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New Jersey Devils vs. Arizona Coyotes: Game Preview #60

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The New Jersey Devils will look to get a fourth win in a row when they host another bad hockey team: the Arizona Coyotes. This game preview points out what's bad about Arizona and who the Devils should target for match-ups among other points.

Connor Murphy broke his stick on this shot.  Bummer.
Connor Murphy broke his stick on this shot. Bummer.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Rise like an Arizona from the ashes...no that's not it.  Nevermind.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (24-26-9) vs. the Arizona Coyotes (20-32-7; SBN Blog: Five for Howling)

The Last Devils Game: On Saturday night, the Devils continued their six game homestand by hosting Carolina.  The Devils weren't perfect, but the Hurricanes out-shined the Devils with their own perfection.  In the first period, they were turnover happy and defensively sad.  The Devils made them suffer.  Adam Larsson kicked things off with a blast that Tuomo Ruutu got a piece of for the game's first goal.  Adam Henrique torched John-Michael Liles to get a bouncing puck and he beat Anton Khudobin one-on-one to make it 2-0.  In the final minute, a three-on-two rush paid off big when Jordin Tootoo rounded the net and found a wide-open Andy Greene cutting to the middle for a one-timer to make it 3-0.  The Canes sharpened up their game at that point to avoid the blowout, though the Devils kept them honest in the second period.  In the third, the Devils hung back as the Canes got opportunities to attack over and over.  An open Jeff Skinner in the slot would get Carolina on the board.  But that would be it, despite New Jersey's struggles at defending a 5-on-6 situation for over three and a half minutes.  The Devils won their third in a row by a 3-1 score.  Here's my recap of the victory.

The Last Coyotes Game: While the Devils were beating Carolina on the strength of a strong first period, the Coyotes hosted Tampa Bay.  Would the Coyotes avoid a fifth straight loss?  The home team got off to a decent enough start and finished the first period 1-0 due to a blast from Michael Stone.  The Lightning struck back in the second period, though.  Ondrej Palat got open during a four-minute power play and he ended the second minor to make it 1-1.  Arizona was a mess in the second period with only three shots on net, which gave the Lightning more time to attack and take the lead.  They did just that when Ryan Callahan got a fortunate backhander past Mike Smith.  Early in the third, the Lightning appeared to begin to close out the game when Palat took the puck into the zone himself, warded off a defender, and scored to make it 1-3.  But the Coyotes would fight back and turn it into a one-shot game. Mark Acrobello stole a puck from Steven Stamkos, went in on a breakaway, and scored to make it 2-3. Alas, the Coyotes couldn't get one more past Ben Bishop, Keith Yandle took a costly tripping penalty, and Stamkos put home a power play empty-netter to seal a win for Tampa Bay.  Arizona did indeed lose their fifth straight game. Seth Juneac at Five for Howling has this recap of the loss.

The Goal: Fire away and keep firing away.  One of the reasons why Arizona is so low in the standings is that the goaltending has been dire.  According to War on Ice, the team's save percentage at even strength is one of the lowest in the league at 90.7%.  Mike Smith has been the main man for the Coyotes and, per the NHL, he has one of the lowest overall save percentages for a starting goaltender at 89.5%. Devan Dubnyk was doing better but he has since been traded, leaving Arizona even weaker at the #2 spot.  Considering that Arizona has a poor CF% according to War on Ice and they're in the bottom third in average shots against per game, the poor play of Smith has undercut the Coyotes' season dramatically.   The Devils should strive to make Smith work hard just as they made Anton Khudobin work hard for two periods on Saturday.  Goals can be had and then the Devils can be in a position to cruise as opposed to scramble for a result.   This means dumping the puck in less and taking shots when they're open instead of making an additional pass or move for what may not really be available.  This will lead to the goals they so desire and the ones that Washington will likely concede.

You Know What Goes Great With a Bad Save Percentage & a Bad Corsi For Percentage?: A bad shooting percentage!  The Coyotes are just below Carolina for the league's lowest shooting percentage at even strength according to War on Ice: 6.2%.  If we include all situations, then Arizona moves past Carolina and only Carolina in shooting percentage with 7.5%.  Even the Devils have a superior shooting percentage than that - their lack of goals come from the lack of shots. The short summary of why the Coyotes are where they are is that they aren't good in possession and even worse in the percentages.  That's a recipe for a lot of losses and so the Coyotes faithful are already wondering who would be good at third or fourth overall.

The Exception: Arizona does have one team stat that demands awareness: their power play.  Arizona actually has the fifth most successful conversion rate in the league prior to Sunday night's games.   Their 22.1% success rate is an anomaly since the Coyotes don't score a lot at all.   After looking a bit deeper at War on Ice, it's not just the fact that Arizona actually has a decent shooting percentage in man-advantage situations.  They're third in the league in shots for per sixty minutes (59.4), right behind the amazing and terrifying Washington and San Jose power plays.  This means that their personnel understands their formation and runs it very well.  Their power play has been scoreless in their last three games, but prior to that a PPG was a common occurrence by the Coyotes.  If the Devils want to help themselves, then avoiding unnecessary fouls to keep their strong man advantage off the ice is key.

