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Game Preview #13: New Jersey Devils vs. Chicago Blackhawks

The New Jersey Devils returns home to take on Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and the Chicago Blackhawks. This game preview goes into what the Blackhawks have been about and what's going on with the Devils' roster.

Last time the Blackhawks were in Newark, Keith Kinkaid started and Stephen Gionta scored.
Last time the Blackhawks were in Newark, Keith Kinkaid started and Stephen Gionta scored.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Wait, they're both shooting at low percentages?

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 880 AM WCBS

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (6-5-1) vs. the Chicago Blackhawks (7-5-1; SBN Blog: Second City Hockey)

The Last Devils Game: On Tuesday night, the Devils went into Brooklyn to take on the Tolerable Team of New York, the Islanders.  Unlike Halloween, the Devils did not storm the Isles for the first five minutes and then get outplayed for most of the rest of the game.  The Isles definitely had more control early on, pinning the Devils several times in the first period. One of those shifts yielded the game's first goal. Cory Schneider denied a shot from distance and looked like he absolutely robbed Brock Nelson the rebound. Yet, the puck was inadvertently knocked into the goal - I thought Anders Lee touched it, but he didn't - so Nelson ended up getting the credit. All the same, it was 0-1 and the Isles had no mercy on the Devils. The second period was much more even and filled with three penalties by the Isles. The Devils did nothing with those man advantages - although one was really short - and Jaroslav Halak remained perfect in the net. Int the third period, the Devils had a better start and did actually punish the Isles on a power play.  A shot by Kyle Palmieri hit a defenseman in the skates and the puck caromed right to Travis Zajac in the slot. Zajac's aim was true and the Devils tied it up 1-1, snapping the Isles' long penalty killing streak.  The Isles didn't pin the Devils back much, but many of their attacks yielded a shot whereas the Devils' did not.  They would get a late one: Brian Strait had a long shot deflected on net by Matt Martin.  Schneider made that stop, but Casey Cizikas beat Andy Greene and Schneider to the short rebound and puck the puck in the net.  The Devils tried to get a late one and had the benefit of a late too many men on the ice call to have a 6-on-4 situation.  It was not to be, so the Devils lost 1-2.  Here's my recap of a game that was close on the score, but not quite so close in the run of play at even strength.

The Last Blackhawks Game: The Blackhawks have struggled to score goals this season. Against St. Louis, it appeared that would be a thing of the past. And on national television as this was on NBCSN as part of Wednesday Night Rivalries.  They dropped five on their rivals in the first period alone. Yes, five goals in the first period. Marko Dano got his first with the franchise a few minutes into the game. Alexander Steen provided a response about a minute later. About ninety seconds after that, Andrew Shaw was fouled on a goal scoring opportunity. He got a penalty shot - and converted it. Teuvo Teravainen made it 3-1 a little later after that.  Then there was about nine scoreless minutes before Robby Fabbri of St. Louis made it a one-goal game.  Brent Seabrook dropped a hammer from the right point to make it 4-2 and send Brian Elliot to the bench.  Jake Allen took the net and got scored on less than a minute later by Patrick Kane on a power play.  So far, so good, so surely the Chicago Blackhawks cruised to victory, right? Not so fast. The Blues realized the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Similarly, they just needed one goal after another to climb back into this one. They did so in the second period. Steen scored his second of the night early in the middle frame.  Jay Bouwmeester scored his first of the season on a power play late in the second period. In the final minute of the second, David Backes put home a sharp-angled shot for the equalizer to really stun Chicago.  5-5 after forty minutes will do that.  The home team fought hard in the third period to try to retake the lead, out-shooting the Blues 14-7.  But Allen stopped them all.  The game needed overtime and the decision came in 3-on-3 play.  With two Hawks back to deal with two Blues, a pass was made to a trailing Vladimir Tarasenko.  Not a man to have opened.  He got to the middle of the zone and beat Corey Crawford to win the game. St. Louis scored four unanswered goals, won a big game on national television, and earned a bunch of bragging rights for achieving the rare feat of winning a game despite giving up five goals in the first period.  Brandon M. Cain had this short recap of the loss at Second City Hockey.

