Some wonder how things could be worse for New Jersey. Well, consider tonight's opponent.
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 880 AM WCBS
The Last Devils Game: The Devils hosted Washington on Saturday night. Their effort was littered with a lack of intelligence from throwing pucks away to icing pucks without pressure to missing passes to teammates close by to struggling to even cycle. The Capitals were smarter. They went up first thanks to a miscommunication; Karl Alzner took a poor pass and rifled one past Cory Schneider. Dainius Zubrus created a goal off an individual effort; Patrik Elias swopped in to tap it in. The Devils looked good to close the first but once their power play ended to start the second, the Capitals just controlled the game. The Devils struggled to even get the puck out of their end to get people changed. Eventually, they paid the price. Jay Beagle put up an individual effort for a go-ahead goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov sniped a shot on a power play to make it 1-3. The Devils responded with nothing. In the third period, score effects lended itself to a massive shot advantage. But the offense was left wanting as Braden Holtby comfortably made a lot of stops. An empty netter from Brooks Laich sent the home fans away unhappy and deservedly so. My recap of the dreadful performance is here.
The Last Hurricanes Game: On Sunday night, the Hurricanes hosted Detroit. It was a fairly even game until Detroit put up the game's first goal, a lovely move followed by a lovelier shot by Pavel Datsyuk. Detroit got a second goal exactly two minutes later. Justin Faulk didn't handle a dump-in, Datsyuk got a touch of the puck to Tomas Tatar, who flung it past Cam Ward. The Canes started to shoot more in the second, but the Red Wings made it three when Datsyuk flung a sweet backhand pass to a cutting Tatar, who put home the rebound. The Canes would pull one back when Jay McClement got a deflection off a shot by Tim Gleason past Petr Mrazek. That would give them some life on the scoreboard and more incentive to keep pushing for a comeback. But Mrazek stopped everything and it was not to be. Carolina lost 1-3, the recap is available at Canes Country.
The Goal: Execution. After Saturday's game, I'm was in favor of it. But seriously, the Devils aren't going to succeed if they're going to help the opposition pin them back in their own end for large stretches of the game, concede a bunch of goals, and hope they can ride the wave of score effects to get back in it. The fundamentals must be there and they must be there from the beginning. Everyone has to contribute in that regard after the pathetic team performance seen on Saturday.
No Patrik, No Mike, But There's Martin: Tom Gulitti reported on Sunday at Fire & Ice that Patrik Elias aggravated his groin injury, Mike Cammalleri pulled something in his butt, but Martin Havlat will be on the trip. I would think if he's on the trip, then he's likely to play. That's still not really good news. The Devils are down their leading goal scorer, Elias being out isn't helpful, and Havlat really has not done much of anything. It'll be interesting to see whether Havlat can do something away from Elias. The two haven't been good together this season, so if Havlat can contribute something away from him, then that would go a long way to salvaging that signing.
Regardless, the pressure is on who's left. Jaromir Jagr is capable. What about Adam Henrique or Michael Ryder? Can they do something positive? What of the bottom six, which should see a return of Jacob Josefson to the lineup? Can they step up? Really, without Zajac and Cammalleri, the forwards remaining really do leave plenty of questions. And the answer can't be the waived Damien Brunner. He was sent down to Albany.
So Who Sits on Defense?: As Brunner was sent down, Peter Harrold was called up - also reported by Gulitti on Sunday. He never actually went to Albany, but regardless, here's back on New Jersey's roster. Given how poor Seth Helgeson and Eric Gelinas played combined with Jon Merrill looking shaky, I wouldn't be surprised if Harrold comes into the lineup tonight. I would think it would be for Helgeson as he played the least on Saturday night. I wouldn't blame Peter DeBoer for putting him in over those three. We'll see what happens before the game. Unfortunately, Adam Larsson is still sick. I hope he does not have what seems to be an epidemic of mumps going through the league.
