The back-end of this most recent back-to-back set for the New Jersey Devils has them traveling up to Ontario to play a quality Senators team that has a very similar record to our Devils. Can NJ put together back-to-back wins?
The Time: 7:30 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - WFAN 660 AM and 101.9 FM
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (18-14-5) at the Ottawa Senators (18-13-6, SBN Blog: Silver Seven Sens)
The Last Devils Game: Last night, the Devils hosted Carolina. It was a home-and-home for New Jersey, as they had last played, and lost, to Carolina on the road back on Saturday night. Carolina, however, had played a game in the middle. Nonetheless, it was imperative that the Devils get a positive result. While the Devils still entered the night in 4th place in the Metropolitan, they could have easily dropped down to 6th or 7th with a loss. The Penguins, Flyers and Hurricanes were all right there. The first period started out well, and the Devils seemed to have that urgency that they needed a win. However, the period ended 0-0 after some nice plays by Cam Ward. Carolina would come out much better in the second period, outplaying the Devils for most of the period. Two goals by Eric Staal in the period (one that Keith Kinkaid would surely like to have back) would only be countered by one Bobby Farnham goal, and while the Wild Thing goal song was pretty cool, being down 1-2 after two periods was not cool. Despite the deficit and the huge importance to this game, the Devils would come out extremely flat in the third period. John Hynes was switching lines mid-game and mid-period to try and get something going, as at one point Adam Henrique was surely centering the third line, then at another point he was back out there with his old linemates Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak. None of it seemed to be working, however, as the Devils would muster a measly four shots on net in the period...but somehow, two of those shots would go in! Kyle Palmieri redirected a Jon Merrill centering shot around mid-period to tie it up, and David Schlemko would misplay a puck entering the zone, get it back, and fling it on net with just over three minutes left to play. Thanks to Travis Zajac, the puck would bounce off of an unsuspecting Canes defenseman, and the Devils would take the lead and win the game, 3-2. John had the recap here.
The Last Senators Game: Last night, the Senators also played a hockey game, theirs taking place in Boston against their division foes, the Bruins. Let's just say it was not a pretty game for Ottawa or for their starting goaltender, Craig Anderson. The game was fairly close through two periods, with Boston holding a 3-2 lead entering the third. At that point, Boston had 3 goals on 28 shots, two goals coming on the power play. Ottawa, meanwhile, had their two goals on 19 shots, both at 5 on 5. The third period, however, would be the tipping point. Boston would seemingly not miss the net, ever. On 9 third period shots, they would connect with twine four times. Jimmy Hayes would score twice in the period to finish a hat trick, and both Patrice Bergeron and Matt Beleskey would score their second goals of the game. It was an onslaught that Ottawa could not match, as they would only score once in the period. Boston would win the game 7-3, and the reaction from Callum Fraser can be found here at Silver Seven Sens.
The Goal: Keep up the momentum. I know that this does not make all that much sense. The Devils did not play their best hockey last night by any stretch of the imagination. Their two goals in the third period were seemingly against the run of play, and surely if they play like that again tonight, they will not get the same result. Nonetheless, a win has to generate some momentum, and the Devils need to maintain it. This is a huge stretch here for New Jersey. As I mentioned earlier, three teams in the division are right on their tails. Sitting at 4th now, the Devils are still in it and fighting, but if they go on a losing streak, they will surely drop to 7th and will look very much out of it. Therefore, this whole "treading water" thing needs to go by the wayside for a little. The Devils need to catch a hot streak and generate some space between them and the bottom of the division. A win tonight would go a long way to achieving that goal.
Possess the Puck: Last night, the Devils got sorely out-possessed against a superior Carolina team that ranks 4th in Corsi For at 5 on 5 play this season. It is why the third period was so severely tilted in the Canes favor. Tonight, the Devils get to see an Ottawa team that ranks 29th in the same category, with a CF% of 45.9%. That is not good at all, and the Devils need to take advantage of it. Control the puck up through the neutral zone, avoid dumping the puck, and make crisp passes that help to maintain possession. This is a good matchup for NJ in terms of possession, and they need to take advantage of it if they want any chance of winning.
