On the eve of the eve of Christmas' Eve, there will be hockey.
The Time: 7:30 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (16-13-5) at the Detroit Red Wings (17-9-7; SBN Blog: Winging it in Motown)
The Last Devils Game: The Devils went up to Boston to kick off a three game road trip on Sunday. The Bruins took it to the Devils early on and got a score from a wide open Loui Eriksson in the slot. That would be the last goal Boston would score in the remainder of regulation. The Devils would respond with shots but their passing was all kinds of out of sync in the first period. For most of the second period, they got their heads and sticks right and their play improved. They got a quick equalizer when Andy Greene re-directed a pass by Lee Stempniak to beat Jonas Gustavsson. The Devils tried to add to the lead, but the goalie was too good. Eventually, Boston tilted the ice for the final five minutes or so of the second period - and most of the third period. Cory Schneider and the Devils had some real rough shifts to deal with, but they managed to keep it 1-1 all the way to a frantic end. John Moore got called for interference at the end of regulation, so overtime began with a power play for the team with the most successful power play in the NHL. Schneider was absolutely brilliant on the PK and in the remainder of overtime, stopping nine shots by Boston. The Devils only had a shorthanded 2-on-1 that Travis Zajac wished he had another crack at and a bouncing puck on Mike Cammalleri near the end to challenge back. Schneider was very good in regulation and he was simply on another level in OT. Alas, a shootout was needed and that was not in New Jersey's favor. Ryan Spooner scored for the first attempt, no one else did, and so the Devils lost 1-2. My recap of the loss is here.
The Last Red Wings Game: On Sunday, Detroit also played a game. They hosted Calgary. The first period was full of shots. The Red Wings just got out-shot the Flames 13-15. Both Petr Mrazek and Karri Ramo got them all. The second period was a lot less kind to Ramo - and very, very nice for the home team. It didn't start that way. Dylan Larkin hooked Michael Ferland and seconds later, Dennis Wideman converted the ensuing power play. The Red Wings had more of a response for that. Their 14 second period shots yielded three goals in succession. Larkin tied up the game at 7:46, Brad Richards took a slapshot right off a turnover by Calgary that went in at 8:31; and nine minutes later, Gustav Nyquist roofed a wrister from distance to make it 3-1. The Red Wings did well to hold onto the two goal lead until the 17:30 mark when Dougie Hamilton made it a one goal game. Calgary's attempts to tie it up were in vain and were eventually iced when Justin Abdelkader put home an empty netter for a 4-2 final score. At Winging it in Motown, piyer97 recapped the game here.
The Last Devils-Red Wings Game: The Devils began this crazy seven games in twelve days run against Detroit on December 11 in Newark. The Devils were without Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique, two of the Devils' five top-six caliber forwards. You wouldn't have known that from the performance as the Devils more than hung with Detroit. After a scoreless first period, the Red Wings were able to get on the board in the second period. Shortly after Brian O'Neill slashed Jonathan Ericsson, Gustav Nyquist re-directed a shot by Henrik Zetterberg to beat Cory Schneider for the game's first goal. The Devils tried to find a response against Jimmy Howard with seventeen shots on net, but they just could not get one through. Mike Cammalleri came real close in the second period on a shorthanded effort he got robbed on. Then the Red Wings countered and Tomas Tatar just beat Schneider from inside the right circle on a well-placed shot. The Rock was quiet and not happy. The Devils would turn it around in the second period. Damon Severson scored from the point at 2:40 into the third to give them hope. After further attacks, Zetterberg hooked Jacob Josefson. Near the end of the power play, Kyle Palmieri unloaded a slapshot that Sergey Kalinin got a piece of to beat Howard. The goal held up under review and a coach's challenge and the Devils held on for a 2-2 tie. In overtime, the mood was tense as both teams were willing to possess the puck and wait for an opportunity to strike. Pavel Datsyuk came real close to ending it, but Schneider held on. The Red Wings would make a mistake in the final minute. Stempniak bodied Brendan Smith to win a puck by the right sideboards. Stempniak looked and lobbed a backhanded puck into space. Palmieri beat Tatar to the puck, went in alone on Howard, and beat him high with a backhanded shot to win the game in dramatic fashion. The Rock was elated. My recap of the 3-2 win is here. For the opposition's side, here's piyer97's recap at Winging it in Motown.
