Back home and with a chance to win at least half of the games in October.
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (4-3-2) vs. the Winnipeg Jets (4-5-0; SBN Blog: Arctic Ice Hockey)
The Last Devils Game: The Devils started off well enough against the Pittsburgh Penguins as Dainius Zubrus scored in nine seconds. The Pens brought the pressure but the Devils eventually held them off and responded over the second half of the first period. Only a Hedbergian mistake by Cory Schneider made it 1-1 after one. Early in the second, the Devils found a way to get two goals. Jacob Josefson blocked a shot on a penalty kill and charged up ice for a breakaway - and he scored. The fourth line struck when Stephen Gionta put a low shot on Marc-Andre Fleury and Tuomo Ruutu piled in the rebound. It was 3-1 and looking fine. Then a storm came featuring bad play, penalties, more bad play, waving of the white flag, and more bad play. The Devils lost 3-8 to Pittsburgh. I wrote a lot about that one here.
The Last Jets Game: Winnipeg was visiting the Islanders on Tuesday night. There were plenty of goals in this one too, but it was much closer. The Isles got off to a fine start when Brock Nelson converted an early powerplay within the game's first two minutes. The penalty-fest began in the first, but Nelson's score would be the only conversion. The calls mounted in the second period, but more damage was done on the scoreboard. Andrew Ladd converted an early second period power play to tie it up; Paul Postma fired one in on another Jets power play minutes later; and past the halfway mark, Jacob Trouba got on the board. The Isles would tie it up in a fairly quick manner. John Tavares converted an Isles power play and, a little over a minute later, Mikhail Grabovski put home an equalizer. The Jets did out-shoot the Isles 12-5 in the period but they were tied at 3. But Ladd would provide the breakthrough goal early in the third period, the Jets kept the Isles honest offensively, and Ondrej Pavelec didn't concede another goal. The Jets won 4-3 to begin their four game road trip. Here's a recap from Terrel H of Arctic Ice Hockey.
The Goal: Challenge the goalie as much as possible. The Jets do not have good goaltending. Ondrej Pavelec, the likely starter tonight, is not a good goalie. He's enjoying a 91.4% save percentage at evens and a 90.1% save percentage overall. Last season, Pavelec was worse at evens at 90.8% but maintained a Brodeurian 90.1% overall save percentage. Their backup for this season, Michael Hutchinson, also has not been good. While the Jets beat the Isles, Pavelec conceded three goals on 21 shots against. I repeat, the Jets do not have good goaltending. The fortunate news for the Jets is that they have been relatively good in their own end so far this season. The NHL has them listed as averaging 26 shots against per game, which rates very well. Their Fenwick% in close-score 5-on-5 play at War on Ice is 52.08, which is also good. Combined with the Devils own approach to the game - low-event hockey - and it's not likely the Devils are just going to do whatever they wish to Winnipeg. So I want them to take an Ovechkinesque approach to shooting: any shooting lane is a good shooting lane. If the Jets had good goaltending, they'd be a more serious threat. But if the Devils want to pile up goals, then make Pavelec work - they'll likely come.
The Team That Didn't Practice: The Devils did not practice on Wednesday. As they lost 3-8 the prior night, this was not received well. As reader NJDOhio correctly pointed out in the comments to the recap, the day off was predetermined. Regardless, there's little information as of this writing as far as what the Devils will do. So I will speculate.
I don't think the Devils will start any goalie not named Cory Schneider. Schneider was bad in Pittsburgh. However, Scott Clemmensen hasn't shown he could be decent in fill-in duty either. The Jets may have had trouble scoring throughout this young season, but they're coming off out-scoring a high-scoring Isles team and they could be adding Evander Kane to their lineup, according to Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press. This is not the ideal situation to give a #2 goalie a start. Schneider still gives the Devils the best chance to win tonight. They will eventually rebound, so it might as well be sooner rather than later.
I don't think we'll see many lineup changes. While Marty Havlat and Jordin Tootoo have each served the minimum wait time for being on injured reserve, I don't think either will play without practicing first. Lou told Tom Gulitti on Tuesday that he expects both to skate by the end of this week. So I don't expect them to play tonight. That's good news for Damien Brunner and Jacob Josefson; I think they'll stay in their current places among the lines. I do think that if Mike Cammalleri is available, then he immediately jumps into the lineup and Reid Boucher would sit. But I am not holding out much hope since there are no signs of his immediate return.
Defensively, I would only like to see one change: Adam Larsson coming in for Jon Merrill. Not only has Merrill been eating it in terms of possession according to War on Ice, but he was picked on in Pittsburgh for several goals against. The team's issues last night were beyond what #7 could do, but the reality is that he hasn't done much good so far. Given the suspect goaltending of the opposition, I would keep Eric Gelinas to unleash The Truth and see how Larsson does next to him, with another chance in his fourth season of pro hockey. Again, I am not holding out a lot of hope, but it would be a change I'd like to see.
