Since it's the last road game of the season, I'll spare you any reference to the phrase "end of the road" for this preview.
The Time: 7:30 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 880 AM WCBS
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (34-29-16) at the Ottawa Senators (34-31-14; SBN Blog: Silver Seven)
The Last Devils Game: On Monday, the Devils hosted the Calgary Flames for their final game against a Western Conference team this season. The first period was actually fairly even. Ryan Carter appeared to have beaten Karri Ramo on a rebound. However, he was judged to have kicked in the puck and there was no indisputable video evidence the puck hit his stick or someone else before it went in the net. The Devils really turned it up on Calgary for the first ten minutes of the second period. But Ramo stood on his head as the Devils set up all kinds of shots, plus getting the break of a puck cleared off the line. The Flames worked their way back into the game thanks to some poor penalties by the Devils. A carry over into the third period led to Calgary scoring first; Mark Giordano hammering in a wobbling puck past Cory Schneider with three seconds left on the the penalty. The Devils responded with all kinds of offensive possession. However, every attempt, every shot, and every look just didn't go. Either Ramo made a stop, a fortunate stop, a Flame made a block, or a Devil passed up a chance. If that reads like the Devils didn't score, then it does because they didn't. The Devils got shut out for the tenth time this season in a 0-1 loss to Calgary. My recap of that night is here.
The Last Senators Game: Tuesday night saw the Senators play in Long Island. There was a lot of beefing and fouls in the first period, and the Isles just overwhelming the Sens at times given a 17-9 shot differential. But no goals for either team. Ottawa would break through in the second period when Jason Spezza put a slapshot from the top of the right circle through the legs of Anders Nilsson. That converted a power play and gave Ottawa a 1-0 lead. The Islanders would respond within the first minute of the third period when Frans Nielsen took advantage of a Senators breakdown. The Sens absorbed more pressure but after the ten minute mark, Spezza made yet another mark on the game. He took a sharp angle shot that he thought beat Nilsson. The refs reviewed it and found he was right. A little later, Ales Hemsky gained the zone, took it to the net himself, and beat the goalie low to make it 3-1 Senators. The game was essentially over; but Matt Kassian got his first of the season with an ENG to make it a 4-1 win for Ottawa. Despite the win, the Sens were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs that night. Amelia L has this recap of the game over at Silver Seven.
The Last Devils-Senators Game: Way back on December 18, the Sens visited the Rock. The night was is in New Jersey's favor from the start. OK, not entirely since Marek Zidlicky hooked Erik Karlsson at 1:08 into the game. But Stephen Gionta made that PK successful with his first of the season, a shorthanded goal. Later in the first, Eric Gelinas hammered the end boards with The Truth. Reid Boucher flew into the area it was coming out at the right time to slam the loose puck past Robin Lehner. It was his first NHL goal, and it made it 2-0 New Jersey. After Bobby Ryan kicked off the second period with a holding call against Jaromir Jagr, Jagr converted the power play he drew with a backhander to make it 3-0. The Senators would get on the board when Colin Greening tipped a puck past Martin Brodeur to convert their second power play of the night. But there would be no comeback. Damien Brunner schooled Jared Cowan and made a sweet move to get the puck around Lehner to make it 4-1. Milan Michalek converted Ottawa's third power play of the night, but Eric Gelinas - back when he was busting out The Truth and not getting beat on D - slammed a slapshot into the net less than a minute later to make it 5-2. The Devils won decisively and it was very good, as per my recap. Amelia L of Silver Seven, on the other hand, wasn't so happy with an uninspired Senators performance.
The Goal: Other than scoring a bunch, the Devils need to play very smart against the Spezza line. In Ottawa's last game, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, and Ales Hemsky just ran through the Isles. It is undoubtedly a power line. Michalek had a strong March with six goals and six assists in fifteen games and he picked up an assist for a goal with Hemsky. Hemsky has been fantastic in Ottawa. He has four goals and twelve assists in seventeen games. And then there's Spezza. The team's ace forward is second on the team in scoring: 22 goals, 43 assists, and 216 shots on net (second on the team). The Senators are definitely more than a one line team. But if the Devils want to win their final road game this season, whoever is out there has to bring their "A" game defensively against that line. Since the game is in Ottawa, I doubt the match-ups will be all that favorable.
