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Game Preview #7: New Jersey Devils at Ottawa Senators

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The New Jersey Devils have a chance to win three games in a row. They'll have to defeat Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris, and the rest of the Ottawa Senators to do so. This game preview looks at both teams ahead of tonight's matchup.

On Tuesday, Adam Larsson was an overtime hero.  Who will be the hero of tonight's game?
On Tuesday, Adam Larsson was an overtime hero. Who will be the hero of tonight's game?
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Could we see an actual winning streak? It's possible.

The Time: 7:30 PM EDT

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (2-3-1) at the Ottawa Senators (3-2-1; SBN Blog: Silver Seven)

The Last Devils Game: On Tuesday night, the Devils hosted Arizona.  After a dreadful first period, both teams played like they wanted to do things like score goals and win games.  Eventually, there would be a goal and it would be by the Devils. For the first time this season, the Devils scored first, they scored a shorthanded goal, and it came off a beautiful play and finish by Travis Zajac.  The Devils ended the period up one.   Alas, early in the third period, Anthony Duclair beat his man, took a pass from Max Domi, and stretched Cory Schneider to tie it up just before that power play ended.  Mike Cammalleri would break that tie shortly after the Devils killed two penalties.  Zajac set him up on a drop pass and Cammalleri torched Mike Smith a laser to the top corner. The Coyotes tried to find an equalizer - and they found one in the final minute when Mikkel Boedker put one off David Schlemko's leg.  That first regulation win would have to wait.  Fortunately, Adam Larsson provided a happy ending. He knocked Martin Hanzal off the puck, led a 3-on-1, and jammed in an easy feed from Zajac to win the game early in OT.  The Devils won their second game in a row, 3-2, and here is my recap of that effort.

The Last Senators Game: Way back on Saturday, the Senators hosted Nashville.  The game was filled with penalties as the Sens took eleven and the Predators took seven.  There were also quite a lot of shots from the home side, as they out-shot the Preds 41-25.  Alas, the game had it's up and downs on the scoreboard. James Neal converted the first of their six power plays in the first period to make it 0-1.  Mark Stone equalized fifteen seconds into the second period, and Mike Hoffman made it 2-1 for Ottawa a little past the halfway mark.  Before the period was up, Craig Smith would make it 2-2.  In the third period, Neal would convert Nashville's fifth power play of their six for a two-goal night and a 2-3 score. Fortunately, Ottawa had their own two-goal scorer for the evening in Hoffman and he tied it up with less than four minutes in regulation.  Overtime was scoreless and featured matching minors for interference and too many men on the ice, which must have been an odd sight.  A shootout would decide this one and Nashville took it to hand the Sens a 3-4 loss.  Michaela Schreiter at Silver Seven has this recap of the game.

The Goal: Don't look so hard at the forest that you miss the tree.  As I've noticed in Tuesday's overtime win over Arizona and the other games this season, the Devils have a tendency to force passes that go right to the opposition. Their intent really occurred to me on Tuesday. The play from the puck-carrier was to get it to a teammate in a dangerous spot.  Whether it was a 2-on-1, a 3-on-2, or even a simple set-up after gaining the zone, the puck carrier saw his man and tried to feed him.  As understandable as it was, often times, they didn't notice the opposing defender right in front of him or sitting in the passing lane.  The attack got stopped and if Arizona was really good, then they could counter attack. Against other, better opponents, they would.  I'd like to think Ottawa is better than Arizona and can do that.

I know that Ottawa has been bleeding shots so far this season; their shots against per game average of 34 is the highest in the league as of Wednesday night.  Thanks to this Fanshot at Silver Seven by Ross A, Brent Wallace at TSN reported that Andrew Hammond will get his first start tonight.  Hammond was ludicrously hot in the net (20-1-0 record in 23 games! 94.1% overall save percentage!) last season, but he's coming in cold for this one.  He may truly be a good goalie, but I'm not buying him maintaining any of those numbers for a long period of time in 2015-16. While the Sens held Nashville to only 25 shots, they also conceded four goals in the process.  These are all components that suggest that Ottawa can be vulnerable on their back end. The Devils can and should attack them, they just have to make sure they don't get caught focusing on what play they want to make to a point where they disregard the defense that may be in their way or in a position to deny that decision.  If they can do that, then it's certainly possible to attack, attack, and attack some more.

Karlsson!: Erik Karlsson is the main man of this roster, and why not?  The Devils will certainly see a lot of him.  Everyone who has played Ottawa so far has, he's got an average ice time of 26:04. He has yet to score and he's got eleven shots in six games, which is a bit low for him considering he had 292 in 82 last season. Still, he's tied for the team lead in scoring with eight assists and the do-everything defenseman will get his numbers in time.