A Small Plea: By the way, the Arizona PK is, well, awful and they're on it a lot more than the power play. Please, please, please, Mr. Oates, tell the players to not waste breakouts and zone entries on hard dump-ins around the boards.  Tell them not to shoot with killers right in their respective grills.  Tell them to keep it simple.  The Arizona penalty kill has conceded a lot of goals, nothing exotic or outside of the box will be necessary.

Add in Some Injuries and a Bad Team is Worse: Arizona has been missing the services of Mikkel Boedker, Martin Hanzal, and Zybnek Michalek among others.  The latter is questionable according to this post at the Arizona Central by Sarah McLellan; Hanzal has had season-ending surgery, and Boedker has just been out.  The loss of Michalek on defense is large.  With him, the Coyotes had two defenders who could and did take on tough minutes and come out ahead: Oliver Ekman-Larsson (who's very good and remarkably active offensively with 192 shots on net) and Michalek.  Being down to one only hurts.  Hanzal has been a forward who could take on tough competition and come out ahead.  His absence has hurt.  Boedker hasn't done as well against the tough competition but a team as low-scoring as Arizona misses his 14 goals and 14 assists (in 45 games).  Devils fans know that when a team is playing poorly, missing players that could at least contribute positively can have a huge effect.  And so Arizona remains near the bottom of the league.  (Note: Don't get into a tank battle with Edmonton).

So What Should the Devils Do In Light of All of This Other Than Bombing Away on Smith / Other Goalie?: Michalek possibly returning tonight can help stem the bleeding on defense.  In general, the strategy would be to have which ever line that doesn't get Ekman-Larsson or Michalek needs to go hard at the defense.  Those two are the only ones above 50% CF on Arizona's blueline.  Keith Yandle has the points (and the shots, he's got 170, Arizona loves it's shots from distance) but he's on for points against. Andrew Campbell, Connor Murphy, and Michael Stone hasn't been good in terms of possession.  Those are the four to go against, and it may be five should Michalek is out and Brandon Gormley is involved.

From a defensive standpoint, the danger men are, well, Yandle and Ekman-Larsson.  They both are leaders on the team in shots, Yandle leads in points with three goals and 36 assists, and Ekman-Larsson has an impressive 17 goals for a defender.  At forward, it's thin.  Antoine Vermette is the leading producer at forward, but he hasn't been all that productive recently and he's the subject of trade rumors. His 47.3 CF% is the worst among Coyotes regulars per War on Ice, so he hasn't been all that good in the possession department.  While Jordan Martinook and Mark Arcobello haven't played many games with the Coyotes, they have looked good as Sam Gagner's wings from a possession standpoint. Tobias Reider has joined Arcobello and Gagner for quite a bit per Left Wing Lock. Reider and Gagner each have over 100 shots on net but, alas, not so many goals.  The team still has Shane Doan, who can power through but he's not getting any younger and like Vermette, he's playing more defense than offense.  Provided the Devils don't get stupid and settle for a cycle of shallow-dump-to-defend-back-to-a-shallow-dump or cough up pucks, they should be able to handle Gagner's unit while limiting whatever Vermette can do.

No Lines As We Know Of: As of this writing, the Devils' lineup remains uncertain. They had the day off, according to the end of this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. The Devils won their last three games and their last two games featured the team getting three goal leads.  I doubt the co-coaches will make any real changes.

The post by Gulitti I linked to two sentences ago focuses on Jordin Tootoo playing significant minutes.  It's remarkable that he's handling it well from an offensive standpoint.  It's somewhat refreshing to see a Devils forward just pushing forward to try and make a play.  He still remains questionable at best on defense and he's not necessarily going to drive plays forward.  Nevertheless, he's making the most of his time with Travis Zajac and Mike Cammalleri.  Now, if Zajac and Cammalleri are able to make the play go forward a bit more tonight, then Tootoo can perhaps contribute something else amazing - like the goal he set up for Greene on Saturday.

Keep it Up: Adam Larsson may have (correctly) received praise from the fans, Marek Zidlicky has been playing well in recent games.  I hope he keeps it up; he's so much more dangerous on offense when he's not trying to play checkers when the rest of the team is playing chess.  That's where he can provide value to the team and perhaps to someone else.  I liked what I saw from the Scott Gomez line too on Saturday. I'd like to see them to do better.

Please Do Better: The fourth line stunk after a strong Friday night game, so I'd like them to do more positive things. I'd like to see more than just breakaways from Adam Henrique.  Like getting the puck on net when he's close to the crease.  I'd also like to see Eric Gelinas and Peter Harrold not have so many adventures, though that's about as likely as hoping the Devils dump the dump-and-chase on power plays.  And I'd like to see the Devils keep the opposition honest with the lead for more than just a period after building one up.

Lastly: I don't think anyone should be surprised if Cory Schneider starts this one.  Keith Kinkaid should be his backup per Lou's comments after Saturday's game.

Your Take: The Devils will strive to make it four in a row while the Coyotes strive to avoid losing six straight.  A streak is going to end tonight.  Which do you want to see happen? Who do you think the Devils have to be concerned about from Arizona?  How would you like the Devils to perform tonight?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.  Thank you for reading.