The California trip continues to the O.C.
The Time: 10:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: On Wednesday night, the New Jersey Devils visited the Los Angeles Kings. This was an interesting one, to say the least. The Kings were flying, but they were just a bit too aggressive or just a bit off with their passes, leading to a lot of rued opportunities. Especially on the power play. Meanwhile, the Devils got a few shots here and there before Steve Bernier converted a first period power play. In that, he jammed the puck and then Matt Greene poked it past Martin Jones. Still a score. In the second period, the Kings equalized when Drew Doughty torched Jon Merrill, put a killer pass across the slot past Marek Zidlicky, and saw Dustin Brown put the one-timer home. But then the Kings got stunned in 68 seconds. Bernier kicks off a flurry when he put a close shot off Doughty's skate and into the net for a second power play goal of the night. A turnover along the boards led to Patrik Elias finding Martin Havlat open in the high slot. Havlat ripped the puck over Jones' left shoulder. Jonathan Quick came into the crease. His first action was to fail to cover a puck, slide away from the crease, and the Devils benefited from the chaos when Mike Cammalleri put home a backhander. It was 4-1 and the rink was near-silent. It became 5-1 later in the second when Michael Ryder put home a rebound created by a long shot from Andy Greene. The Kings would get two back in the third when Marian Gaborik put home a rebound off a Brayden McNabb shot from distance and Justin Williams got a tip on a Mike Richards shot late; but it was too little. The Devils won 5-3. All I did was note the scores here, go check out Brian's recap for more details.
The Last Ducks Game: While the Devils were crowning the Kings, the Ducks were hosting Toronto. The home team got the first goal when Kyle Palmieri put in a puck to convert a 5-on-3 power play. The Ducks never looked back and from the second period onward, it became the Corey Perry show with his good friend Ryan Getzlaf. Getzlaf would set up Perry for two second period goals that all but the game out of reach for a lifeless Leafs squad. The Leafs may have out-shot the Ducks by a couple by game's end, but they weren't threatening Frederik Andersen all that much. Ryan Kesler took a late third period penalty and the Leafs pulled their goalie in the hopes of getting a quick flurry going. The Ducks killed the penalty and Corey Perry put home the empty netter from his own end. That's a hat trick for him in a 4-0 decisive win for the Ducks. Derek Satterfield has this recap of the victory at Anaheim Calling.
The Goal: Be careful on offense. One of the key points in the Devils' win against the Kings was their penalty kill. In the first period, Andy Greene and Jon Merrill each had to foul a King to deny them a one-on-one chance and a set-up for an easy one-timer, respectively. These were justifiable penalties but they could have been costly if it wasn't for the Devils smartly reacting to a Kings' power play that was just a basket case on the puck that night. Each of those were created from a stop on defense and a quick counter by a King in the right place and right time. I wouldn't count on the Ducks to be just as loose with the puck. They've played better recently (four wins out of their last five) and so giving them power plays or free opportunities to score is likely going to result in scores than what the Kings did. To prevent those situations, the Devils have to be careful about shooting from distance and how they move the puck when everyone's going forward. It's one thing to have a pass cut off or a shot blocked on offense, it's another when it results with three white jerseys in deep or a defense caught in a bad spot off the block. So the Devils should try to exercise caution as they try to get their offense in gear.
Maybe Only One Change: The Devils did practice on Thursday. Based on Tom Gulitti's report at Fire & Ice, there may be only one change for the lineup tonight. Mark Fraser was not in practice. Later in the day, Gulitti reported that Fraser's pinky was sore and so his status is doubtful. If he can't go, then Eric Gelinas will enter the lineup. As much criticism I've given to Gelinas for his defensive play, I cannot say he's worse than Fraser defensively - bad pinky or otherwise. Gelinas would bring his cannon called The Truth to the power play. I'd like to see how that would roll instead of, say, Peter Harrold in a man-advantage situation.
