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Game Preview #18: New Jersey Devils at Calgary Flames

The New Jersey Devils will begin a three-game road trip through Western Canada against the Calgary Flames. This game preview highlights the Flames' defensive and goaltending woes and why the Devils likely won't change their lineup.

This was awesome on Saturday.  Let's hope they can do it again tonight.
This was awesome on Saturday. Let's hope they can do it again tonight.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

This is the first stop on the annual Western Canada road trip.

The Time: 9:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (10-6-1) at the Calgary Flames (6-12-1; SBN Blog: Matchsticks and Gasoline)

The Last Devils Game: On Saturday night, the Devils closed a busy week with a home game against Pittsburgh. What transpired was a great time. The Devils and Penguins were fairly even in the run of play, though the visitors started showing cracks early.  Offensive stretches not working out so well, the Devils finding spaces in the neutral zone, and the Penguins' defense beginning to cough up pucks. A rush up ice yielded the game's first goal in a crazy way. Adam Henrique tried to feed Lee Stempniak, but Rob Scuderi denied the pass and nearly put it in his own net. As he crashed into the net, Mike Cammalleri tried to jam it in, David Schlemko did jam it in, and the goal was held up on review.  The second period was even better as the Devils just took the game over.  The Penguins were looser and looser on the puck and the Devils' exits were just terrific.  They struck again with a goal; converting a power play caused by a dumb tripping call by Evgeni Malkin.  Damon Severson gloved down an attempted clear, Jordin Tootoo tried to feed Cammalleri, and Cammalleri recovered the puck from his skates and beat Jeff Zatkoff with a nifty inside-out move.  It was a cool way to make it 2-0.   The Devils got into a little trouble late and got caught with a too many men on the ice call with six seconds left. Bobby Farnham served the minor.  After the Devils killed it, Farnham joined an attack with Henrique and Stempniak.  Farnham got a pass, got a shooting attempt blocked, recovered the loose puck, wheeled around, took a sharp-angled shot, got his own rebound, wrapped around the net, and lifted a puck that went off the back of Zatkoff and into the net.  Yes, that all happened and it was glorious.  Pittsburgh - namely Kris Letang - lost their cool and ultimately lost their nerve. The Devils just kept dominating, piling up 37 shots on Zatkoff. Cory Schneider only had 21 shots to deal with and dealt with them easily. The goalie probably wanted to smack his defensemen around after this one. Especially when both Cammalleri and Stempniak got behind them for an uncontested 2-on-0 for fifteen feet.  Cammalleri fed Stempniak for a score that put Zatkoff down again and sent the Rock to new highs of excitement. The Devils won and won big 4-0.  Shane recapped what was clearly the best game of the season so far here.

The Last Flames Game: Sunday night featured Calgary visiting Chicago.  The first period was scoreless but it set the tone for the game: Chicago attacked and attacked while Calgary didn't do nearly as much.  A period of ten shots to four would set that tone. Although, the Flames would get the game's first goal early in the second. David Jones put home a close one past Scott Darling to make it 1-0. All good, right? No. Chicago stormed the Flames with three quick goals within a two-minute span.  Patrick Kane roofed a backhander on a second effort in front to make it 1-1. About a minute later, Marian Hossa blasted a shot over Karri Ramo's right shoulder to make it 2-1 for the home team.  Less than a minute after that, Kane found a wide-open Artemi Panarin for a top-corner shot to make it 3-1.  Did the Flames respond? Does getting out-shot 12-15 count? No? Well, then, they didn't.  The third period wasn't much better as the Blackhawks out-shot the Flames 16-10.  At least Ramo didn't get scored on after those three.  Jonathan Toews put home an empty netter at the end to cap off a 4-1 defeat of Calgary. TraciKay had this recap at Matchsticks and Gasoline.

The Goal: Do what worked on Saturday, do what Chicago did on Sunday, and attack, attack, and attack some more. One of the glorious parts of that 4-0 win on Saturday was how the Devils crushed Pittsburgh's blueline.  They made Rob Scuderi look like a pylon.  Olli Maataa resembled a doormat. Ian Cole - I don't know who he even is anymore. The Devils should look to do the same to Calgary.  The opportunities will be there. The Flames average just under 31 shots allowed per game, which is below Pittsburgh.  The Flames' defense just got ripped apart by Chicago, a squad that hasn't been scoring a ton of goals this season.   According to War on Ice, the Flames have a bottom-five shots against per sixty minutes rate at even strength (30.8).  While they do have some potent attackers, it doesn't mean much when they're spending time in their own end of the rink. As a team, they do more of that at even strength.  The Flames have a lower CF% than the Devils at 47.7% - which is also a bottom five percentage.  What's more is that their goaltending has been quite weak.  Their team even strength save percentage is only 89%, the worst in the league.  So the Flames not only give up a relatively large amount of shots, they also allow them.  No other team has allowed more than Calgary.  All signs point to anyone finding success against Calgary if they're able to find spaces in the neutral zone, make the defense chase or catch them unaware, and take advantage of it.  The Devils did so on Saturday and won big.   If they can attack like that again, they can certainly do it again tonight.

