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New Jersey Devils at Vancouver Canucks: Game Preview #22

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The New Jersey Devils will end their road trip with a game against the Vancouver Canucks, one of the best teams in the Western Conference. This preview highlights what's so good about them as well as changes to the Devils lineup.

Expect Cory Schneider.  Note: this picture is from the Boston game.
Expect Cory Schneider. Note: this picture is from the Boston game.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The road trip will end tonight in the City of Rioting Over Game 7 Losses.  The team is pretty good, though.

The Time: 10:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (9-9-3) at the Vancouver Canucks (14-6-1; SBN Blog: Nucks Misconduct)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils rolled into Calgary on Saturday night - with Scott Clemmensen getting the start. The Devils actually kept up with the Flames in a back-and-forth affair throughout most of regulation.  The Devils struck first and second.  A lovely pass by Patrik Elias set up Adam Henrique for an early goal past Karri Ramo.  A lovelier pass by Jaromir Jagr led to a killer one-timer by Mike Cammalleri.  Calgary was crashing the net, but the puck somehow stayed out.  In the second period, the Flames would get one back.  A bad pass up-ice by Travis Zajac was tipped away and Curtis Glencross made them pay with a shot off the bottom of the cross-bar and in.  But Zajac made up for it by putting home a loose puck off a cross-bar shot by Henrique of his own at the end of the second period.   But the Flames would make a game of it.  Josh Jooris scored the first power play goal against the Devils in a while to make it 3-2.  A broken play by Tuomo Ruutu led to a second effort that he slid in to make it 4-2.  With 3:30 left, the Flames went aggressive and pulled Ramo - like Edmonton did on Friday night.  Unlike Edmonton, they made it count.  Jiri Hudler put a shot off Clemmensen that bounced off Andy Greene and trickled in to make it 4-3.  With five seconds left, three Flames crashed the net and Glencross piled in a rebound to force overtime.  A shootout was necessary and the Devils fell 1-2 to make it a 4-5 loss.  My recap of the loss is here.

The Last Canucks Game: Vancouver hosted Chicago, who was coming fresh off a massive beatdown of Edmonton, on Sunday night.  Before the game, Daniel Sedin was honored as he played in his 1,000th career game.  In the game, the Canucks struck first.  In a 3-on-2 rush in the dying seconds of a power play, Bo Horvat touched it off to Jannik Hansen, who one-timed it past Corey Crawford.  The Blackhawks would tie it up.  Duncan Keith fired a shot from the point on a power play and Kris Versteeg deflected it off Ryan Miller and into the net.  Vancouver would prevail in the third period to take the game.   Derek Dorsett put the puck into space, won a foot race to win it back and flung towards the net.  Hansen got onto it and the re-direction beat Crawford to make it 2-1 Vancouver.  Late in the third, Christopher Tanev fired a low shot on Crawford and Radim Vrbata jammed at it. He got it loose and beat the goalie to make 3-1.  Hansen would seal the game with an empty netter, making him the hat trick hero in a decisive win over Chicago.  At Nucks Misconduct, vancitydan had this recap.

The Goal: Build from the Calgary game.  As bitter as it was to stay up late and watch the Flames just throw rubber on net and put home in two rebounds in someway to tie it up, the Devils played a far better game against the Flames than they have in several of their other games in recent weeks.  The Devils were able to get good zone exits and entries; they didn't lose pucks too early in the neutral zone or in the offensive zone; and they didn't just fling pucks without regard to who was around them.   It's not an accident that the Devils hung with Calgary in shooting attempts in every period - even with the Flames throwing everything forward in the final minutes of regulation.   The Devils need to play more like that in general.  They'll be able to possess the puck more often and their offense can function far better from it across multiple lines.  Given how good of a possession team the Canucks are (53.38% FenClose, top ten and way better than New Jersey's 48.92%), that will be important.  It can be done and it can lead to a new day rising for the team.

The Well-Knowns: Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin are studs.  They are Vancouver legends.  Daniel's the shooter.  He third on the team with 60 shots on net.  He's usually got more goals, but not so this season - yet.  (Not that it's a problem).  Henrik is the pivot and the straw that stirs the drink.  He doesn't have as many shots on net, but he's always got gaudy assist and possession totals.  They both work incredibly well with each other and when they have a talented winger.   This season, it's Radim Vrbata - the man I recall some Devils would have wanted to see in Devils red.  Vrbata leads the Canucks with ten goals and he's tied for the team lead in shots with 64.  They've been productive at even strength and on the power play.  They lead the team in Corsi For% at even strength, as per Natural Stat Trick.   They are the top line and they will be a force.  If you know how to slow them down, then please let me and 29 other hockey teams know.  I want to say it's "keep the puck away from them" based on my intuition. But all three being above 55% in Corsi For strongly suggests they're getting it and giving defenses and goaltenders a lot of work to do.