The issue for Ottawa is, well, whenever Karlsson isn't out there.  Only two other defenseman have averaged over twenty minutes per game in this young season for Ottawa. One of them is Marc Methotwho is out with a concussion per this tweet by Brent Wallace. The other is Cody Ceci, who is just behind Patrick Weircioch for the highest shots against per sixty minutes rate on the team at evens according to War on Ice. That rate for Ceci is above 35, which is above the team's average in all situations.  It's not that Ceci, Weircioch, Methot, Mark Borowiecki, Jared Cowen, and Chris Wideman are all bad.  But almost all of them have been Corsi'd, Fenwick'd, and shot up quite a bit this season.  With Karlsson, one knows he can pay the opponents back and then some.  It's just there's a drop off with the rest of their blueline.  So far, it's part of the reason why their shots against rate is so high.  They did limit Nashville to only 25 shots, so it's possible they are figuring it out.  The Devils should still push the ones not wearing #65 as much as they can.

Top of the Line: The Senators may not be firing a lot of pucks themselves, but they have some players who have been quite productive to start this season.  Most of them are the ones expected to lead their offense. Kyle Turris (four goals, four assists, fourteen shots) and Mark Stone (two goals, six assists, eleven shots) are tied with Karlsson for the team lead in points with eight each. Hoffman (three goals, four assists, eighteen shots) is just behind them with seven; recall he's coming off a two-goal night against Nashville, so he's feeling good.  According to the recent lines Left Wing Lock, all three have played together and played quite a lot given their high average times on ice.  This is clearly their top line. With all three being productive so far - Hoffman's and Stone's breakouts last season don't look like flukes now - it's imperative the Devils try to get Andy Greene and Adam Larsson - who had a great game on Tuesday - out against them as much as possible with a decent forward line.  No, the fourth line isn't that.

If the Devils can keep Stone-Turris-Hoffman quiet, then that would help. They still have to be wary of the likes of Mike Zibanejad, Bobby Ryan, and Milan Michalek.  While they've been getting wrecked in possession per War on Ice, all three are skilled forwards in their own right. All three can fire the puck hard and protect it going forward. Defending in general seems to be an issue.  Perhaps Clarke MacArthur can help with that; however, he's out with a concussion according to Wallace at TSN. The Devils should try to win that match-up from a possession standpoint anyway.  Past them, they have some younger players like Curtis Lazar, some "energy" players like Chris Neil, and a young energy forward in Jean-Gabriel Pageau.  For the Devils tonight, again, they need to clamp down on the Turris line and make sure the Zibanejad unit is forced to defend.  Forcing their bottom six to play above their heads would be a small victory for New Jersey tonight.

Fewer Potential Changes & I Guess This Lineup: The Devils did not practice on Wednesday. They did assign Reid Boucher to Albany, as reported in this link by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. I find this to be a curious decision with Tuomo Ruutu still out with some kind of foot injury.  I didn't think much of the recent performances of Stefan Matteau or Brian O'Neill; I figured Boucher would be logical choice to rotate into the lineup.  This demotion means they have nothing for him at the moment, so he might as well play games in Albany.  Still, the Devils now have no extra forwards for these two road games.  The only extra skater on the roster that may be healthy is Jon Merrill, and he was held out of Tuesday's game recovering from illness.  He might be OK tonight, but that's really the only potential change the Devils can make among their eighteen skaters. Albany isn't prohibitively far from Ottawa or Buffalo, so an emergency call-up is certainly possible.  I'm just surprised they made this move now.

In any case, with no other forwards available, I would count on the same forward lines from the last two games.  That's fine with me.  The bottom six is what it is.  Mike Cammalleri had a very productive game - one goal, eight shots - playing mostly with Adam Henrique and Lee Stempniak.  Travis Zajac had a great game in between Jiri Tlusty and Kyle Palmieri.  As much as I'd like to see Cammalleri and Zajac build on their performances, I'm hopeful those other four forwards will benefit from it in a big way.  Palmieri has created some very good chances for himself over the last three games, I'm pulling for him to put one of them in.  Or, you know, put it on target.

As for the defense, if Merrill's healthy enough to play, then I figure he'll be back in the lineup.  I wasn't a fan of Eric Gelinas' performance on Tuesday.  For a blueline where there seems to be a rotation, it's imperative that when whoever that was sitting gets an opportunity to play, they need to justify their minutes.  I don't think Gelinas did that against Arizona. I wouldn't be surprised if he sits for Merrill.  I wouldn't complain loudly if Schlemko was the one to take a seat. As long as it's not someone who has been decent or good like John Moore or Damon Severson.

Lastly, I expect Cory Schneider to start because he's been playing rather well and there was a day break between games. Should the team want Keith Kinkaid to get some minutes soon, then Buffalo awaits on Saturday.

Your Take: The New Jersey Devils have a chance to make it three wins in a row for the first time since March 20, 2015.  It doesn't seem like that long ago, but with this season, it may be one of the few times it happens.  Might as well make it happen now.  Will the Devils do it? Can they keep the Turris line quiet? How will they handle the Sens defense with or without Karlsson? What level of goalie is Andrew Hammond?  Can Palmieri get a breakaway and put it on target, if not in the net? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.