A return home against an opponent who's rather good and soundly beat them in their last game. Oh boy.
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: On Tuesday night, the Devils ended a four-game road trip in Vancouver. The Canucks dominated the first ten minutes of the game. They took a possession and shot advantage so large, the Devils would not make it up. Cory Schneider and puck luck were the chief reasons why a 16-shot first period yielded no goals against. However, a goal would come for Vancouver in the second period. Marek Zidlicky's clearance wasn't strong enough along the boards off a dump-in. Nick Bonino touched it back for Kevin Bieksa, who fired a low shot re-directed into the net by Alex Burrows (who had inside position on Zidlicky), and it was 0-1 Vancouver. The goal inspired the Devils not really do much different, though Vancouver didn't have an iron-clad grip on the game. While the Devils' play was second-rate, they found themselves in a one-shot game in the third period. That ended with under six minutes left to play. Off a won neutral zone faceoff, Zidlicky takes the puck and tries to carry it through the bodies. Ryan Stanton knocked it away and Shawn Matthias had a clear breakaway. Zidlicky tried to backcheck. Schneider stopped Matthias, but the rebound hit off Zidlicky's leg, and propelled into the net. A bad bounce, but fitting for #2 as he had a hideous by #2 all night long. 0-2 Vancouver and that's where it stood. Mike stayed up and recapped this terrible game by the Devils here.
The Last Red Wings Game: Wednesday night featured the Red Wings taking on Philadelphia. This game had the return of Pavel Datsyuk to the Detroit lineup and he would make an impact later on. The Flyers threatened early, featuring Jakub Voracek hitting the post; but Detroit struck first. Darren Helm fired a low shot from the left circle and Stephen Weiss tipped it past Steve Mason for the game's first goal. Philly would answer back early in the second period. A neutral zone turnover by Danny DeKeyser led to Claude Giroux carrying it in and firing a laser past Jimmy Howard. Detroit would take the score back and then some. Thomas Jurco scored off a rebound from a DeKeyser shot to make it 2-1. Datsyuk would score seconds after a power play with a wrister from above the right circle to make it 3-1 and have Ray Emery replace Mason. Datsyuk would get another goal, impressively batting in a loose puck that took a bounce on the ice. Philly would make things a little more interesting in the third when Wayne Simmonds passed it to Voracek across the top of the crease for a PPG. But Detroit sealed the win late; Gustav Nyquist picked up on a failed attempt by Giroux to keep the puck in the zone, passed it up to Henrik Zetterberg, and the team's leading scorer skated up to fire in the empty net goal. The Red Wings won 5-2, wingedoctupus had this recap at Winging It in Motown and J.J. from Kansas has this more in-depth analysis of the game.
The Last Devils-Red Wings Game: The Devils visited Detroit earlier this month, November 7th to be exact. It went rather poorly for the Devils. While the Devils did score first - Steve Bernier curling in a rebound in front of the net - the play was tilted against New Jersey until the score was decidedly in Detroit's favor. The Devils got out-shot 3-14in the first and were really just weathering the storm thanks in part to their awful passing. Detroit would tie it up with a power play goal credited to Jakub Kindl; Kindl's shot was re-directed in by Adam Larsson - back when the penalty kill was almost guaranteed to give up a goal every game. Less than a minute later, Brendan Smith fired a low shot through a massive screen to make it 1-2. Detroit did not really let up. Past midway through the second, Johan Franzen made Bryce Salvador look like a pylon while converting another power play to make it 1-3. Late in the second, Niklas Kronwall fired a long shot that rebounded hard off the backboards, which went off Cory Schneider and went into the net. All the while, the Devils just kept floundering at controlling and moving the puck effectively. Score effects were a bit kinder in the third and Jordin Tootoo scored his first goal with the Devils off a rebound created by Marek Zidlicky. But as far as 2-4 losses go, it was a fairly decisive win for Detroit and a very ugly performance by New Jersey. One that would be repeated in many games this month. My recap of the game is here. For the other side, Graham Hathway had this game recap at Winging It in Motown and J.J. from Kansas had this more in-depth review.
The Goal: Puck control matters, make the passes and decisions count. The biggest issue from the last Devils-Red Wings game, the recent Vancouver game, and a majority of the games in the past four-to-six weeks has been that the Devils have struggled at best to control the puck effectively. Their zone exits are rarely clean, their passing has been a nightmare at times, and their zone entries have not led to the Devils attacking as much as they could have been. As a result, they look bad more often than not, they go through stretches of just being steamrolled, and they have a sub-50% FenClose in 5-on-5 play. War on Ice has them now at 48.36%, which is horrid given that the Devils have been awesome in possession (like, better than 53%) for the last three seasons. Detroit isn't a possession powerhouse at 50.66%, but any opposing team will look like one if the Devils players keep chipping pucks into or form the neutral zone and struggle to even string three passes in a row going forward. Short of the Red Wings having a really off night, the Devils need to improve their execution to compete tonight, never mind win the game. That should be the goal and it could be the goal for nearly every game until it gets better.
The Gotta-Do-Betters: The Devils did practice on Thanksgiving and it was open to season ticket holders, but as far as I know nothing of note really came from it. There isn't any word from Tom Gulitti or Rich Chere as I could see. So if you were there, what did you see?
That said, based on the last Devils game and the past few weeks, there are a number of Devils that I think really have to do better and starting tonight to make the team at least more competitive.
First and foremost is the goat of the last game, Marek Zidlicky. It's not that he's questionable in his own end (he is) and he can take some dumb penalties (he does), but he was horrid in Vancouver. He was turning pucks over left and right, he was not in positions to make plays, and he was unable to distribute the puck effectively on offense. He tried to make aggressive moves on offense and it only yielded bad news for New Jersey and a hustling backcheck from #2. No one on the blueline passes the puck as much or as well as Zidlicky so when he stinks, it's a problem. He's got to do better.
