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New Jersey Devils vs. Carolina Hurricanes: Game Preview #36

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It is the night before the night before Christmas and the New Jersey Devils will play the Carolina Hurricanes. It's unknown whether tonight's game is a gift or whether the gift will be when it's over. This is a game preview.

Will we see something like this tonight?  Maybe!  (Although I'd expect Ward to start.  And, also, this picture is from April.)
Will we see something like this tonight? Maybe! (Although I'd expect Ward to start. And, also, this picture is from April.)
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Will those at The Rock get a lump of coal tonight? Let's hope not.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (12-17-6) vs. the Carolina Hurricanes (9-20-4; SBN Blog: Canes Country)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils took on Washington and it was a lot like the last Saturday night game against Washington.  One team was effective at doing what they wanted, scored a bunch of goals, and cruised to victory. The other team was the New Jersey Devils.  After an even first period, Mike Green fired a shot far post past a screen for the game's first goal.  The Devils responded with not much.  Later in the second period, Nicklas Backstrom fired one against the grain that beat Cory Schneider to the left post to make it 0-2.  The Devils responded with not much.  In the third period, Alex Ovechkin posterized Jon Merrill and then Cory Schneider to make it 0-3.  The Devils responded with not much.  In the final minutes, Backstrom put in an empty netter to boost the score to 0-4.  What did I think of the Devils' performance? Not much.

The Last Hurricanes Game: On Sunday, the Hurricanes faced the New York Rangers for the second straight night.  On Saturday, the Canes were disposed by a shootout thanks largely to the play by Cam Ward.  Anton Khudobin was in net and got a real work out as he faced 31 shots by the home team.  Ryan McDonagh got one into the net early in the game to make it 0-1.    The Canes' response: 18 shots on net and no goals.  So the Canes lost 0-1.  Here's Bob Wage's recap at Canes Country.

The Last Devils-Hurricanes: Let's go back a few weeks when the Devils visited Carolina on December 8.  The Devils played a game where they struggled to move the puck or even get the puck out of their own end of the rink with it on their sticks. The Canes took all that and threw it right back at Cory Schneider with 94 shooting attempts.  Justin Faulk scored first as he put a shot through traffic in the second period.  The Devils did muster a response: Jaromir Jagr slamming in a one-timer off a lovely feed by Scott Gomez and Adam Henrique putting in a loose puck to convert a late period power play.  The Canes did fling everything plus the kitchen sink at Schneider and waves of five Devils players that did nothing in response in the third period.  Schneider stopped them all, which was why the Devils stole a 2-1 win in their building.  Here's my recap of the undeserved points taken by the Devils. For the opposition's perspective, here's the recap by Bob Wage at Canes Country.

The Goal: Well, scoring one would be welcomed by either team as they just got shut out in their previous games.  More seriously, if the Devils want to give the home fans the gift of a victory or even a good performance tonight, then they need to just throw pucks on net.  It's been a challenge for the Devils to get forward.  So it's incredibly frustrating to see one extra pass or one extra move made when a good shooting opportunity presents itself.  A good performance doesn't mean just flinging 30+ shots right at a goalie; but it's far preferable to the sub-20 shot nights of the past two games.   At a minimum, they'll represent an actual fight to the opposition and force them to play defense. Given that Carolina's goaltending hasn't been all that hot outside of the last two games, it's not a bad tactic to take.  Of course, whether the Devils will do so remains to be seen.

Their Last Win: The Devils' win over the Canes was their last regulation win.  They have won one game since then via a shootout.  The Canes' last win was also recent, as they beat Toronto 4-1 last Thursday.  Before that, their previous win was on December 1.  Needless to say, both teams have been rather bad.

Similar Situation: In the previous Canes-Devils preview, I noted that much of their struggles are relevant to the percentages.  Their PDO, the summation of their even strength shooting and save percentages, was rather low.  The story has remained the same. Their percentages are still in the cellar - 6% at shooting, 90.8% on saves - in spite of a better-than-average Corsi For% (51.3).  Their most dangerous players - Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, their top pairing of Faulk and Andrej Sekera -  remain.  Their penalty kill has been good in terms of success rate and their power play conversion rate is just below league median. If you want a closer look as to what to expect from the Canes, the previous preview will suffice for the most part.  The only twists are that Ward and Khudobin are coming off impressive performances, but who's to say that will continue; Jiri Tlusty has been out recently with the dreaded upper body injury; and that Alexander Semin will be active.

