in the second with a power play goal from Paul Stastny. The Stars would equalize shortly thereafter with Seguin's second of the night. The third period was even more of a domination by the Stars. However, like a certain team in Ontario, the heavily out-shot team got a score and held on for dear life. Alex Tanguay broke the 3-3 deadlock less than five minutes into the third; Seymon Varlamov played out of his mind as he faced 13 shots compared to his team putting up only 3; and the Stars lost 4-3. At Defending Big D, here's Brad Gardner's recap of the Stars' 44-shot effort coming up short due to the other man in the net.
The Last Devils-Stars Game: Back on January 9, the Devils hosted the Stars. The game featured plenty of offense but it was all about the goalies. Cory Schneider and Kari Lehtonen brought their A+ games to the Rock and simply got a bit of everything. Only one man managed to score between both teams: Michael Ryder. He got in front with just enough space and just at the right time to one-time it in early in the first. The Devils could have had more goals if it wasn't for Lehtonen. The Stars could have had any goals if it wasn't for Schneider. It was a 1-0 victory. Here's my recap of the game. Over at Defending Big D, Erin Bolen had this take.
The Goal: Fire at will, especially when losing. The Devils not only lost the last two games, but put up rather low shot counts in both. They only put up 22 against Our Hated Rivals on Sunday and 25 against St. Louis. More worrisome is that they only put up five each in the third period when they were losing. While the Devils were down three to four goals on Sunday, the St. Louis game was still a one-shot game for quite a bit of time. One of the biggest problems the Devils have this season is putting pucks on frame. Fortunately, they're playing a team that they had success with earlier this season. They rang up 34 on Lehtonen. While only one got in, it's a lot more likely they'll get more goals with a similar kind of output than expecting Lehtonen to be perfect. Especially since Lehtonen has been running hot and mostly cold throughout January. Before the Avs game, he put up a shutout. In the Avs game, he got lit for four goals. Throughout the month, his save percentage is at only 90.1%. The Devils need to shoot more anyway, so attack - especially if Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley are sloppy again - and the Devils may get some. They're not going to find the net if they don't try, after all.
Dynamite Line: Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Valeri Nichushkin featured on all three of Dallas' goals on Monday night. Per Left Wing Lock, those three were together often and that's a scary proposition for the Devils. Nichushkin is the big, fast rookie forward with eleven goals, fourteen assists, and 85 shots on net. He's fourth on Dallas in scoring and he's got a future so bright, I may need to wear shades. He's the third best forward on this line and it's the other two that are frightening. Seguin and Benn are first and second, respectively, in team scoring. Seguin has 23 goals, 28 assists, and 164 shots. Benn has 20 goals, 28 assists, and 182 shots on net. They have great shots, they know how to create them, and they can hurt a team either with possession or just a quick strike like Benn's goal against Colorado. The Stars aren't a two man team, but these two have carried a lot of the offensive weight for them this season. The Devils will need to contend with them most of all. I hope they don't wreck the second or third pairing too badly.
Driving Forward: The Stars are similar to the Devils in that they have one or two players way above everyone else in terms of scoring. For the Devils, that's Jaromir Jagr with 44 points and no one currently above thirty. More relevant to tonight's game, the Stars have been almost as strong in possession as the Devils according to Extra Skater. What this means is that they usually out-attempt and out-shoot their competition at evens. Say what you want about a team that features Erik Cole, Rich Peverley, Ray Whitney, Shawn Horcoff, and Vernon Fiddler, but Lindy Ruff has them performing such that they're not dragging the team too far back. Of course, getting positive play from Antoine Roussel, Ryan Garbutt, and most of the defense really is what helps along with that dynamite line being, well, explosive. As such, they're likely to be rather difficult to deal with in the run of play.
I will say that they are unlike the Devils in how they go about it. The Stars are more high-event at evens than the Devils. That means they take more shots and give up more shots. It's worked out from an offensive standpoint at least. All of those additional players have produced a decent amount of points. That means Cody Eakin, Garbutt, Cole, etc. can factor if the Seguin-Benn-Nichushkin unit struggles somewhat. It also means the Devils can't just load up against one unit.
Go Right At: The Goligoski-Daley pairing against Colorado was bad. Their misplays cost their team two goals. I don't know whether they'll stay together. If they do, then I want the Devils to attack them. Aside from that, I want the forwards to play aggressive against Sergei Gonchar. It's not an accident he's the worst among the Stars' defenders in possession. He's lost a step and he's never been that great of a defensive player anyhow.
Stay Out of the Box: The Stars' power play conversion rate is rather low at only 15.9%. It's not for a lack of trying. The Stars tend to generate a lot of shots. Their shooting rate is well into the top ten in the league, per Extra Skater. Of course, the big threats are Benn and Seguin, but it's here where Gonchar and Goligoski really do damage on offense. The Devils will have to be careful with how they use their sticks and not get caught out such that they have to foul. Dallas may not have a lot of power play success this season but they can threaten and that alone can hold the Devils back.
So You're Unhappy, What're You Going to Do About It?: After the St. Louis game, Patrik Elias was reportedly unhappy with the "selfish play" by some his teammates according to this Rich Chere post at NJ.com. Of course, he did not name any particular players, but being called selfish is a cardinal sin in hockey so he's clearly not pleased with someone. Losing 3-0 after getting smashed on a national stage surely will make anyone unhappy. My concern is what happens now. Did Elias speak with said players to help them along? What will Elias himself do to make things more right? The Devils did not practice on Wednesday so it's unclear whether there will be changes in forward lines or other situations.
I'm hoping someone gets sparked by it. Maybe it'll be Dainius Zubrus or Damien Brunner, who have been invisible in recent games? Maybe it'll be Jaromir Jagr, who was forcing quite a few of his passes to the other team on Tuesday? Of course, maybe the run of play tonight won't be conclusive enough to figure it out or it may not work. Who knows? I don't.
Please Start Schneider: The second half of this back-to-back set is a game against a less offensive Nashville team. If it were me, I'd start Cory Schneider. Not that he's been the problem, but he'd give the Devils a better chance to win tonight against a more prolific-shooting Stars team.
Your Take: Now it's your turn. Do you think the Devils will be able to find the net tonight? What do you think they'll have to do to beat the Stars? Will they do that thing? Pay attention to Tom Gulitti during the day for any lineup updates since the team did not practice yesterday. Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.