The Goal: Clog that neutral zone. The Devils filled in the neutral zone many times against Detroit in their last game on December 11. It worked out quite well. The Red Wings' attack was stunted and the Devils were able to generate additional opportunities in their end of the rink starting from there. It was a big reason why the Devils led them in attempts and shots; they were able to get in Detroit's way. That made life easier that night for the Devils; were it not for Jimmy Howard playing well and some puck luck, the Devils could have won that game more decisively (though not as dramatically). Also recall the Devils were without Zajac and Henrique for that game. With those two in the lineup tonight, they could make it even tougher for Detroit to do as they wish going forward. It worked out well in regulation about two weeks ago, it can work out well again tonight.
No Injuries: In Sunday's game against Boston, Jacob Josefson and Sergey Kalinin both left the game early. Josefson was stung by a shot block, left, tried out the leg, and then went back out of the game. In an attempt to backcheck Torey Krug, Kalinin's knee hit Krug's leg. Kalinin got the worst of it. He had to be helped off the ice and he did not return to play. The good news is that they both may be fine for tonight's game. According to this Monday post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, both players say they can play. We'll see if they will. If one or the other doesn't, then the Devils have enough players to fill in the roster. Patrik Elias and Stefan Matteau were out of the Boston game, either could step right in. Or, worse comes to worse, the Devils can go with seven defensemen again.
Expect Elias & Schneider: Gulitti confirmed at Fire & Ice yesterday that Cory Schneider will play tonight. He was fantastic against Boston as the game went on. Hopefully, he doesn't need to be as fantastic again tonight.
As Elias was a scratch on Sunday, I would look for him to play tonight anyway. Gullitti had this longer article about the decision as it's a reminder that Elias is 39 and his best years are long behind him. Back-to-back nights may not be feasible for the veteran forward. And with the Devils carrying healthy extra forwards, they aren't necessary either. I would expect him back in the linup. Jordin Tootoo sat when Zajac initially returned on Saturday night, the last game Elias played in. I could see a similar swap assuming Kalinin and Josefson are truly OK to play.
These Guys Aren't New: For those of you who don't know who the top players are and what Detroit has done this season, then I refer you to my previous game preview from December 11 for a deeper overview. Instead, I will focus more on what's recent with the Red Wings.
Learn How They Play: One of the things that's recent about Detroit is that Winging it in Motown continues to breakdown the systems of head coach Jeff Blashill. The latest one, written by piyer97, is about the power play. The Red Wings run a 1-3-1 and they have several set looks that they run with it. A couple of those plays are shown in .GIFs from the Devils-Red Wings game back on the eleventh. If you have the time, then check out that post and the others linked in it.
Who's Hot?: Well, no one on the Red Wings has been an exceptionally hot producer. After all, they've only played four games between the eleventh and the twenty-first. Four players have three points each: Danny DeKeyser (3 A), Brad Richards (2 G, 1 A), Pavel Datsyuk (1 G, 2 A), and Henrik Zetterberg (1 G, 2 A). Among them, Richards is the most curious as he's second among Red Wings in shots in that short time span. Only Larkin has one more shot. While most Red Wings fans would correctly highlight Datsyuk, Larkin, Zetterberg, Tatar, and Nyquist (two goals in those four games, by the way) as dangerous threats, Richards is more than holding his own as of late. Per Left Wing Lock, he recently has been skating with Datsyuk and Darren Helm. It may be a good fit for the veteran forward and he's increasing his contributions to the team.
Home Has Been Good For Detroit: While Detroit's possession for the season has been around 50%, they've been much tougher at home. According to War on Ice, they have a CF% of 53.7%, a shooting percentage of 7.6%, a save percentage of 93.7%, and a 5-on-5 goal differential of +9. The first and last of those stats are among the better ones in the league among home games only. They have certainly earned more points at the Joe Louis Arena with a record of 11-6-4 compared to as road record of 6-3-3. While I think the Devils can certainly frustrate the Red Wings by filling in the neutral zone and that their special team rates remain unimpressive, I would expect a stiffer challenge from Detroit at even strength tonight.
One Last Thought: Nothing says Merry Christmas like a good performance and result. Please don't let me down, Devils?
Your Take: The Devils will finish off a long run of games close together with the same opponent the run started with. Will they cap it off with a win to make it a more successful one? Will they make it as dramatic as the last win against Detroit? Who do you think needs to have a big game beyond Schneider (usual)? Who on Detroit concerns you? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.