Attempts, Attempts, and More Attempts: The Ottawa Senators have been about high-event hockey this season. They're actually second in the NHL in shooting attempts (Corsi) per 60 minutes in 5-on-5 play according to Extra Skater. And they're not getting overwhelmed in response given that it's. While teams can and have put a lot of rubber on net against Ottawa, the Sens are above 50% in terms of score-adjusted Fenwick% per Extra Skater. That's not bad at all.
But the problem is that in all situations, the Sens are getting beaten. They have a per-game average of over 32 for and over 34 against per NHL.com. Their penalty kill is in the lower end of the league in terms of SA/60 in shorthanded situations per Extra Skater (and their PK isn't that strong). And their power play has the highest SA/60 rate in the league, which tells me that their PP may cough up a chance here or there, which is likely another shot or two. With so many shots allowed, the team needs their goaltenders to be great. Unfortunately, they haven't been like they were in 2013. Craig Anderson, who I expect to be tonight's starter since he played and played well on Tuesday, has a good 92.4% save percentage at evens but an absolutely terrible 83.8% in shorthanded situations. Backup Robin Lehner has been much better on the PK, but has a lower even strength save percentage of 91.2%. They needed to be more like last season to survive that, and well, they have not been. It appears to me that while the Senators have plenty of scoring, they allow way too much and that has held them back from playing beyond April 13.
The Dynamic Erik Karlsson: Erik Karlsson has twenty goals and 52 assists. He is not just Ottawa's leading scorer, he is number one in the league among defenseman in scoring. Duncan Keith is behind him by twelve points; it's not even close. Karlsson is just an offensive dynamo. He leads Ottawa with 248 shots. He leads Ottawa with 29 power play points. He plays a ton of minutes; averaging over 27 per game. He is the team's best force for possession, leading the team in CF% this season. Basically, good things happen when he's out there and he's out there a lot to make good things happen. The Devils will need to pay attention to him as much as they have to against the Spezza line. Making it easier for the Devils will be the fact that he'll have the puck a lot tonight. Making it harder is that he's so skilled and talented that dealing with him is just a significant challenge.
Two More Sens to Worry About: If the Spezza line and Karlsson wasn't enough, then consider that they have two other forwards who have been productive enough to warrant separate mention. Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur have been together on a separate line as of late. Both have had rather productive seasons. Turris has 25 goals and 56 points with 208 shots. He can and will fire away, and his shot is rather good. MacArthur has ridden good percentages to get to 24 goals (and 55 points) out of 149 shots. But beware of him on the power play as he has eight power play goals, putting him tied with Spezza for the team lead. Even if the Devils to do clamp down on the Spezza line, these two can do a lot of damage to a depleted Devils roster. Look for them tonight as well.
I Miss Henrique And, to a Lesser Extent Clowe: This report from Wednesday's practice by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice may get some more attention for Peter DeBoer being mad. DeBoer giving his team some verbal business in the open is interesting to some. I'm looking at the forward lines and really missing the three forwards I mentioned in the heading to this section. Beyond the strong possession line of Travis Zajac, Jaromir Jagr, and Tuomo Ruutu, it's not pretty on paper. Mike Sislo is up with Patrik Elias (I'm glad he's back) and Damien Brunner. Tim Sestito is a center not on a fourth line. What's worse is that I actually prefer Sislo in that spot to Steve Bernier (not really a top six forward) or Michael Ryder (I'll take my chances with Sislo on defense than Ryder). I don't really have a strong preference between Tim Sestito or Stephen Gionta being moved up from the fourth line. This is the result of having two top-nine forwards out plus a bottom six guy like Jacob Josefson.
Just Saying: Most of this post by Gulitti at Fire & Ice is Martin Brodeur complaining about the team being mediocre and how that's not good enough. For some reason I feel compelled to highlight that Brodeur played 37 games and has an overall percentage of 90%. Anyway, the main fact to take away from that is the confirmation of who starts this game for New Jersey. It's the goalie with the superior save percentage, Cory Schneider, who will get his 45th appearance tonight.
One More Thing: I want Jaromir Jagr to almost do everything he has been doing. He hasn't picked up a point in four games, but he's been a beast in terms of possession and has managed to put up several shots per game. The only thing I want to see less from him is pulling that Zidlicky-like wraparound move because, well, it's a wraparound move that doesn't really yield much.
Your Take: The Devils will play their final road game tonight. What do you think will happen? Can the Devils quell the high octane offense of the Senators? Can they hit back without enough of an attack themselves? Will this game matter? Please leave your answers and your thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.