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New Jersey Devils vs. Ottawa Senators: Game Preview #51

The New Jersey Devils will continue their homestand by hosting the Ottawa Senators tonight. This game preview hopes the Devils can move the puck and notes how productive and defensively questionable the Senators have been among other points.

Thankfully, the Devils will not get owned by Anderson all night long again.
Thankfully, the Devils will not get owned by Anderson all night long again.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

And now the Devils host a team that dropped a touchdown on their last opponent.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (19-22-9) vs. the Ottawa Senators (20-19-9; SBN Blog: Silver Seven)

The Last Devils Game: On Saturday, the Devils hosted Florida to close out the month and continue their homestand.  The first period was their best performance that week. They made some passes. They played with a goal in mind. They did more with the puck than their opposition.  Two beautiful goals were scored.  Jaromir Jagr came out of the corner from a cycle, took the puck towards the middle, and ripped it high past Roberto Luongo.  Later, on a power play, Steve Bernier slides a backhand pass between his legs at the crease right to Mike Cammalleri for a PPG.  However, the good times would not last as the Devils would take 19:58 to register a shot on net in the second period.  Florida, meanwhile, took much of that time in controlling the game and showing the Rock what a competent hockey team looks like.  In the third period, more of the same continued as the Devils sat on one shot for seemingly an eternity while the Panthers tried to solve Keith Kinkaid.  That second shot of the period would come and it would be Bernier putting in an empty netter to essentially ice the game.  Kinkaid's shutout bid was ruined due to Peter Harrold barreling into him and therefore unable to get to Brandon Pirri's shot.   But it was a consolation goal and another hideous-to-watch 3-1 victory for New Jersey.  Here's my recap.

The Last Senators Game: Before the Devils struggled against the Panthers for about forty out of sixty minutes, the Senators hosted Arizona.  This game eventually got glorious for the home team.  Arizona got the scoring started quickly with an early goal by Zybnek Michalek.  Ottawa's Mike Hoffman provided the response less than thirty seconds later and both teams would be held up at 1-1 for the rest of the first period.   The offense picked up in the second as the Coyotes put 16 on net and the Senators got 10.  But the Sens would get two of those ten shots on net in the net, both within the final five minutes of the period.  First from Milan Michalek. Second from Mark Stone.  The bottom really fell out for the visitors in the third period, though.  Bobby Ryan scored just before the second minute mark of the period and then Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored less than a minute later.  That was it for Mike Smith; he was replaced by Louis Domingue, which turned out to be his NHL debut.  Sam Gagner scored for Arizona to cut the margin to three.  But the Senators got back and then some. Erik Karlsson scored past the halfway mark and Mika Zibanejad provided the "extra point" in the final few minutes. The Senators smashed the Coyotes 7-2.  Hard to be mad about that.  Sheer Craziness at Silver Seven certainly wasn't at the explosion of goals.

The Last Devils-Senators Game: Let's go back to December 17, 2014, the last time the Senators visited the Devils.  The Devils were winless in four at the time.  But they went out there and had themselves a game. They made passes. They broke out of their own end well. They put Ottawa's defense to the sword.  There was only one problem: Craig Anderson.  Anderson was brilliant and bailed out his team over and over again.  Kyle Turris scored an early PPG and that would be enough as the goalie put his team on his back by stopping all thirty-four shots.  Yes, the Devils put up 34 shots in a single game.  Hard to believe given the last week/month/season.   The Devils faded late, Turris got an empty netter, and the home team was booed off the ice for losing their fifth in a row.  An 0-2 loss would do that.  Here's my recap, fraught with frustration at a team that actually did the right things and still lost.  For the opposition's perspective, here's a recap by Ary M at Silver Seven.

The Goal: For the love of all that is good and beautiful in the world, make some passes.   This whole season, it seems this is their biggest issue.  It explains why the defense is forced to get clearances and brace themselves for offense. It explains why the offense generates such little offense, even when they gain the opposition's zone.  It explains why eight out of their last nine regulation periods were so dang hard to watch.   The Devils should look at tape from the last Devils-Senators game to see what that looks like and try to execute that.  If the gameplan devolves to "hope our goalie stops nearly everything and we get a goal or two somehow," then it's more likely the masses will leave the Rock in disappointment.

Seriously, Make Some Passes!: Yesterday, even Tom Gulitti noticed a disturbing stat regarding the team's shooting - both for and against.  Here's the relevant bit from this post at Fire & Ice:

In going 7-5-2 since head coach Pete DeBoer was fired on Dec. 26 and replaced by the three-man coaching committee of Lamoriello, Scott Stevens and Adam Oates, the Devils have averaged only 20.5 shots on goal per game and allowed 30.5 per game. Prior to the coaching change, the Devils were averaging 25.9 shots on goal per game and allowing 30.6 per game.

First thought: No, this team really hasn't turned a corner.  Second thought:  The relatively good results aren't going to last if this doesn't change.  Third thought: It's not an accident that the low event hockey team that gives up so much can't muster enough of a response.