As for special teams, I'm not sure there's really any room for a personnel change. Yes, Andy Greene and Bryce Salvador have especially struggled as a PK pairing. I'm not seeing an answer in Damon Severson, Merrill, or Larsson. I'm definitely not seeing one in Gelinas or Marek Zidlicky. What could be changed instead? I wish I could tell you that there's something else to try that could yield gains in success rate other than to stop taking avoidable penalties. At least the opponent isn't rocking a 40% power play conversion rate or even a 10% conversion rate. As for the power play, their issue seems to me to be making passes; not really the passers and receivers themselves.
The Team that Did Practice: Winnipeg took to the ice on Wednesday and the media got to witness Evander Kane skating out there. Tait's report at the Winnipeg Free Press indicates that he and Zach Bogosian could return soon. Kane is a very talented forward. A dangerous blend of speed, strength, of skill. He practiced and could make his return to the team tonight. If he does, the Devils will need to pay special attention to his unit. Kane is a threat, even if he did miss a couple of weeks of game time.
As for Bogosian, he was usually lining up next to Toby Enstrom. The big defender can be a pain to deal with and has a strong shot. However, his production dipped last season and he hasn't been doing so well in possession last or early on this season per War on Ice. Meanwhile, the smaller and puck controlling Enstrom has been more than fine without him.
The Available Dangerous Jets Players: Like most teams, the Jets have a number of players you need to know as potential impact players for tonight's match-up.
Two of them play on the same line. First to know is Bryan Little. The center is listed as 5'11" so he's not that little, but he's been big on the scoresheet. He leads Winnipeg in scoring with five goals and four assists. He's picked up six of those nine points in an ongoing four-game point streak. While I don't expect him to maintain a 20% shooting percentage all season, the Devils will see a lot of the forward as he has averaged over 20 minutes per game. Second is Little's recent linemate, Andrew Ladd. Ladd scored twice in Long Island to pull him up to second on the team in scoring with four goals and three assists. He plays as much as Little and he's got 29 shots to lead the team. He's a dangerous winger who needs to be kept in check constantly. The unit hasn't been so hot in possession according to War on Ice. But with their production, they must be known.
In contrast, Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifle, and Mathieu Perreault have been dynamite in terms of possession. Wheeler has been the most productive with 25 shots on net, three goals, and two assists. That's not exactly a great number of points; but with two 60+ point seasons in recent memory, I would think his production would improve at some point. He's also prone to taking penalties; he leads the Jets with 28. Provided someone is willing to deal with the large winger directly, they may draw a call or two from him. Scheifele is continuing to grow as a player and Perreault is handy with the puck. It's a solid trio even if they haven't produced much yet. I would hope the Devils don't get pinned back by this unit as they have done to others.
On the back end, the big names are Jacob Trouba and Big Buff. Let's focus on the latter first. Dustin Byfuglien is large but not quite in charge this season. He's a minute behind Wheeler for the team lead in penalties, which is a dubious distinction for a defenseman. He's slow to start but a real handful to deal with if he's able to pick up steam. He's got a strong shot and he's put 27 on net. Only two have gone in, but the volume alone makes him a threat from distance. He's been paired with Grant Clitsome in the Isles game, though a Bogosian return will likely change that. The former name is Trouba. He's young, filled with talent, and has that McGuire-approved big body presence. However, his start to the season hasn't been so good. He's been given plenty of offensive zone starts (more than Byfuglien) but he has been playing more in his own end at even strength (like Byfuglien). You'll notice Trouba plenty when he throws a hit. Perhaps the Devils should let him try to hit all he wants, provided he's doing it in his own end.
With some of these good talents plus Kane, one wonders why the Jets aren't expected to contend? Well, they are in a really tough division, for starters. For another, Pavelec is their starting goalie. And, as we've seen with the Isles in prior seasons, a team can boast some serious talent up front; but having less-than-impressive depth can often hurt the cause more than the talent up top can help. I'm not sure there's anything noteworthy about the bottom six other than that Matt Halischuk plays for this team.
An X-Factor?: Paul Postma is relatively young, got cushy zone starts last season, and still got pinned back on defense more often than not in 20 games. However, the start of the 2014-15 season shows someone different. Someone with a potential future. Someone with solid possession numbers in seven games. Someone who looked good next to Enstrom more often than not in Winnipeg's most recent game. Yes, Postma has played limited minutes and it's possible his good start is only that. However, it's creating a good problem for Paul Maurice if/when Bogosian returns to action. As for this game, expect him to show some flashes on offense and to support Enstrom. If Bogosian does return, then expect him to lineup with someone else and try to do well. I'm not ready to say he's for real, but there's some signs that he's not a scrub. That's a step forward given what he displayed last season.
Your Take: The hope is that the Devils will end October with a win to make it a 5-3-2 month. Will they get to realize that hope? What do you think the Devils will have to do to get there? Can the Devils hold Little and Ladd back? Can they not get pinned by Scheifele and Wheeler? If Kane returns, him too? Most of all, can they break Pavelec down like he's been broken down for several seasons now? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.