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New Jersey Devils vs. Minnesota Wild: Game Preview #16

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The New Jersey Devils return home to host the Minnesota Wild. This game preview looks at what the Wild have done so far, who isn't playing for them tonight, and what the Devils should try to do based on the Wild's strengths.

The last Devils-Wild game in Newark ended well.  Let's hope a similar result happens tonight.
The last Devils-Wild game in Newark ended well. Let's hope a similar result happens tonight.
Jim McIsaac

Back at home, and no, a certain someone won't be suiting up for the opposition.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (6-7-2) vs. the Minnesota Wild (7-6-0; SBN Blog: Hockey Wilderness)

The Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils shipped up to Boston and came back with their fourth straight loss.  The returning Mike Cammalleri set up Travis Zajac for an early goal in the first period.  Yet, the B's re-took the lead in the first.  Carl Soderberg converted a power play to get it going.  Eric Gelinas lost a puck from a pass by Adam Larsson right to Patrice Bergeron.  Bergeron made him pay with a score off the gift.   The Devils struggled early on in the second but were able to get some offense going.  Zajac was able to protect a puck and dropped it back to Jaromir Jagr.  Jagr curled and scored on a wrister to make it 2-2.  Alas, the Devils would see this go away in a horrid fashion.  Bryce Salvador had a shot blocked, Seth Griffith took it up ice, Salvador and Marek Zidlicky caught up to him but Griffith was able to get away enough to score a no-look backhander that Schneider should have stopped.  Not too long later, Reilly Smith got a free one-timer in the slot to make it 2-4 against New Jersey.  The Devils pushed for a comeback in the third period, but Tuukka Rask stopped everything.  The Devils lost 2-4; here's my recap of the loss.

The Last Wild Game: Minnesota headed up to Montreal on Saturday night.  The Canadiens retired Martin Lapointe's number #5 and the game featured five goals.  Mostly against the visiting Wild.  Both teams couldn't crack goaltenders Darcy Kuemper and Carey Price in the first period and for almost half of the second.  Brendan Gallagher provided the game's first goal before the game's halfway mark for a 0-1 lead.  Jason Pominville responded later on; but Montreal scored in the final minute of the period thanks to Lars Eller.  In the third period, Jiri Sekac poked in a loose puck to make it 1-3 against Minnesota.  Max Pacioretty slammed one home from in-close to make it 1-4 against the Wild.  The score held, Minnesota was unable to out-shoot their opposition for the first time all season (shots were 31-31), and they lost their third straight.  Here's Joe Bouley's recap at Hockey Wilderness.

The Goal: Be aware of where the Wild are on defense.  The Wild have been excellent in terms of shot prevention.  Their possession stands out.  Sure, it's still early in the season, but a 61.2% Fenwick in close-score 5-on-5 play speaks to how good they have been in terms of control. Prior to Monday's games, the second best team in that category at War on Ice is Chicago at just under 55%.   What that means is that they are taking a majority of unblocked attempts.  This also means they're not conceding a lot of attempts - or shots.   The Wild are first in the league by far in terms of fewest shots allowed at 23 shots against per game. So far, they've only given up 30 or more shots in two games; one of which was their last game.  So no one should expect the Devils to just get going on offense and find space easily to shoot.  Therefore, it's crucial that they are especially aware of where they are positioned on defense.   Then, they can make the right reads and make their relatively few chances at the net count.

What You Won't See: #11 in green and off-white will not be playing tonight.  Rachel Blount of the Star Tribune reported that Zach Parise, Jared Spurgeon, and Josh Harding did skate on Monday, they will travel with the team,but they will not play tonight.   Those losses have been felt by the Wild.  Parise is the leading scorer on a team that hasn't scored a lot.  Parise's four goals has only been surpassed by Jason Zucker, who has had five; and tied by Pominville and Nino Niederreiter.   Spurgeon has been averaging 22 minutes per game on Minnesota's currently-vaunted blueline.  Both skaters have been very, very good in terms of possession per War on Ice. Harding could be an upgrade over Niklas Backstrom.  When they return, the Wild will be better.   The Devils will at least not have to deal with either.

What You Will See: The Wild are not lacking talent at all.  Their defense is still anchored by Ryan Suter. He's been averaging 29:07 per game of ice time and the only regular with a superior Corsi% in 5-on-5 play per War on Ice is his defensive partner, Jonas Brodin.   Both are above 61%, which is ridiculous.   The Devils will see a lot of that pairing tonight and it'll be downright difficult to break them down.