Second, assuming he comes back into the lineup, Eric Gelinas needs to show he can actually defend. With Adam Larsson still being paired with Seth Helgeson, Gelinas would likely be paired with Zidlicky. While the name Peter Harrold seems to really get some people on the Internet unreasonably irate (it is the Internet), Gelinas' play in his own end of the rink over his last few games was basically Zidlicky's night against Vancouver stretched out over multiple games minus the goals against. Turning the puck over, not busting out his best asset, The Truth, and not getting into positions to make plays are bad regardless of whether or not the puck ends up behind his goalie. Further, given that I don't think Helgeson should be riding with #22 (putting a rookie with a defensively questionable defender isn't a good idea to me), it's on Gelinas to show some smarts in his own zone while Zidlicky has to do better. Even if Gelinas is out for another game and after the apparent IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD reaction from some for Harrold getting one more night, any pairing is going to be a sore spot that Detroit could exploit.
That exploitation can be lessened with better play from the forwards, namely the Patrik Elias line. Presuming that Martin Havlat and Adam Henrique are still with him, all three need to step it up. I may be writing a bit more in length about the very real second line issues with this Devils roster, so I'll be a bit briefer. This trio is too experienced to get bulldozed as badly as they did by Vancouver. Nearly all of their shifts led to more time in their end of the rink than the opposition's. On paper, this is a line with skill, speed, and awareness that could cause defenses problems. In reality, they've been bossed around save for the occasional nice play or goal. Detroit, like most teams in the NHL, aren't a one-line team that the Zajac line can just handle with Andy Greene and Damon Severson. They're deeper and so that requires the guys getting 15-18 minutes behind the Zajac line to play well. Generating one shooting attempt at even strength in a close-score game in Vancouver is the opposite of that. Elias, Henrique, and Havlat have to do better.
I Expect This: Cory Schneider was excellent in Vancouver and has played a lot for New Jersey. It's a back-to-back set, but I'm expecting Schneider to start this game. He would give the Devils a better chance to win than Scott Clemmensen. Especially if the Devils continue to play like they have been recently; I have much more faith in Schneider stopping a lot of shots to keep the game within reach than Clemmensen. Provided he doesn't get shelled, it's up in the air as to whether he'll get the Isles on Saturday.
This Detroit Team is Good: Since the Devils lost to the Red Wings, 2-4, Detroit has put up a record of 5-2-1. While they are not killing it in possession, they've been above break-even as a team and they have many players driving the play. They have a good power play, converting just over 20% of their opportunities so far; and an even more successful penalty kill, sitting second only to Chicago with a 88.6% success rate. As a team, they average over 30 shots per game and allow less than 27. There's not a lot of easy things to point to and say, "The Devils should exploit this." It's not going to be their 0-3 shootout record. That does not help New Jersey. Their 4-3-3 road record compared to a 8-2-2 home record might. However, their 51.18% FenClose in 5-on-5 play in road games according to War on Ice suggests they're not necessarily a poorer road team in the run of play. It seems cliche, but the Devils are just going to have to try and hang with a rather good team.
Recent Returns for the Opposition: That rather good team just got Pavel Datsyuk and Stephen Weiss back this week. The former has been a key player for Detroit for a while. He scored two goals in his first game back against Philly. The latter had a really rough 2013-14 campaign. He got two goals against Florida earlier this week, and tallied another goal and assist against Philly. That's an excellent start to his season; he's already matched last season's production in just two games.
Per Left Wing Lock, Datsyuk played in a more limited role, lining up with Weiss and Darren Helm. But there was a little time when he was with Henrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist. I would expect once he's more in "form" (maybe tonight given he did do good work against Philly), he'll be with Zetterberg again and possibly with Justin Abdelkader instead of Nyquist. Otherwise, that's a rather difficult line to contend with after the others Detroit can throw out there.
The Others Detroit Can Throw Out There: Look at the chart in this link at War on Ice. You'll notice that the majority of the Red Wings have an offensive zone start percentage greater than 50% with few exceptions. That exception is Luke Glendening, Drew Miller, and Joakim Andersson, which appears to be closer to a checking line if only for starting more often in their own end of the rink. And that wasn't a line in their last game. Thomas Jurco was with Glendening and Miller instead and they did pretty well with plenty of defensive zone starts given J.J.'s after action report. If they continue to do well, then that frees up the others to be more offensive and be more dangerous. And guys like Zetterberg, Nyquist, Thomas Tatar, Datsyuk, Helm, Abdelkader, and Johan Franzen benefit from that.
I didn't just pick those names at random either. They've produced significantly for the Red Wings this season. Each of them has at least ten points. Zetterberg is the leader among them and he's also their most prolific shooter with 69 shots on net. He's not going to be shooting at only 7.2% forever, so I would expect him to his goals to get a bump in time. But it's OK given that Nyquist has 10, Tatar has 9, Datsyuk now has 7, and Franzen and Abdelkader each have 6. Throw in contributions from Helm, Sheahan, and now Weiss, and there are players to deal with on nearly every line from a production and playing standpoint. Combine that with a defense led by Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, and Jimmy Howard posting 92.2% and 92% save percentages in even strength and shorthanded situations respectively. That's a difficult team to deal with. It requires their opponents to really make an effort to not lose pucks easily in either part of the rink. That's why this could be a difficult game for the Devils.
Your Take: The Devils end the month with a back-to-back with Detroit tonight and a game on Long Island tomorrow. Definitely not easy. I'll be back in my usual seat at The Rock to watch this one, all the same. Could the Devils hang with Detroit? Who on the Devils needs to do really well against Detroit? What concerns you the most about the Red Wings? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.