More Illness: The Devils practiced on Monday but two Devils were missing.  According to Tom Gulitti's report at Fire & Ice, Patrik Elias and Martin Havlat were out sick and are being tested for mumps.  They may not have it and may be sick from something else, but either way, it doesn't appear that either will be available tonight.

Regardless of what you may think of what you may think of Elias (smacked down by Father Time) and Havlat (just bad) this season, two more forwards being out of the lineup hurts.  The Devils may have replacements already.  In that same report, Mike Cammalleri revealed his injury - a groin pull - and felt good in practice.  If he feels good today, then I would think he'll play.   Michael Ryder was a healthy scratch, so he should be available if only out of necessity. That said, the team called Tim Sestito back up after sending him down on Sunday just in case.  (And he was a spare with Jordin Tootoo in practice. Huh.)

So A Guy Whose Play Is Helpful as Bobby Bittman on a Game Show These Days Wants More Ice Time: As I continue to cram references about as well as stuffing a puffy coat into a duffel bag, Michael Ryder isn't happy with his usage according to this post by Rich Chere. There's this actual quote from Mr. Ryder himself:

"You look at the guys around the league who score goals and their average ice time is about 16 minutes. I just find it tough to produce when you play 12 minutes, 14, 10. It’s hard," Ryder said. "You get one chance a game, two chances, instead of five chances a game.

"I think I’ve played over 16 minutes only nine times this year. The games I do, I think I play better. I’ve been like that my whole career. As the game goes on you feel better, you get in a better flow, you’re not as cold and those plays come a lot easier for you."

I know Michael Ryder doesn't read ILWT and probably won't since I'm comparing him to SCTV characters since they're about just as good on the ice these days.  However, if Ryder wants more ice time, then he should consider giving a semblance of a care about defense, hustling forward, not taking entirely avoidable penalties (my guess as to what led to his recent scratching), and actually firing pucks on net.  It's true his shooting percentage is in the basement at 5.5%, but for a guy who's only useful when he's firing shots on net, it's telling he's only had more than one shot on net since the last Devils-Canes game. So if he's not shooting - because he certainly hasn't been scoring - then why should any one give him 16 minutes when he's about as useless in 12?  And if he understands that playing better equals more minutes, then where is his effort?  Ryder'll likely get a chance tonight to justify further inclusion in the lineup.  But based on this season, it's not a guarantee he'll make that case.  At least he's not a bad comic, though he's not far from the level Tim Sestito in terms of current play.

Returning Adam: Adam Larsson practiced today and I would like to see him play tonight.  Curiously, based on Gulitti's report, Seth Helgeson practiced with Marek Zidlicky while Larsson and Eric Gelinas rotated with Peter Harrold.  I don't think Peter DeBoer will keep that combination for tonight.  Helgeson has been appropriately limited in his use; I don't see him playing with Zidlicky, who's good for around 20 minutes per game.  Gelinas hasn't been awful in his last few games, so I don't see him coming out.  Personally, I would roll with Zidlicky-Gelinas again and keep Larsson with Harrold, with Helgeson sitting.  If Larsson does well and/or others do not - Jon Merrill up top with Andy Greene isn't set in stone in my eyes - then don't be surprised if #5 is on the ice more often.   I think the pre-game warm-ups will provide the sign as far as who is in and who they will be with on defense.

One More Goal for the Devils: Please get out of the zone with the puck.  Do this and the Canes aren't going to put Cory Schneider and the defense under siege for 60 minutes.

Your Take: Will tonight provide at least a good, competitive performance by the Devils? (Notice I didn't say win.)  Or will this be another lump of coal dumped on the fans as the Canes look like all stars with the puck like so many teams in the last two months?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments.