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Game Preview #33: New Jersey Devils vs. Anaheim Ducks

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The New Jersey Devils will look to rebound from an abysmal loss to Florida when they play the goal-deficient Anaheim Ducks tonight. This game preview touches on changes to the Devils' lineup and what the Ducks have and have not been about this season.

The last Devils-Ducks game in New Jersey didn't go so well.  Tonight may be different - I hope.
The last Devils-Ducks game in New Jersey didn't go so well. Tonight may be different - I hope.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

You think New Jersey has problem scoring? Check these mallards out.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (16-12-4) vs. the Anaheim Ducks (11-14-5; SBN Blog: Anaheim Calling)

The Last Devils Game: The Florida Panthers arrived at The Rock on Thursday night.  After a few decent moments, the Panthers turned on the domination and just made the New Jersey Devils suffer all night long.  They converted their second power play - which came just as the first one was going to be killed - when Jussi Jokinen got sprung between the defense and beat Cory Schneider high.  Later in the first period, a long shift in New Jersey's ended with Jaromir Jagr setting up Dmitry Kulikov for his first of the season.  After an early penalty kill in the second period, Corban Knight takes a shot off the rush, it gets blocked, and Brandon Pirri puts home the loose puck to make it 0-3.  Early in the third period, Reilly Smith jammed in a rebound to make it 0-4.  You may have noticed that I haven't wrote much about the Devils. They did next to nothing tonight.  Rather later in the third, the Devils get on the board when Kyle Palmieri took a shot and the puck hit off Sergey Kalinin's pants to convert a power play.  The Devils pulled the goalie for a very, very, very, very faint hope of scoring three goals in under five minutes.  Logan Shaw scored an easy ENG and the game continued to sputter to a 1-5 loss.  I recapped the game here, which deserved the grade of F- for the Devils.

The Last Ducks Game: The Ducks visited Buffalo on Thursday night with the intent to score some goals. They out-shot the Sabres 14-8 in the first period; no one scored.  They out-shot the Sabres 11-8 in the second period; Evander Kane and Jake McCabe scored for the Sabres.  They out-shot the Sabres 19-8 in the third period; Jamie McGinn scored for the Sabres.  One can't say the Ducks weren't trying.  One can't say the Ducks didn't give everything they could to Buffalo goalie to Chad Johnson.  Yet again, for the seventh time this season, the Ducks got shut out in a loss.  Here's EricTheHawk's recap at Anaheim Calling.

The Goal: Stop panicking. The Devils were quite methodical against Buffalo and found success in that game. They weren't able to do so against the Islanders and Panthers in this week.  In those two losses, the Devils conceded two goals in the first period and the team performed as if that was that.  The lack of adjustments, the lack of any kind of meaningful forecheck, the failed puck movements either to gain the opponent's zone or shortly after gaining the opponent's zone, and the rushed long breakout passes into the neutral zone just made a bad situation even worse in those games.  While tonight's opponent has not been particularly potent in producing points, they will suffer again if they just revert to bad habits as we've seen in two of their last three games.  When a bad play or a bad shift happened in Buffalo, the team didn't fall apart so it can be done. They'll have to steel their respective resolves - and their gameplan - to get something against Anaheim.

The Return of...Keith, Maybe Not Travis: In Friday's practice, Travis Zajac was active but skated on a fifth line of forwards again.  According to Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, head coach John Hynes isn't sure whether he'll play tomorrow. Given that he skated with Stefan Matteau and Bobby Farnham per Gulitti's report as opposed to skating with a line that will likely play regularly, I doubt it'll happen.  I know the hope was to get him ready for the weekend and with the holiday roster freeze coming up, they had to make room to activate Zajac ahead of time.  The Devils do play on Sunday, so he could return then.

There will be one change to the lineup and it's in net. Keith Kinkaid has been confirmed to be started for this game, per this post by Gulitti.  Kinkaid did quite well in his last start and he did what he could with cleanup work just this past Sunday.  It shouldn't be a surprise that Kinkaid would get this start.  It's a back-to-back set, it's at home, and it's against an opponent that has struggled severely at scoring this season. Better them than a Boston team that is second in the Atlantic Division for a game in Boston.  I'm not so much concerned for Kinkaid as I am for the guys in front of him.  They need to do most everything better than they displayed on Thursday.

One Fatal Flaw: The Anaheim Ducks have plenty of stats that show that they are not an easy opponent despite their last place position in the Pacific Division.  Per War on Ice, the Ducks have been solid in possession with a 52.9% Corsi For percentage and a 52.2% score-adjusted Corsi For percentage.  Per NHL.com, the Ducks enter Friday evening with the league's best penalty kill success rate at 87.5%.  The shorthanded stats at War on Ice reveals the Ducks not only have benefited from an awesome 91% save percentage in those situations but one of the lower shots against per sixty minute rates in the NHL.  Going back to even strength numbers at War on Ice, the Ducks have only conceded 50 goals in 5-on-5 play with a decent 92.4% save percentage.  Combined with their PK excellence, the Ducks have only allowed 75 goals, which puts them in the bottom ten in the entire NHL - which is quite good. This is a team that can control a game and protect their end well.  There's just one major problem with their game:

They haven't scored goals.