The Goal: Focus on the aces.  The 2015-16 Chicago Blackhawks do not appear to be the offensively scary machine of prior seasons.  They have talent, for sure.  Between roster decisions (Patrick Sharp to Dallas, Brandon Saad to Columbus) and bad puck luck (Chicago is shooting 5.4% at even strength, fourth lowest in the league), the goals haven't come in bunches.  While they are coming off a five-goal effort, they only got one after St. Louis' goalie change despite their best efforts.  They did put four on Los Angeles. As their October was littered with close games, maybe they're starting to come around.  Still, it's been mostly carried by a few players and those are the ones the Devils will have to pay special attention to stop.

For the unaware, those aces are Kane and Jonathan Toews.  Kane's not just the offensive leader for Chicago, he's third in the NHL with 18 points, the result of eight goals and ten assists.  Kane is legitimately one of the best wingers in the world and he is a constant threat on the ice.  His 47 shots on net ranks in the top ten among all players, and he's been shooting at 17% in all situations.  Toews is essentially Travis Zajac with an offensive game.  He does a lot of things rather well and he can handle all kinds of situations.  He's been productive as well with five goals, four assists, and 33 shots on net.  Chicago has smartly split these two up for the most part at evens.  According to Left Wing Lock's lines from their most recent game, Kane has been with Teravainen and Artem Anisimov while Toews has centered Artemi Panarin and Ryan Garbutt.  Anisimov and Teravainen aren't scrubs on their own.  But their production - five goals and two assists for Anisimov, four goals and two assists for Teravainen - have been helped out by Kane.  Garbutt has yet to score but Panarin has been a welcome find from the KHL with two goals and nine assists already.  Nevertheless, Chicago's offense has been driven mostly by #88 and #19.  If the Devils can frustrate them and keep them out of dangerous areas, then they'll have a good chance as any to win tonight. That's easier said than done, but that's how it usually goes in hockey.

Could It Be Worse for NJ? It Could: Cain at Second City Hockey noted in this post that the Blackhawks just sent down Ryan Hartman on Thursday.  Per Cain's post, this would open up a spot for Marian Hossa to return to the lineup.  Hossa is 36 but he's been aging quite nicely.  He remains a productive winger, he's handled significant minutes, and he's helping the play be driven in the right way.  He's the sort of player you'd want if you had to take someone over the age of 35.  The start of this season hasn't been so productive with only one goal and three assists. The 32 shots on net means he's been trying.  Eventually, the points will come for him if history is any indication. The potential return with Toews will certainly help him out and make New Jersey's night tougher.

They Got The Possession: While Chicago is just above breakeven in terms of goal differential and they haven't scored a lot, they do have possession going for them.  In terms of raw shot averages, the Blackhawks have out-shot their opposition and by a good margin.  According to War on Ice, Chicago is rocking a CF% of 52.1 at evens and a score-adjusted 51.2%.  The former is near top-five in the NHL and the latter isn't too bad either.  What this means is that while they haven't scored a lot, they tend to do plenty right in the run of play.  And the ones driving play includes more than just Kane and Hossa. Head coach Joel Quenneville has full control on how he wants his team to play and it's been successful.  Once the scoring picks up and the goaltending isn't conceding nearly as much, the results will better bear that out.  What it means for tonight is that I wouldn't count on the Devils from taking over at evens short of an excellent effort by the home team or a really poor one by the visitors. Chicago may have a poor road record, but possession speaks a little more about how a team really does in games.