Their Problem in Three Letters: The Carolina Hurricanes, on paper, aren't the basement dwelling team in the division that the standings imply. They have some seriously talented players up front such as Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, and Alexander Semin. They have Andrej Sekera and Justin Faulk taking on the toughs to lead the blueline- and doing pretty well. Cam Ward hasn't been all that bad, either. This is a team that's actually pretty good in terms of team Corsi%, sitting at 51.62% in between Washington (ninth) and Los Angeles (eleventh) per War on Ice prior to Sunday's game. They're not getting heavily out-shot on the regular. They've been successful in special teams with their power play conversion rate at 21.5% and their penalty killing success rate at 83.8%. Sure, their depth isn't so good, Ward hasn't been all that good, and Anton Khudobin hasn't been a good #2 goalie. Is losing Jordan Staal and five games of Eric Staal that big of a deal?
I think their biggest issue has three letters: PDO.
That's the sum of a team's even strength shooting percentage and even strength save percentage. PDO is a rule-of-thumb metric. Typically, over time, it'll regress to the true mean of the team which is around 100. So if a team has a very high PDO, then they are benefiting from hot sticks and hot goaltending. That's when you want them to get as many results as possible before one or both go south. The Canes are at the opposite end. Their PDO is the second lowest in the NHL per War On Ice prior to Sunday's games: 97.38. The Canes' even strength save percentage is the fourth lowest in the league at 90.86%. The Canes' even strength shooting percentage is the third lowest in the league at 6.52%. Carolina may be getting healthier but they're not getting as many bounces as they could, the player's sticks are cold, and the goalies haven't been all that good. Devils fans who remember the John MacLean got to saw that in person - and those who remember Jacques Lemaire coming in after him so fondly would do well to recall that as well. It isn't pretty. When the pucks aren't going in and not staying out of your own net, everyone gets down about it and that has contributed to the Canes' continued lack of success over the past few weeks. Don't be surprised if in, say, January or February, this team goes off on a run and looks much better than they have been. It may be too late, but it'll be an oasis amid the desert they're trudging through.
OK, Nice Long View, But What About Tonight?: Carolina may be in a worse position after last night's loss to Detroit. Eric Staal got hit in the leg by a shot from Justin Faulk as the Canes were pushing for a late goal and he was hurting. Staal was on crutches after the game according to Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer, but there has been no update since then. That's a big loss as Staal is tied for the team lead in scoring with six goals and nine assists. He also takes on the tough competition for Carolina and actually has done well. He has led a line with Jiri Tlusty, Carolina's leading goal scorer with ten; and Elias Lindholm, who's been averaging just under a point every two games in his second NHL season. Should he be out tonight, that's a big hole in the middle of Carolina's forwards.
Among those forwards, do watch out for Skinner. He had ten of Carolina's 35 shots against Detroit. He's always been a very good skater and shooter. The Devils would need to keep an eye on him. The same applies with Tlusty, again team's leading goal scorer, and Lindholm. Nathan Gerbe and Andrej Nestarsil also have done very well driving the play, they could be thorns in the side of New Jersey. Alexander Semin has talent to be respected, though he's had his struggles. Not just with only one goal scored, but he's barely averaging over a shot per game. It's been rough for him; Carolina would do well were he to contribute more.
Further, Cam Ward played against Detroit. Should Anton Khudobin get the start tonight, that could be to New Jersey's benefit. In eight appearances, Khudobin has a 90.1% even strength save percentage. That is not good and the Devils should seek to exploit that. Especially when the Faulk-Sekera pairing isn't on the ice. Presuming they can actually move the puck effectively. If the Canes decide to give Ward back-to-back duty, he'll be more challenging though he hasn't exactly been great either.
Your Take: With all due respect to Carolina, this is the easier half of the back-to-back set the Devils are now in (they get Chicago on Tuesday). With all due respect to the Devils, this is also the easier half of the back-to-back set the Hurricanes will complete tonight. Who will take it? Who will be leading the way for each team? Can the Devils at least not be so dreadful on the ice tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.