This is the rematch of the rematch of the first meeting. Or the third time these two teams are playing each other.
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (17-14-5) at the Carolina Hurricanes (15-16-5; SBN Blog: Canes Country)
The Last Devils & Devils-Hurricanes Game: On Boxing Day, the Devils visited the Carolina Hurricanes for the second time this month. This game did not go nearly as well as the first game between the two teams. Half of the Devils' forwards were struggling early on, but the remainder managed to make it a decent first period between the two squads. Cory Schneider had to be great early on with multiple Canes getting in front of him for open shots. This would only get worse in the second period.
The Canes started applying more and more pressure as they kept winning shift after shift. Schneider would be beaten eventually. On a long shift where Schneider robbed Joakim Nordstrom, the Devils chased the play until Brett Pesce got the puck at the left point. He fired an ordinarily harmless wrist shot that got through three bodies and past Schneider for the game's first goal. The Canes continued to attack as the Devils spent over half of the second shotless. There would be some hope early in the third period that things would be OK. John Hynes mixed his forwards lines and a unit of Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique, and Mike Cammalleri paid early dividends. Palmieri got away from Ron Hainsey from behind the net, curled the puck around the right post, and beat Cam Ward to make it 1-1.
Alas, the Canes would strike back. On an odd man rush, Justin Faulk joined the attack late and got a free pass to the high slot. He delayed until Eric Gelinas and Elias Lindholm skated in front of Schneider before shooting. That shot got in. Late in the third, after Adam Larsson missed on a shot, the defenseman hustled back to defend Nordstrom on the left side. He was just a bit late so his out-stretched stick ramped up Nordstrom's harmless shot to fool Schneider shortside. The 1-3 final score held. My recap of the loss is here. For the opposition's perspective, Bob Wage had this more favorable recap at Canes Country.
The Last Hurricanes Game: Yes, the last Hurricanes game was not against New Jersey. They played Chicago on Sunday. The Canes acquitted themselves well in the first two periods. They actually led in shots 18-17 by the second intermission. Both Eddie Lack and Corey Crawford played well. However, Crawford was imperfect. With nineteen seconds left in the second period, Justin Faulk scored his second even strength goal of the season and his fourteenth in all situations. It was a wrist shot as well. Chicago responded with offense. Nineteen shots, to be precise However, the Hurricanes were not just victimized by the attack. They not only kept Chicago honest but Victor Rask doubled Carolina's lead at the 4:48 mark. Lack was sensational in the third and he was just three seconds away from shutting out the Blackhawks. Alas, Brent Seabrook beat him at the end. It was a consolation goal anyway; the Hurricanes won a close one 2-1 on the road. Bob Wage has this recap of the victory at Canes Country.
The Goal: Stop chasing the game in the hopes of getting it back. What really sunk the Devils in their game against Carolina was how the Canes were able to pin the Devils back in their end of the rink. In most games, teams will be able to get some good shifts of possession in their opposition's end. How teams deal with it can make a big difference in how the game goes. For the Devils, they panicked and just chased Hurricanes around. This did lead to Hurricane players being right open in front of Schneider, requiring the goalie to make a tough stop. This added additional traffic that helped create two of the three goals against. This disregard of their positioning and their original game plan only tired the Devils out so when they did make a zone exit, they had to go for a change rather than hit Carolina back on offense. If the Devils want to have a better game tonight, then they need to not chase Carolina around and hold their spots on defense. That played in Carolina's hands on Saturday and many others in games earlier this season. It's hard to resist, but an effort must be done because skating around hard on defense and not winning pucks or being consistently behind it isn't all that effective of an effort to begin with.
The Turnaround: It's amazing how quick can two wins change a perception of an opponent. Carolina's goaltender tandem has been a weakness - and still looks like one in the bigger picture - but both Ward and especially Lack has played well in recent play. It doesn't look like a weakness now. I still think either should be challenged as much as possible. Their save percentages for the season belies that their recent good play may be just that: recent good play.
Their top two lines have every reason to be confident. The unit of Eric Staal, Elias Lindholm, and Kris Versteeg just crushed New Jersey on Saturday gets to play the same people again. Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner, and Phillip Di Giuseppe were involved in both Chicago goals on Sunday as well as Carolina's offense for the night (Rask had five shots on net). Rask, Skinner, and Di Guiseppe were held relatively quiet by the Devils. With points against Chicago, I doubt they'll be kept to a minimum again. Throw in the fact that Devils absolutely struggled with Staal-Lindholm-Versteeg, and the match-ups will be a challenge for New Jersey. Especially if one of their bottom six players, such as Nordstrom, has a strong game.
The Canes' power play has cooled off but with Justin Faulk playing like a monster in all situations, it still would not be ideal to hand them opportunities. That should go for any team that boasts a defenseman with twelve PPGs like Carolina. On the other hand, their penalty kill was perfect in their last two games. Not that the Devils' power play has anywhere close to a consistent threat to make their PK suffer. Still, it only makes it harder to crack a Carolina team that has conceded only four goals in their last three games.
