It's another matinee game, but will be the second most important game in the area that day.
The Time: 5:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 880 AM WCBS
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (7-5-1) vs. the Vancouver Canucks (6-4-4; SBN Blog: Nucks Misconduct)
The Last Devils Game: On Friday night, the Devils hosted the Blackhawks. The Devils had a good start to the game with plenty of attacking and an early goal. Lee Stempniak took the puck away from Niklas Hjarmalsson and then put it five-hole through Corey Crawford. The Blackhawks made it a bit more even and then the Devils took it to the next level. They started attacking more, they owned the neutral zone, and two more goals would come. Kyle Palmieri put one home shortly after a faceoff win. Around a minute later, Travis Zajac had a backhander blocked and then put home his own rebound to make it 3-0. Talk about a dream start. Crawford was replaced with Scott Darling for the second period. A bit after a penalty kill, Damon Severson hit Mike Cammalleri with a sweet pass and the winger just torched Darling with a one-timer to make it 4-0 not even thirty minutes into the game. Patrick Kane got a fortunate shot through a screen late in the second to end the shutout effort by Cory Schneider. But Chicago didn't really turn it on until Joel Quenneville pulled Darling with under seven minutes left to play. The six Blackhawks pinned New Jersey back but only Tanner Kero scored with about a minute and a half left - too little, too late. The Devils won 4-2 in one of their best games so far this season. Here's my recap.
The Last Canucks Game: Yesterday, the Canucks went into Buffalo, where Ryan Miller still has plenty of fans. What the Sabres got were plenty of shots by the visitors. The Canucks dropped a hammer on the Sabres in the first period, out-shooting them 15-4. Unfortunately, Linus Ullmark was up to the task and stopped them. Even more unfortunately, the Sabres got on the board first - and then second in the middle period. Jamie McGinn got an early goal and Rasmus Ristolainen scored a power play goal, which was the first road power play goal Vancouver conceded all season. Given that the Sabres got two goals on eleven shots, they clearly were getting scores against the run of play. The Canucks would get on the board late in the second. Henrik Sedin got a feed from his brother Daniel Sedin across the slot and Henrik put it home to make it 1-2. In the third period, the Sabres put up more of an effort to not get out-shot by much. However, the Canucks would tie it up when Chris Higgins scored his first of the season. The puck just trickled through UIlmark, definitely a soft one. 2-2, all the same. Extra time seemed imminent until the final minute. Tyler Ennis made a bold move to take it in, he passed it across to Marcus Foligno, who moved it back to Ristolainen. Ristolainen waited, appeared to use Ben Hutton for a screen, and beat Miller with a wrister with 16.8 seconds left. The home fans went crazy, Miller's homecoming was ruined, and the Canucks lost 2-3. Check out Nucks Misconduct for their reaction to that loss, created late in regulation.
The Goal: Repeat the neutral zone and breakouts from Friday as best as possible. One of the reasons why the Devils looked so strong against Chicago was because of how they played with the puck outside of the offensive zone. They undercut plenty of potential attacks by Chicago with good stickwork and awareness in the neutral zone. It was rarely one-on-one, there was often a Devil nearby to pick up the loose/knocked away puck and turn it into something. Being able to establish control and generate additional opportunities is always something to strive for, but if the Devils can do it to the level they did it on Friday, then that will tilt this game in their favor.
Likewise if they breakout as effectively as they did against Chicago. The Devils' passes were generally on point. There were very few open players up-ice that were missed, resulting in icings or no chance for any offense. What I really liked was how they were able to draw interest to one side and then a Devil - be it the opposite winger or a defenseman - came through the neutral zone on the other side. That gave the puck holder a chance to pass it across and when they did so, it was an easy entry for the Devils. While I don't expect Vancouver to be as generous, the Devils should make a point of it of looking for open spaces in coverage when they breakout. It'll help their offense get going and, again, help tilt this game in their favor.
Win? Then Change Nothing (At Skater): Such is the common approach for most teams. If the team has been successful, then there's little need to change the lineup. Based on Tom Gulitti's report from Saturday's practice at Fire & Ice, it doesn't appear there are any differences. Jiri Tlusty is back with Zajac and Palmieri; Sergey Kalinin is with Jacob Josefson and Jordin Tootoo; and Eric Gelinas and Stefan Matteau remain on the outside. I can't disagree with John Hynes doing that. The Devils played a solid game from start until the Chicago pulled the goalie.
The only potential change could be in goal. Cory Schneider has been playing well. Expectedly well, to some. But he's also received ten straight starts. A break is on the horizon according to this post by Gulitti on Saturday. It could even be today that Keith Kinkaid plays in his first start since the beginning of the season. Seeing that Hynes has been forthright about naming his starter so much, this sudden turn of not doing so may be tipping his hand. We'll see.
Stay Hot: Alex wrote about him yesterday, and he's right: Travis Zajac is hot right now. It won't last, but for now, #19 is a threat. Provided Tlusty and Palmieri can give the Canucks skaters issues with their speed, Zajac can certainly capitalize. He'll be one to watch.