Up front, without #11, the Wild still have plenty of threats. At the least, plenty of them have been driving the play forward. Pominville is the team's leading shooter with 47 and he is a difficult player to contain.  Thomas Vanek only has one goal but he's got eight assists; he's been creating production outside of the top line.  Mikael Granlund is a burgeoning talent and he was in between both on a top unit.  Mikko Koivu has been a solid two-way player and he's a key part of a line with Zucker and Charlie Coyle.  Their bottom six features two players of particular note:  Nino Niederreiter, who has six points and is just behind the big names on a team somewhat lacking in scoring in a lesser-minute role.   The other is Ryan Carter.  He's been very good in his fourth line role, save for leading the team in minor penalties.    Essentially, the Devils aren't going to have many favorable match-ups among their forwards.

The Movable Object vs. the Resistible Force: The New Jersey Devils' penalty kill ranks dead last in the NHL.  No other team is below 70% in terms of success rate. Fortunately, the opposition has not been blowing up penalty kills in their 13 games this season.  The Minnesota Wild has the second least successful power play in the league.  With two goals scored out of forty - yes, forty - opportunities, they have a success rate of just 5%.  Truthfully, the Wild will start converting more of them and I'd like to think the Devils will stop conceding PPGAs on a regular basis.  I just hope the latter happens tonight.   I don't want to have to witness the birth of the 2014-15 Wild's power play at the Rock tonight.

Maybe Another Return: Mike Cammalleri returned to action last night in Boston and did quite well.  His return was well welcomed.  Martin Havlat returned to practice along with Cammalleri but he did not play in Boston.  According to this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice on Monday, Havlat hopes to return to the lineup tonight.  I hope he does.  I don't think Damien Brunner has really done much to justify continued inclusion.  At least not in the top six.  Someone else could sit (Jordin Tootoo?), Brunner moves down to still have a shot at proving he should be a regular, and Havlat can slide in next to Elias.   I think we'll see the forwards lineup as they did in Sunday's practice; and I'm fine with that to start.

Defense, Get it Together: Defense is a team concept.  If the forwards aren't effectively moving the puck forward, then they'll likely be tracking back on defense to support the defensemen.   And does the Devils' defensemen need it.  Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas have gaudy possession numbers against lesser competition, but they have been prone to errors at points.  Bryce Salvador and Marek Zidlicky continue to disappoint and/or enrage the Devils faithful with good reasons.  With Jon Merrill out and one of those four being the captain, there's not a lot of room for change. When the Devils have been down as of late, Gelinas and Salvador switch up.  I don't know if I want to see a Salvador-Larsson or a Gelinas-Zidlicky pairing when the game is still a game.  I'm willing to see it out; though I doubt we will unless the Devils are down a score or two.   In general, please forwards, help them out.

What of the Goalies?: I would expect Darcy Kuemper to start in net for the Wild.  With two days off, he'll want to put the four he gave up in Montreal behind him.   Kuemper has been OK this season.  His even strength save percentage of 91.6% is decent. What's astounding is his penalty killing save percentage.  It's at 90.9%, which is remarkably good. As in, Cory Schneider last season good.  He's only been beaten twice in shorthanded situations all season.   As you shouldn't expect the Devils to roll through the Wild's defense and pile on the rubber, you shouldn't expect the Devils' power play to really pierce through.  Sure, it could happen; but the numbers suggest it's not likely.

As for the Devils, who knows?  The team has been riding Cory Schneider ever since the beginning.  Yet, I don't think Keith Kinkaid was called up to only sit on the bench for back-to-back sets.  Schneider wasn't the main reason why the Devils lost last night (or their past four) but I do think he's due for a night off.  With not much going right, I'm a little hesitant to suggest that the #2 goalie gets a start.  So let's say that I wouldn't mind Kinkaid starting.  Per Tom Gulitti's post-game post a Fire & Ice, it's a real possibility.  We'll see if we'll see it.

Veterans: Thank you.

Your Take: What will happen tonight? Will the Devils give the home crowd something to cheer for?  Will the Wild snap their own losing streak instead? What do you think the Devils need to do to succeed beyond the obvious? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.  Thank you for reading.