The Not-So-Well Knowns: The Canucks are more than just the Sedin twins with guest star Vrbata.  Look at the production. Nick Bonino has centered the second line behind them and he's been enjoying a good season of his own.  He's got seven goals and eight assists - all at even strength.   Chris Higgins and Linden Vey have joined him in the win over Chicago.  Their seasons worth noting as well.  Higgins has four goals and nine assists; Vey has four goals and five assists.  That's a productive second line.   It's a line that could be more dangerous if Alexandre Burrows was healthy.  He did not play on Sunday night; his status is unknown.   Those four have been just around breakeven, so while they're not dominating the puck, they're doing a good job and making things happen.

Behind them, there have been other Canucks chipping in such as Brad Richardson (3 goals, 4 assists) and Derek Dorsett (2 goals, 6 assists).  The real surprise has been Jannik Hansen.  Hansen got a hat trick against Chicago, bringing up his production to eight goals and one assist.  For someone deeper in the lineup, who's more known for killing penalties, it's been very welcomed.  He won't keep shooting at 25% (8 goals on 32 shots), but he's hot now and that can give the Devils further problems in terms of match-ups.  Those three, incidentally, are on the wrong side of possession but it's mitigated by the fact that they're usually starting in their own end, albeit on different lines.   The point remains: they can put up a few.

On defense,  Alexander Edler is the offensive component of the blueline.  He's tied for the team lead in shots with 64 and he leads the blueline in points with three goals and five assists.  He's also the team leader in average minutes per game, which makes his 53.71% Corsi rather impressive.  It's only behind the Sedin line among regulars.  Chris Tanev has been a capable partner.  Following them isn't so impressive. Yannick Weber has been good this season with respect to possession, but Ryan Stanton has not per Natural Stat Trick. Luca Sbisa and Kevin Bieksa round out the group.

I will point out that the Canucks also boast a rather successful penalty kill. Their success rate of 85.3% is the sixth best in the league prior to Monday's games.  Their power play has not been so productive.  It's conversion rate of 18.8% is decent but the production has been driven by, you guessed it, the Sedin line.

The Known Unknowns: Bo Horvat will play his ninth NHL game tonight.  He's got a goal, three assists, six shots, and averaging less than ten minutes per game in his other eight games.   This is a crucial game for him. The Canucks could send him back to London of the Ontario Hockey League to have his contract slide.  He looked good with Hansen and Dorsett against Chicago, so there's a chance he may stick around.  A good performance from him tonight will make that decision harder - assuming it's not already made.

If there's one area where the Canucks could be better in, it's in net.  Ryan Miller has had some very good seasons in this league.  Not so far this season.  He's rocking a 90.4% overall save percentage and an even strength save percentage of 90.9%.  He did quite well against Chicago, but he's been much better in the past. Their #2 is Eddie Lack and he's been worse.  His overall save percentage is at 89.4% and 89.9%.  I would expect Miller to start as he's been the starter.  Will Miller be challenged?  We'll have to see, but if the Devils can do so like they did against Calgary, then I would expect some goals.

The Unknown Unknowns: The game is played on the ice.  We'll see what bears out.

One Expected Change, One Potential Change for New Jersey: Tom Gulitti's report from Monday's practice at Fire & Ice notes one potential change in the lineup. It's not at forward.  Those lines from Calgary will remain the same.  It's may be on defense as Peter Harrold was taking shifts with Marek Zidlicky instead of Eric Gelinas.  In this post-practice post by Gulitti, Gelinas admitted he hasn't been playing well in his own end.  While he got assists in the Edmonton game, some of his recent play has been problematic.   I don't think it's the worst idea to give Gelinas a game off to put in a veteran who can fill in for a night.  Harrold on the puck can yield an adventure at times, but I don't think that's much different from Gelinas as of late.  The pairing of Andy Greene and Damon Severson has been reliable and Adam Larsson is doing well even with the rookie Seth Helgeson.  It's that remaining pairing that's been a question mark at times.   While Peter DeBoer stated he hasn't made any decision yet, I don't think Gelinas practices with Jon Merrill, who hasn't been cleared to play, if he wasn't prepared to make that switch.

Going back to the forwards, I'd like to see more from the Travis Zajac line.  They did create a goal in Calgary but they got out-shot over the night. For a unit that plays more then rest, that's not so good.  I would like to see the units centered by Elias and Jacob Josefson keep up the good work.

Oh, the obvious change is in net.  Rich Chere tweeted that Cory Schneider will return to the crease on Monday.   No surprise there. He got his night off plus two more days. He's playing in Vancouver.  I expect him to do well because he's good at stopping pucks.

Condolences: Vancouver icon Pat Quinn has passed away. Legendary Russian coach Viktor Tikhonov has also passed away. Condolences to those who survive and remember both.

Your Take: The Devils will end this Western Canada road trip better than last season's for certain. Will they make it five out of eight points tonight?  If so, how?  This Canucks team is rather good; can the Devils hang with them for one night?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.