The first of three games in four nights this week for the home team, and it's nationally televised.
The Time: 7:30 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - NBCSN; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (6-3-2) vs. the St. Louis Blues (7-3-1, SBN Blog: St. Louis Game Time)
The Last Devils Game: On Saturday night, the Devils hosted a depleted and skidding Columbus Blue Jackets team. The visitors got on the board early as a Ryane Clowe turnover turned into a 2-on-1, finished off by Jack Skille. The Devils would eventually respond. Marek Zidlicky was found in space shortly after a power play draw in the second period, and he beat NHL debuting goaltender Anton Forsberg clean. The Blue Jackets would respond with a PPG of their own. Nick Foligno got behind and into inside position on Andy Greene; Jack Johnson saw that; and a saucer pass quickly became 2-1 by Foligno. However, the Devils' power play was not done yet. They converted an third period power play quickly when Forsberg couldn't find the rebound of a Jaromir Jagr shot, the Blue Jackets couldn't help him, and the puck eventually got to Adam Henrique who put it in the net amid the chaos. Minutes later, Adam Larsson blasted a shot past a screening Dainius Zubrus and the shortside of the goalie to make it 3-2. Cory Schneider stopped everything else and the Devils hung on to win, handing Columbus their fifth straight loss. It wasn't pretty, but I noted how the Devils got the job done in my recap.
The Last Blues Game: The Blues played in Rangerstown on Monday night against New York's Currently Second Best Team. The home side got the scoring going with a PPG by Chris Kreider and proceeded to tilt the ice against Brian Elliott by leading in shots 15-4. St. Louis would respond with a PPG of their own. Vladimir Tarasenko continued his torrid scoring with a beautiful goal against Cam Talbot. They tilted the ice against Talbot 17-8 in shots. The third period saw a more even period and more goals. Patrik Berglund scored his first of the season early on. Martin St. Louis answered back with a goal of his own and gave his squad a 3-2 lead at the 13:17 mark. Less than a minute later, Jay Bouwmeester's wrist shot hit home to tie it up at 3-3. New York pressed the issue in OT but couldn't break the game, so a shootout was necessary. Lee Stempiak scored for the home team, Alexander Steen and Tarasenko scored for St. Louis, and so St. Louis wins their fifth straight 4-3 via a shootout.
The Goal: Make the most of the power play. On most nights, this is something to strive for. For St. Louis, the penalty kill is arguably their biggest weakness. Their success rate isn't as low as New Jersey's but it's still below league median and hovering around 75-76%. To put it in perspective, the Blues headed into Rangerstown conceding as many power play goals as they have gave up even strength goals. It's the one area where Brian Elliott and Jake Allen haven't been amazing. The Blues haven't been leaky in terms of shots allowed according to War on Ice, but power plays end when the shot goes into the net. For the Devils to try to get something out of tonight's game, they need to be effective at gaining the zone and setting up shooting lanes. Fortunately, the Devils have been effective so far this season with a power play success rate of 26.3%. I think that has to continue.
Seriously, the State of Their Goalies: Look at the splits at NHL.com: Elliott and Allen have been sensational at even strength in this still-early 2014-15 season. Neither one is a "better" choice, ugly shorthanded save percentages aside. The team doesn't have to score a lot of goals because the masked men certainly aren't letting too many in. Tom Timmermann of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tweeted that Allen will start tonight's game. That only makes sense since he's done well in his first few games and Elliott played at Rangerstown last night.
The Hottest Blue: If there is one Blue skater you need to know, it's Vladimir Tarasenko. In his last four games, he's had a hat trick and an assist at Dallas, put up a brace against Colorado, and equalized the Rangers with a beautiful move in Rangerstown. Tarasenko is St. Louis' leading scorer and shooter. The shots are especially notable as he has 48 in 11 games. As you may expect, he's driving the play at evens as well as the scoresheet. He's excellent on the puck and downright dangerous when he gets a lot of opportunities to shoot.
Credit for that also goes to his linemates, Alexander Steen and Jori Lehtera. Steen, you may know already as a very good player with few real weaknesses. Lehtera is a new face to the team. He's been winning a lot of faceoffs and feeding Tarasenko. Unsurprisingly, Lehtera and Steen are in the upper end of the scoring leaders for the Blues. I would expect the Andy Greene and Damon Severson pairing to see a lot of these three. I wish them plenty of luck and hope that the forwards are prepared to help - or at least cover Tarasenko tightly.
Rock in the Back: Alex Pietrangelo is one of the league's best defensemen. He has averaged over 25 minutes per game for St. Louis. Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester have taken on tough competition and often has come out ahead in terms of possession per War on Ice. He plays in all situations, and he's been fairly productive with six points in eleven games. The only downside to his start to this season is a negative relative Corsi%. I think that has to do with having Kevin Shattenkirk - who has been St. Louis' most productive blueliner - and his partner (now Carl Gunnarson) doing so well in their matchups. Whoever draws this pairing should be prepared to have a battle on their hands.