As noted in The Last Ducks Game mini-recap in this preview, the Ducks have been shut out in seven out of 31 games this season.  That's bad. They are the only team in the NHL to average fewer than two goals per game.  That's also bad. They may be OK at keeping pucks out of their net at evens, but with a 4.6% shooting percentage they've only scored 33 in 5-on-5 play. Their power play has suffered along with it.  Their success rate isn't the worst at 16.7%, but their 10.4% shooting percentage in man advantage situations is a bottom-five figure in the league at War on Ice.  The Ducks are a team that won't concede a lot in terms of possession or goals against, but with so few goals scored, they've been on the losing end more often than not in this season.  Good goaltending, good penalty killing, and good defensive play is important but they don't score many goals.

I cannot stress enough how the low shooting percentages are holding the team back.  On paper, an offense fronted by Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler would be formidable.  Only Perry has been producing (ten goals, five on the power play) as Getzlaf has a whopping one goal out of 57 shots and Kesler has a mere three out of 61 shots.  On paper, Jakob Silfverberg, Richard Rakell, and Carl Hagelin would provide a fine amount of support.  Only Rakell has a shooting percentage in the double digits; his six goals dwarf the five combined between Silfverberg and Hagelin.  Not enough players are lighting the lamp enough to help the Ducks squad survive some slumps. The fact is that the team has collectively slumped in the scoring department.   Until that changes, the Ducks are going to remain in the wrong end of the standings.  Generating shots, out-shooting and out-attempting opponents, and at least being superb on one special team are all well and good.  It makes me think this Ducks team is better than their record.  But they won't be until they get goals more often and more regularly from their lineup.

Woeful Away From Home: I normally don't delve too much into home-away splits, but it's telling that the Ducks have been harsh on the road. Their record away from Orange County is the worst in the NHL at 3-9-1.  Their even strength stats are all worse as visitors according to War on Ice. Their CF% is only 50.5%, which is still above the break even point but not nearly as good as their total even strength CF%.  Their shooting percentage is 2.4%, which means they're still in the red in terms of goal differential despite their goaltending being OK with a 92.3% save percentage.  The Ducks kicked off a four-game road trip in Buffalo with a 0-3 loss.  The Devils should be able to make their lives more miserable because for one reason or another, the Ducks have performed even worse away from home so far this season.

Since They're So Good on D, Let's Learn More About It: The Devils will probably get to see Frederik Andersen in net for the Ducks tonight.  Andersen has been the team's #1 goalie for better or worse.  The good news is that he hasn't been all that good. His overall save percentage is only 91.3% and his even strength save percentage has been only 91.9%. The backup, John Gibson, has better percentages in both regards.  That said, Andersen isn't a bad goalie and he's still good for only allowing a couple per game. Unfortunately, with the way his teammates are shooting, that hasn't been enough.

Defensively, the Ducks have three fairly young (they're all under 25) and solid defensemen: Sami Vatantan, Hampus Lindholm, and Cam Fowler.  According to Left Wing Lock, they've been used on separate pairings so the Devils will have to deal with them throughout the night.  Fowler and Kevin Bieksa have taken the most and more difficult minutes per War on Ice. I wonder whether Bieksa is holding Fowler back given that he's taken more penalties (-4 penalty differential at evens for Bieksa, none for Fowler) and that he's adding less to the offense than Fowler.  Sami Vatanen has been one of the few regular producers on the Ducks right now with five goals and eleven assists. Suffice it to say, a large part of Anaheim's offense will run through him and Perry.  The Devils should be aware of that.  While his situations aren't as difficult, he's been used frequently on special teams where he's been successful. Lindholm has not been as productive as Vatanen or Fowler and his even strength situations tend to be easier than the two. But he has done superbly in possession next to John Manson with what he's been given.  It's a trio the Ducks will build their defense around provided they don't make a trade one of them out of desperation or something.  It's a trio the Devils will have to contend with in many situations tonight.

One Last Thought: How long does this continue in Anaheim before something drastic happens?  The funny thing is that if/when the shooting percentage goes up, then the Ducks will start shooting up the standings.  I don't think changing a coach or moving some players will necessarily do that, though.

Your Take: The Devils will try to do far better than whatever it was that they did on Thursday night tonight. Will they do it?  Can the Devils keep making life miserable for the Ducks? Can they prevent the Ducks from the one thing holding their season back?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.