Plenty of credit needs to go to their head coach as well. Bill Peters' gameplan against the Devils were sound and effective. The Hurricanes then went on the road for the next night without any practice and held with Chicago for two periods from a shot perspective. Carolina has been a very good possession team this season. While there are still improvements to the lineup that may be necessary for future success (read: playoffs), this is not at all a doormat squad. Peters should be acknowledged for that and the last two games really show it.
The larger point is that the Canes beat these Devils and then went out and got a win against Chicago, a certainly more talented and just a better team than the Devils In the larger picture of the season, Carolina is still seventh in the division. They're also 6-3-1 in their last ten games and a mere four points behind New Jersey. From my perspective, no matter how you cut it, they're a formidable opponent tonight. If their past weekend of games didn't earn your respect, then I don't know what will.
Show Up!: For better or worse, the Devils' offense is driven by Mike Cammalleri, Adam Henrique, and Lee Stempniak. No disrespect intended to Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac, but when the Henrique line struggles, so does the offense on most nights. This also applies to the power play, where those three are featured on one unit. That effect was on full display on Saturday. Henrique was poor, Cammalleri was rarely involved in the attack, and pucks just kept getting lost on Stempniak. The former two did more on offense - namely, Henrique - when Palmieri replaced Stempniak. Still, the Devils' lone goal involved two of them and yet the team put up a grand total of twenty shots on thirty nine attempts. There needs to be more, especially against goalies with relatively low save percentages. That has to start from those three. They may be on different lines tonight, but all three need to be much better than they were on Saturday.
Different Lines & Pairings: Yes, there could be several changes to the lines tonight. According to Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice on Monday, there were some different combinations used in practice. Patrik Elias and Tuomo Ruutu were not at practice, but that wouldn't affect some of these changes. The top unit appeared to have Cammalleri with Zajac and Palmieri. Henrique was moved to center Jiri Tlusty and Tyler Kennedy. Lee Stempniak was bumped down to a third line that rotated Jacob Josefson and Sergey Kalinin at center and Kalinin and Stefan Matteau at left wing. The fourth line, which was horrid on Saturday, featured Bobby Farnham taking Ruutu's spot. As bad as they were, I don't think Farnham is the answer for making it better. For the others, they're bold moves. Cammalleri with Zajac and Palmieri could be a good first line, as Cammalleri has been heavily involved on offense. It could, in theory, make more opportunities for Zajac and Palmieri, which are good things. That comes at the cost of a second and third line, depending on how you view Henrique's and Stempniak's production. If you think Cammalleri played a big role for them, then each may suffer. We'll see if these make it to Tuesday night. They might. Elias has been ruled out for this game and Ruutu is sick according to Guilitti.
Defense did not avoid changes either. Andy Greene appeared to be with John Moore and David Schlemko moved up to play with Adam Larsson. This left Damon Severson to play with the two competing for the team's #6 spot: Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill. Could these changes work? I have a little more hope for these than the changes at forward. Greene has played well for so many years that I don't think Moore can drag him down much. While I'd prefer Larsson with Severson, this is still a good opportunity for Larsson to show whether he can lead a defensive pairing. As for Gelinas/Merrill, we'll see whether Severson can support either appropriately. Still, as a unit, I don't think the defense is going to suffer too badly. It's be the changes at forwards that cause me more concern as the forwards as a group aren't that good beyond the top five or so - and that top five is appears to be spread across three lines. Again, we'll see if these make it to Tuesday night.
Quick Thought: Farnham is on IR. So if the plan is for someone to play, then someone has to go out to activate him. With Elias remaining out with a knee injury, I suppose he could be put on IR retroactively to make that roster spot for him. On the other hand, Hynes could just put Matteau into the active lineup and so Ray Shero doesn't have to put anyone on IR for the night. We'll see if that is done.
The Split: The Devils will host Carolina tonight and visit Ottawa on Wednesday. It would make sense to me that Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid will split the starts. There's no need to lean solely on #35 for two straight nights. As well as Carolina has played lately, Ottawa has been the more prolific team in terms of production (108 GF) and they have the better record (18-12-6 overall, 10-4-4 at home). Based on those numbers, I'd prefer Kinkaid starting this one with Schneider starting in Canada's capital. I wouldn't be concerned if it's the other way around. I would just like the Devils skaters to let whoever the goalie will be tonight have a clearer view of the shot coming. Again, the three goals scored by Carolina on Saturday included two through screens and one off a deflection. They weren't very difficult shots.
One Last Thought: The Eastern Conference has no shortage of tantalizing defensemen. Among them, there's Erik Karlsson, P.K. Subban, Aaron Ekblad, and Victor Hedman that get touted for their importance to their respective teams. If Faulk isn't part of the discussion of top defensemen in the East by now, then a lot of people need to recognize. Faulk is legitimately great and he's been fantastic this season.
Your Take: The Devils get a shot at dishing out revenge after Carolina dished them some revenge three nights ago. All the same, what do you expect out of this rematch of the rematch? Will the Devils put out a better performance? What do you make of the potential changes to their lineup by the Devils? Can anyone keep Justin Faulk from having an impact in a game (probably not)? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.