The Frightening Thing is that The Blues Can Be Better: The Blues play in a tough Central Division and have a very strong roster on paper. What surprised me almost as much as their low success rate on penalty killing was who I didn't see with a lot of points. David Backes hasn't been bad but only has three goals so far. T.J. Oshie has been out with a concussion but he's had no goals and only one assist in eight games before then. Patrik Berglund scored his first of the season last night and also had only one assist. In spite of a potent power play, Jay Bouwemeester had zero points before finally getting one (a goal) in New York.
The Blues simply haven't scored a lot of goals. They only have scored 27, which puts them well into the lower third of the league right now. Once you get past Tarasenko's hotness and Jaden Schwartz with five goals, the goal scoring is spread pretty thin. Thanks to the goaltending (and the defense), it hasn't prevented them from getting results. My point is that this team absolutely can put up more; I just think their sticks are relatively cold. That should be the fear if you're a fan of another Central Division team. When they start scoring - Paul Stastny returning would be a big help (and it may not be tonight) - and improve that PK, they're going to be a remarkably difficult opponent. As for the Devils, well, I'm glad they get their two games against them right out of the way now.
Welcome Back, Bernier: Enough touting of a really good Blues team. Let's focus on the Devils. Their big moves today involved Albany. The Devils sent Reid Boucher down and has recalled Steve Bernier. As Bernier lined up on the fourth line in Monday's practice per Tom Gulitti's report at Fire & Ice, I would expect him to appear at the Rock tonight. This is supposed to be the part where I go on and on about this kind of move. Truthfully, I'm unmoved. Boucher wasn't doing much in his call up. He played 6:44 against Columbus and didn't really do too much outside of a few shooting attempts. Bernier will likely play about that much, maybe a bit more, and if he fires a few pucks, then nothing is lost. Furthermore, if the choice is between Bernier or Jordin Tootoo, who did return to practice, then I'd rather have Bernier at this moment. Tootoo has been a net negative on the ice; Bernier has shown he can at least not cause the team damage in past games. Besides, it's not like the fourth line is likely going to be the difference maker tonight. So I'm fine with this move.
More Forward Switching: More curious was what Peter DeBoer did within the top nine. With Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat still out, two new combinations were tried out. Fans of Jacob Josefson should be thrilled that he was centering a line of Ryane Clowe and Damien Brunner. Going from a line that plays about 7-10 minutes to a line that will likely play 11-13 is a step up. I'm concerned about that line's defensive capabilities. Clowe isn't fast, Brunner isn't defensively sound, and Josefson can only do so much with that. But since it's a home game, Peter DeBoer can and likely will try to protect them as much as possible.
That move was made because Adam Henrique was moved up to play with Patrik Elias and Michael Ryder. In practice, Gulitti noted that Elias and Henrique switched off at wing. Perhaps this is a move to have Elias "get going," as he only has the one goal, five assists, and seventeen shots. I don't think that's bad production, per se, but I would like to see a bit more offense from #26. Henrique has been quite productive, as he currently leads the team in scoring. So that's a possibility. I would really like to see the move help Ryder out more. He's got a fantastic release on his shot, so much so that I'd like him put up more than the fifteen shots on net he currently has in eleven games.
Schneider is #1, But Who is #2?: To the surprise of nobody, Cory Schneider will start tonight's game with the same defense in front of him. (Go Adam Larsson.) Gulitti confirmed it in this Fire & Ice post. However, that post notes that Scott Clemmensen was put on waivers on Monday. Should he clear, he could be re-assigned to Albany. (Not immediately, but New Jersey has the option for thirty days or ten games, if I recall correctly) That would open up a spot for Keith Kinkaid to be called up. Kinkaid has been excellent so far with the A-Devs, posting a 93.1% overall save percentage in six games. I think this move will happen, but just before the road back-to-back on Thursday and Friday. There, I would think Kinkaid will get the first non-Schneider start of the season for New Jersey.
Still Concerned About the PK: While I said the Devils' goal should be to make the most out of their power play, the converse may be true for St. Louis. The penalty kill only got beaten once on Saturday and I didn't think that wasn't that bad overall compared to previous efforts this season. Yet, it's still vulnerable. St. Louis' power play had a success rate of 20.5% prior to Monday's game; they can and have done some damage with the man advantage. So I'm hoping the skaters don't take any stupid fouls. One to deny someone a scoring chance is one thing, it's the ones that come from someone being lazy or lost their cool that worry me.
Lastly: The Blues' Fenwick% in close-score 5-on-5 play last season was 53.12% per War on Ice. This was one of the better possession rates in the league. Before Monday's game, the Blues are at 53.15% per War on Ice. It doesn't currently rate as high, but it's still mark representative of a truly solid team. Keep this in mind if the Devils do struggle with generating clean exits into the neutral zone and entries from the neutral zone. I would expect the Blues to continue to give the Devils problems on that front, given their strong possession percentages.
And if you don't know much about the Devils' issues with exits and entries, then I implore you to read up what Ryan wrote yesterday about them. There's a lot to learn and understand. I highly recommend it.
Your Take: The Devils certainly don't have an easy game or an easy time this week as it's the first of three games in four nights this week. The Blues may be a good team, but they played 65 minutes last night. Can the Devils take advantage? Is there an advantage? What do you think the Devils can do, if anything, against Tarasenko? Can the Devils somehow find a way to get