Likewise, the other scoring line from New Jersey got back on the board on Friday. Lee Stempniak opened up the scoring for the Devils and Mike Cammalleri essentially put the game out of reach. Adam Henrique nearly scored and both Stempniak and Cammalleri could've had two goals. Two scoring lines being recently productive is a good thing for the Devils' offense and it could drive them to a victory today.
While they were not scoring goals, I'd really like to see Adam Larsson and Andy Greene have a strong game this evening as well. They handled themselves well whether it was off the rush or six Blackhawks against five Devils late in the game. They should be getting the tough match-up of the Sedins and Radim Vrbata. They can probably handle it; but a big night from them will really help New Jersey's chances.
Everyone Chips In: The Canucks most certainly have a top line. You know two-thirds of them. They're the faces of the franchise for at least a decade now: the Sedin twins. Henrik Sedin is the distributor. He's the one in the middle acting as the straw that stirs the drink for his line. He's got over 700 assists in his career. He's got three goals, six assists, and eighteen shots so far this season. Daniel Sedin is the shooter. He's got over 2,800 shots and 300 goals in his career. Daniel entered this weekend as Vancouver's leading scorer with four goals, seven assists, and 52 shots on net. They are as good of a duo as any in the league. Regardless of the coach and management, it's been important to Vancouver's success that the Sedins A) stay together and B) have a right winger who can mesh well with them.
Enter Radim Vrbata. Alexandre Burrows had this role before, but Vrbata certainly adds a more attacking element. While he entered the weekend with only three goals and three assists, he leads Vancouver with 55 shots on net. (Burrows has 18.) Vrbata's among the top ten shooters in the league. Recall that Daniel Sedin has 52 shots on net. There's only one puck, but there's two guys averaging over three shots per game on one line. It speaks to how the threesome generally drive the play. True to that, hthey are on the higher end of CF% per War on Ice among Vancouver forwards and all above 50%.
The frustrating thing about Vancouver is that even if this line is kept quiet, others can certainly put in some points. The Canucks as a whole aren't a strong possession team. They went into Buffalo with a CF% of 46.9%. That got bumped up to 48.3% the Sabres game, but they're still underwater. But they've been productive. Burrows may not be shooting a lot but he's got three goals and five assists. Brandon Sutter continues to be a player that does somethings sometimes well and he's got three goals and four assists. Jannik Hansen has chipped in three goals and three assists already. Young hopeful player of the future Jared McCann had five goals in October. Jake Virtanen has shown flashes with a goal and two assists; Bo Horvat two goals and two helpers. Everyone except for Chris Higgins has at least one point already in this young season. As a team, they're shooting at a sustainable 7.1% at evens. So even though Sedin unit is the most dangerous from an overall run-of-play perspective, the other Canucks have helped out on the scoresheet.
Getting Zajac's unit, Larsson, and Greene to try to stop the Sedins and Vrbata won't be enough. And that's partially why the Canucks could be a playoff team coming out of the Pacific. It's not just a one-line team.
The Back End of Vancouver: Vancouver, as a team, may be on the wrong end of possession but they're not getting run over in terms of shots. In fact, they average more shots for than shots against. Before the Buffalo game, the team's shots against per game average is 27.9. That's a top-ten rate and not too much higher than New Jersey's own rate. Their penalty killing has been more impressive. Their success rate is well above 85%, they only just conceded their first road PPG of the season, and their shots against per sixty minute rate is 45, one of the lowest in the NHL. This is a team that has handled it's business defensively. One of the Henrique and Zajac lines will draw their top pairing of Christopher Tanev and Alexander Edler. Edler can be a threat at both ends; but all of the Canucks defenders can do their job relatively well. Especially if Luca Sbisa isn't playing.
In net, their main man has been Ryan Miller. Like the Devils, the Canucks have been leaning on him for most of this season. And why not, given his numbers? Backup Richard Bachman has also only made one appearance. Given that Miller conceded two goals on eleven shots and just played yesterday afternoon, Bachman could get the call today. He has very much been a back-up caliber goalie at best. He's only had one season with decent looking save percentages and that one season wasn't that good. The Devils getting him would be a bonus. That said, Vancouver could easily roll Miller for two games on the basis that he gives them a better chance to win than Bachman. Like with the Devils' goaltender for this one, we'll see.
One Last Thought: The Canucks' power play hasn't been all that strong. They do not have a high success rate. It was at 16.7% before the Buffalo game, which is just outside of the bottom third of the league. Their rate of shots on net per sixty minutes is just 50, which isn't all that high either. That said, I'd like to see the Devils not take so many fouls to give the Sedins, Vrbata, and Edler additional room to work with. They've played the most power play minutes on Vancouver for a reason. Given their already high output of shots, it could only stand to give the Devils more issues than necessary. So I'd like to see the Devils be disciplined more like they have been lately.
Your Take: The Devils will look to keep the good times rolling at home against Vancouver this evening. I'll be a little late to this one given what's happening in Harrison earlier that afternoon. Nevertheless, it should be an interesting test against a team that often hasn't appeared in Newark. What do you think will happen today? Will the Canucks give the Devils' fits? Can New Jersey even slow down the Sedins + Vrbata? What will we see from the Henrique and Zajac lines? Who should start this game for New Jersey? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.