Still Missing a Keith on D: Duncan Keith remains out of the Chicago lineup and his absence is noticeable. Instead of Keith and Seabrook patrolling the blueline, it's been Seabrook and Viktor Svedberg.  With Johnny Oduya gone to Dallas among other changes, their defense has been Seabrook, Svedberg, Niklas Hjarmalsson, Trevor van Reimsdyk, Trevor Daley, and Erik Gustaffson.  These others aren't so bad.  Hjarmalsson will eat up a lot of tough minutes as can Seabrook.  Van Reimsdyk has been actually fairly good by the numbers and Daley-Gustaffson is a fine enough third pairing.  The Blackhawks haven't started conceding a lot of possession or shots all of a sudden. Missing Keith speaks more to Keith being a great defender than it is Chicago struggling without him. The only real sign of struggling is just a general lack of production past Seabrook.  After his eleven points, Daley leads the group with three. Talk about a drop off.

No Darling: Goaltending hasn't been outrageously bad.  Despite giving up six on Wednesday, Corey Crawford's save percentages remain respectable. He's got a 92.4% save percentage in all situations and a 92.8% at evens. Not super-great numbers, but surely better than average.  Scott Darling, on the other hand, has had issues in his three starts.  A save percentage below 90% is never a good sign in this day and age.  Unfortunately for New Jersey, they'll probably get Crawford in net seeing that Chicago doesn't play until Sunday after this one.

No Tlusty?: This is odd. Jiri Tlusty was present in recent practices but ended up being scratched in the last two games.  Today, he did not practice with the team according to this report by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice.  While the team focused solely on special teams, everyone else that was active on the roster participated.  In this follow-up post by Gulitti, head coach John Hynes said he was held out due to the timing of a doctor's appointment to look at his shoulder injury.  Hynes didn't rule out Tlusty playing.  I'd like to see Tlusty return if only so I don't have to witness Sergey Kalinin or Jordin Tootoo get stuck with an awful match-up because they're skating with Zajac and Kyle Palmieri.  That said, I understand it's better for all involved in the long run that he comes back when he's fully ready. Should he be out again, don't be surprised if you see seven defensemen and eleven forwards again. That's what Hynes has been doing in Tlusty's absence.

Speaking of Special Teams: All I ask is that the Devils stop dumping pucks in on power plays.  Though, there's a good chance the Devils won't get that many.  The Blackhawks are in the lower end of the league in terms of the number of times they have been shorthanded this season. They're not going out there and fouling guys on the regular. They're a positive possession team, they don't need to do that and they really haven't.  I wouldn't count on a repeat of Tuesday's game where the Devils will get four legitimate opportunities and only have one truncated PK. That would explain why the team focused on special teams.  So would the fact that Chicago has a low road PK% success rate. Granted, they've played only five road games but it may be something to look for - provided the Devils don't throw pucks away from the neutral zone.

More Cory: Did you want more Cory Schneider? Then you'll get more Cory Schneider. He will start his tenth game in a row according to this post by Gulitti. I'm just glad he's not going to break in new skates in this game.  I do think a break is deserved at this point. The coaches don't see it that way, yet.

One Last Thought: I'm wondering whether the Devils should split up Lee Stempniak, Adam Henrique, and Mike Cammalleri soon.  Their hotness has faded.  With Tlusty out, Zajac and Palmieri suffer with a downgrade at left wing.  While I'm not a fan of Cammalleri and Zajac together, it wouldn't hurt to try it for a game or even a part of one to see if there's a different look to throw at the opposition.  Maybe it'll help one of the three get back into a groove with respect to shooting, if not just scoring.  Because if Cammalleri, Stempniak, and Henrique aren't shooting, then the Devils' already lacking offense suffers.

Your Take: The Devils will certainly have their hands full tonight.  But perhaps Chicago's scoring issues aren't yet fixed or receiving of better puck luck, and so the Devils have more of a chance than one may think.  Who on Chicago worries you?  Is there anything about the Blackhawks that the Devils can take advantage of tonight? Who on the Devils do you expect to have a big game? Who needs to do better? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.