The good news between those two posts is that Marek Zidlicky is OK. He appeared to have hurt his hand during one of the early penalty kills against Los Angeles. He did play the rest of the game. It's a fortunate break (non-break?) because the last thing the Devils need is to have an emergency call up of a defenseman to come in for the Anaheim game.
The not-so-good news between those two posts is that the forward lines appear to remain the same. I get that there's no real good option for the right wingers. Among a group of Steve Bernier, Martin Havlat, Michael Ryder, and Jordin Tootoo, there is no legitimate option for each line. While the first three members of that group combined for four goals on Wednesday, that doesn't mean they can or should Without Jaromir Jagr, there is no first liner available - simple as that. My concern is that it is likely that Mike Cammalleri gets another game at center where he really should be a winger. Jacob Josefson may sit for Tim Sestito, which is bad because it's Tim Sestito. Clearly, the co-coaches feel that the winning effort was good to keep the lines at status quo. We'll see if it all breaks their way again.
Positioning Matters: I invite you to check out Erik K.'s recap at Jewels from the Crown of the L.A. game. In it, you'll see stills of where the Devils were just before the goal happened. While the Devils benefited from (in order) Matt Greene's stick, Drew Doughty's skate, a defensive turnover, a calamity in front, and rebound, you'll see that the individual Devils were in good spots to make those plays happen. It would be foolish to look at the last game and think the Devils did exceptional things to hang five on the Kings. It isn't to hope that it won't fall apart because the Devils were able to get inside position on defenders and into pockets of ice against a generally smart Kings team. It's something to look for in tonight's game - to see if the Devils just made a number of good reads and got enough fortune to light the lamp, or if they just had a good night against a team that didn't play as good as one would expect.
The Ducks Are...Good: The Ducks currently have one of the best records in the National Hockey League. And I'm not entirely sure how exactly that is the case. Allow me to show you my thinking.
The Ducks are certainly on the right end of possession. However, they have a 51.2% Corsi at even strength which isn't anywhere near the top ten in the league according to War on Ice. The Ducks aren't rolling with hot sticks or hot goaltenders. Their even strength shooting percentage is 7.5% (just ahead of New Jersey) and their even strength save percentage as a team is 92.5%. This puts their PDO at just over 100. These aren't bad percentages at all, but they're not near the top of the league. What about special teams? They did well against Toronto. Over the season, though, their power play ranks in the bottom third of the league with a 17.6% conversion rate and their penalty kill success rate is just below league median at 80.8%. Do the Ducks have some great players? Absolutely. Ryan Getzlaf is a top-ten scorer, Corey Perry is a fantastic shooter, Ryan Kesler is an excellent two-way player, and Matt Beleskey (who was strangely scratched against Toronto) has been on fire with the goals. But the team is around the league median in both goals per game for and against. The Ducks have received six extra points in the shootout, but they've also conceded four shootout losses too.
This all adds up to the Ducks being a good team, for sure. But if they're not one of the best possession teams in the league, they're not shooting the lights out at evens, they're not stopping a relative ton at evens, and their special teams isn't all that and a bag of chips, then what has driven them near the top of the entire league standings?
The only thing that was pointed out to me - thanks to the saucy former ILWT writer Tom Stivali - is their record in one goal games. Believe it or not, the Ducks have not lost a one-goal game in regulation this season. They won twenty one games by one-goal, lost two in overtime (which is always a one-goal loss), and lost four shootouts. Now, this isn't necessarily indicative of the Ducks being this awesome lock-it-down-late team. If anything, it also can mean that they've conceded leads or fought for points. But with so many of their games being close and getting at least a point in every one of those twenty seven games leads to a very good record. The Ducks aren't really deficient in one aspect of the game, so I think it's fair to say that they are a good team. But because they aren't elite in really anything but their record in one-goal games, I'm not sure how strong they are. It's a results oriented business, though, and the Ducks have them. And the Ducks are coming off a strong 4-0 win and have only lost once in their last five games. No matter how you really feel about the Ducks, it's going to be a challenge.