The Goaltending Situation for NJ: With Keith Kinkaid getting the nod last night and doing a wonderful job at keeping the Devils in the game and getting the win, Cory Schneider will start in net tonight. He is surely the guy we want in net, with a quality .924 save percentage this season. He should give this team a good chance to win tonight, regardless of how the possession battle goes.
What Will the Lines Look Like? Last night, Hynes switched up lines a bit to generate some positivity. Lee Stempniak was dropped to bottom 6 duties while Tyler Kennedy got the starting nod alongside Henrique and Palmieri. However, after 2 periods, it seemed like Hynes switched things up again, going with different combinations to generate a spark. While the Devils did win the game, I am not sure that he achieved that spark with only 4 shots on net in the third period. After the game, Hynes was unsure what would happen for tonight's game, or if Jacob Josefson would return or not, so take a look at pre-game warmups to get an idea of the lines. My guess is not much changes, as the team did get a win, and switching too much in the middle of a back to back rarely goes well.
What Does Ottawa Look Like? Despite their terrible possession numbers this season, Ottawa has been a good team. At one point they were the second best team in the Atlantic behind Montreal. They now sit in the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of New Jersey (which makes tonight's game even more important). They could be similarly treading water like NJ has, with a 4-5-1 record over their last 10 (Devils are 4-4-2). But like NJ, they know that they cannot keep doing this, and winning must come soon if they are to maintain their position. That could make them dangerous.
Who are Their Scorers? As always for Ottawa, their main point production is coming from their exceptional blue line talent Erik Karlsson. He has 41 points in 37 games, and while only 9 of those points are goals, he is ripping shots like no one's business, with 93 shots so far. That is a very high number for a defenseman, but for Karlsson, it is more of the norm. In terms of their forwards, Mike Hoffman has had one heck of a season so far. He has 34 points in 33 games played, 18 of those points coming as goals. He was one of the goal scorers last night as well, and continues to just produce on a line with Bobby Ryan and Mika Zibanejad. Speaking of Ryan, he is third on the team in points, with 33 points (11 goals). He is also someone to watch out for. That line, which is their second line, has been producing very well and works wonders together. So has the top line of Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, and Zack Smith. Both Turris and Stone have double digit goals and are producing at a near point per game. Watch out for their top 6.
But What About their Bottom 6? Much like the Devils, while Ottawa has been producing from their top 6, their bottom 6 leaves something to be desired. Their top scorer from the bottom 6, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, has 13 points in 37 games. While that is not completely awful, when it is the top scorer on the bottom 6, that is not a good sign of quality depth. And considering the team's bad possession numbers, it is not like these guys are pushing play forward but just not scoring. They're not doing either. So while the top 6 should be respected, the bottom 6 could possibly be taken advantage of if the Devils can play it right.
Who Will Ottawa Have in Net? Last night, starter Craig Anderson got the nod, and played the entire game despite letting up 7 goals. With that knowledge, expect backup Andrew Hammond to get the start against New Jersey. The Hamburglar has been injured for much of the season, and as a result is only 2-2-2 on the season, with a .925 save percentage. I would guess that the starts between him and Anderson would be more split down the middle if he were healthy, but Anderson did play very well while Hammond was out, so as of now it seems more like the Hamburglar has become the backup. However, with starts like last night destroying Anderson, Hammond could begin to see more time.
Your Take: There is your somewhat belated preview for the game tonight. The Devils need to build on last night's win, play better, and get another win here. It would propel them into a wild card position over Ottawa, and would keep the teams under them in the division off of their backs. Treading water will doom this team, and NJ cannot allow it anymore. How about a winning streak?!
Anyway, what are your thoughts about tonight's game. Do you like the Devils' chances? What are your keys to the game? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.