Tonight's Matchup in Net: Tom Gulitti tweeted on Monday afternoon that Cory Schneider will start this game and wrote in this Fire & Ice post that Karri Ramo is expected to get this game too. If you want to see two completely different goalies, then you can do little better than this.  Schneider is coming off a shutout and has been excellent for several seasons. Enough for people like Alex to wonder what kind of success is in store for him. Schneider enters this one with a 94% save percentage at even strength. It's a big reason why a low-event, negative-CF% team like the Devils only have a -1 goal differential in 5-on-5 play.  On the other hand, there's Ramo.   He's only been a #2 or #1A goalie in his NHL career and he's topped 90% in overall save percentage exactly twice. This season doesn't look like it'll be the third.  He leads the Flames' goalies with a 90.5% save percentage at evens. The sad thing is that this is better than Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio.  Combined, the three goalies have just been porous and poor; a big reason why the Flames have the league's worst goal differential of -22 in 5-on-5 play.  Again, Devils should just be willing to fire away at him.  On paper, it'll work.

While They Can't Defend Much, They Can Produce...Sort Of: The main concern from the Flames tonight will be to make sure they don't pop off and give the Devils what-for in response to their own attacks.  Their top line is a young unit of Johnny Gaudreau (four goals, thirteen assists), Jiri Hudler (four goals, nine assists), and Sean Monahan (six goals, seven assists). They are first, second, and third in points with 17, 13, and 13 respectively. None of them are necessarily prolific shooters, but they will get their licks in.  Their second unit isn't too shabby either. Michael Frolik (four goals, eight assists), Sam Bennett (four goals, seven assists), and Mikael Backlund (two goals, seven assists) follow the Monahan line in points among Flames forwards. Frolik is definitely a prolific shooter with 52 in 19 games and ignoring a burgeoning young player like Bennett can be asking for trouble.  It's a second unit to contend with. Down in their bottom six, David Jones is definitely the dangerous one to look for.  He has six points and they're all goals.

Their defense may be conceding quite a bit, but they are no slouches when it comes to offense. Dennis Wideman has made a career out of being productive. While it's doubtful he'll put up 56 points again, he leads Calgary defenders with eight assists.  Mark Giordano hasn't been as dominant as he has been in recent seasons to start this one, but he's got four goals, two assists, and 47 shots. That and his recent history is more than enough to consider him a threat.   T.J. Brodie, who has been very good for Calgary last season, has a goal and four assists.  He's starting to "get going" after missing nearly all of October.   Dougie Hamilton has two goals and three assists so far; not bad for someone behind others - especially for power plays.

While all of these numbers aren't exactly eye-popping (OK, Gaudreau's 17 does), it points to a team that can produce in bunches when it works.  It's a shame that the defensive aspect of the squad is lacking.  Likewise, the special teams have not been big boosts. Their success rate on power plays is only 16% and they have a lower shooting rate than even New Jersey on power plays per War on Ice.  On the other end, Calgary's success rate is only 75.5% on penalty kills and they don't have a good shots against per sixty rate in shorthanded situations. It's not a bad rate; but it's not good either.  And the goaltending has just been horrible.  All put together, this is very much a 6-12-1 team. They can do some damage, but they end up taking too much.

The Challenge: With that in mind, these next two games are a challenge for the Devils.  If we're to believe the Devils are "for real," then they need to beat up on teams that are worse than them.  Not only are the Flames worse than the Devils in the standings, but in several areas of the game backed up by stats.  Edmonton isn't much better.  It's true that anything can happen in a game. I agree that there are no easy games.  But for those who want to keep up the hope the 2015-16 Devils are more than just enjoying a really good run, then the Devils should come away tonight with a 'W.'

Expect Few Changes: Tom Gulitti's report from Devils' practice on Monday at Fire & Ice showed no changes to the forward lines or defensemen pairings. That makes sense. With Mike Cammalleri producing as he has been and the Zajac unit pushing as they have been, I wouldn't touch them.  Let it ride.  Stefan Matteau was back healthy at practice; but unless someone else gets sick or hurt, I don't think he'll play tonight.  Jiri Tlusty has had a shoulder issue, but appeared no worse for wear on Saturday night. Similarly, I don't anticipate any changes to a defense that did very well against a Penguins squad that featured some aces.  Jon Merrill, David Schlemko, and others that could come out for Eric Gelinas played too well to come out in my opinion.  So I think the defense will remain as-is.

The other notable bit of news is that Patrik Elias returned to practice for the first time this season.  I wouldn't be surprised if we see him in action next week.  With no preseason to get the rust off, I think it would be best to get him involved in several practices before throwing him into games that count.

One Last Thought: Based on the last Devils game in Calgary, I just want to say that if a skater beats out a Flame to an iced puck with Calgary down one and playing with an empty net, then the skater should just eat the puck instead of throwing it into space.  Just sit on it, burn the clock, and survive the game.  Just saying.

Your Take: The Devils will kick off three late local nights on the road with this one against Calgary. How do you feel about this one ahead of the game? Will the Devils extend their winning streak? Will they successfully attack a porous Calgary defense and a similarly porous Karri Ramo?  Can the Devils keep the Monahan unit quiet and keep Calgary from making this a score-fest?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.