The Danger Men: At a minimum, the Ducks' top two lines should be expected to give the Devils some real problems. The first line against Toronto featured Getzlaf, Perry, and Patrick Maroon. Maroon is the one that may not belong, but it's akin to when the Penguins put Crosby and Malkin together - sometimes, that third man may not matter. Getzlaf has thirteen goals, 34 assists, and 107 shots on net. Again, he's one of the league's top scorers and for him alone that should draw the most attention from the Devils. But don't count out Perry. Perry's hat trick brought him up to eighteen goals (team leader), which looks good with nine assists and 87 shots on net. He's got a fantastic shot and just meshes well with Getzlaf. They regularly draw tough competition and they do OK against them.
Of course, what good is a team with only one dangerous line? The Ducks most certainly have a second line of note. Ryan Kesler is second on the Ducks in points with twelve goals and twenty seven assists. He leads Anaheim with 134 shots, so Cory Schneider should expect plenty of rubber from him. Against Toronto, he had Palmieri and Rene Bourque as his wings. Palmieri has missed a chunk of this season, but thirteen points in twenty games tells me he's making the most of his action now. I don't quite understand why Beleskey (seventeen goals, five assists, 102 shots, CF% leader among Ducks forwards) sat for Bourque (two goals, four assists, twenty games, 34 shots, second lowest CF% among Ducks forwards). It would be nice for the Devils if that doesn't change, though Kesler and Palmieri are good enough to cause problems. Beleskey plus Kesler and Palmieri makes for a potentially scary unit to deal with after Getzlaf-Perry get off the ice.
On defense, the Ducks have some solid pairings. Cam Fowler, Francois Beauchemin, Hampus Lindholm, and Ben Lovejoy have all taken on tough competition this season per War on Ice and they've done well enough. Fowler and Lindholm have been productive with over twenty and seventeen points, respectively. From an offensive perspective, the dangerous one is Sami Vatanen. While he's not as possession strong (he's above 50%, unlike his partner for the Toronto game, Clayton Stoner), he's got the production to command attention. Vatanen has nine goals and eighteen assists to go with 71 shots on net. That's the most among all Ducks defensem and Vatanen ranks thirteenth in the NHL in points among defensemen prior to Thursday's games. Vatanen also leads the Ducks in power play points with 15; yes, he has more than Getzlaf. So he's someone for the Devils forwards to worry about on defense and on the penalty kill.
The X Factors: Jakob Silfverberg sticks out to me as a potential X-factor for tonight. He only has four goals. However, he's got 108 shots on net. That tells me that he's been bitten by some rotten luck this season. It may have led to a lower position in the lineup, but the high number of SOG (only Kesler has more shots than him) suggests he makes the most of his ice time when he gets going on offense. I'm not saying he's going to light it up tonight, but he could present real problems from the Ducks' bottom six.
Similarly, this game is the first of a back-to-back set for the Ducks. It's a real question as to who the Ducks will start. Frederik Andersen has been good all season long. However, his backup is currently Ilya Bryzgalov, who has conceded ten goals in three appearances. With the Kings on Saturday, I'm crossing my fingers that it's Bryzgalov opposite Schneider (of course, Schneider is starting - Gulitti confirmed it here if you'd like evidence). If that happens, then the Devils need to make a point of it of firing away at Bryzgalov. I know the Devils are low-event to a fault, but blasting Bryzgalov with pucks is a good tactic as any to try and get something from this game.
Your Take: It'll be another late night, but at least it's a late Friday night. What do you think of the Ducks in general? Do you think they're really a top team in the NHL or are they just a good team that has overachieved to a degree? What do you think about the Devils most likely staying with the same lineup for this one? What do you think the Devils need to watch out for besides Anaheim's most dangerous players? What do you want out of this game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.