Fourth thought: Maybe this can improve given that the Senators have been all about giving up shots in 2014-15.  At even strength, their shots against per 60 rate is 32.5 according to War on Ice, which is the third highest rate in the league.  It's not so much the fault of their top pairing, Marc Methot and Erik Karlsson.  Teams have been picking on the likes of Chris Phillips, Mark Boroweicki, Jared Cowen and Cody Ceci as their shot against numbers at War on Ice suggest. Coincidentally, that was the rest of their blueline given their pairings against Arizona according to Left Wing Lock. (It also seems familiar given the Devils' D beyond Adam Larsson & Andy Greene, and no, Jon Merrill hasn't been good.) After looking at War on Ice's shorthanded stats, they've been better (and right ahead of New Jersey) but a 53.6 shots against per 60 rate still suggests shots can be had when they're down a man (or more).  Regardless, this is a defense that leaves a lot to be desired beyond their first pairing, the forwards don't boast anyone all that notable from a defensive standpoint, and perhaps the Devils can take advantage of all of that.

Fifth thought: I saw the last three games live and in person.  I am not so confident of that unless they make some passes within and through all three zones with at least a decent rate of success.  If they can do that, they can make it a long night for the non-Karlsson defense.

No Anderson Repeat: Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun tweeted on Monday that Craig Anderson will not play tonight.  And neither will Chris Phillips, which may be a plus since Phillips is, shall we say, Salvador-esque.  Anyway, the team confirmed Robin Lehner will start in net. While Lehner had himself a nice enough game against Arizona (two goals allowed on 37 shots), he's been the lesser goalie in Ottawa's tandem. Whereas Anderson has an even strength save percentage on par with Cory Schneider and a super penalty kill save percentage, Lehner is below average at evens and (I think) about average on the PK. Either way, I don't think Lehner stands on his head tonight.  Combined with Ottawa conceding a lot of shots all season long, and a team that can move the puck well against them will have opportunities.  Maybe the Devils can be that team?  Maybe? Please?

By the by, Gulitti confirmed at Fire & Ice yesterday what should surprise no one: Cory Schneider will start this game for New Jersey.  Maybe he'll get some goal support? Maybe he'll get some shot support?  Maybe? Please?

Potential Changes for NJ: That same article by Gulitti had Lou saying the coaches are considering putting Eric Gelinas back in the lineup.  I would be fine with him coming in for either Peter Harrold or Mark Fraser, who did not practice on Monday per this short report by Gulitti. That's not so much out of a real desire to see Gelinas, but out of being sick of seeing Harrold have seemingly constant adventures with the puck and Fraser just be in over his head.  I'll take either out for #22 at this juncture.

Curiously, that article doesn't mention a similar consideration for Michael Ryder.  And I thought he was in a doghouse under Peter DeBoer. Woof.  Based on the lines Gulitti recorded, it appears that since the Devils won, then there's no reason to change the forwards.  Can I at least have this change: Adam Henrique for Jordin Tootoo on power plays? Maybe? Please?

So Many Weapons: What should give Devils fans (and other team's fans!) concerns about tonight's opponents is that they have plenty of offensive talent.   I'm not just saying that because they put seven on Arizona two nights ago. They average a decent number of goals per game (2.77), seven players with at least 26 points, six players with at least twelve goals, and five players with at least a hundred shots on net.   Here's the full list of scorers, but let's run them down quickly.

The leading scorer is currently Bobby Ryan.  Offensive defenseman of excellence, Erik Karlsson, is behind Ryan in points and leads the team in shots with 184 - 61 more shots than the closest Senator, Kyle Turris.  Turris himself is the only one in this group with less than ten goals, but with nine and 27 assists to go with 123 shots, he's certainly making his mark. And he did in the last Devils-Senators game.   Anyway, Mark Stone is fourth in scoring and only has 70 shots, so his stick has been a bit hot.  Mike Hoffman leads Ottawa in goals with seventeen and he's been prolific at shooting with 103 shots on net.  Clarke MacArthur has been a mainstay of Ottawa's top six in recent years and he continues to be useful with thirteen goals and thirteen assists.  Mika Zibanejad rounds out the group with the same number of goals and assists as MacArthur; though Zibanejad is still young and could become better.  Throw in contributions from the bottom six in Milan Michalek and David Legwand as well as Ceci showing that Karlsson isn't the only defenseman on the team that can attack and this is a pretty good group of attack.

This array of scorers allows the Senators to mix up their lines to make match-ups more difficult.   You can see it based on the lines at Left Wing Lock for Ottawa from Monday's practice. Stone was with Michalek and Legwand; Turris was in between Hoffman and rising young forward Curtis Lazar; and Zibanejad was right in between MacArthur and Ryan.  Should a unit not function as well as intended or a match-up goes south, then head coach Dave Cameron can make some fun switches.  Like putting Turris in between Ryan and MacArthur.  Or sliding Stone up to play with Hoffman.  Zibanejad can be moved around.  When offensive players have been producing, it opens up options that can make a team more difficult to play against.   The trick will be getting these forwards to play more defense.  They can't attack from the back-end, but it's been a real challenge for the Devils to get teams pinned back what with their issues with puck movement and control.

Lastly: Seriously, make some passes and it'll be easier to be competitive in a hockey game in the National Hockey League.

Your Take: The Devils will continue their homestand and try to pick up another positive result.  Do you think they will do that? Will they do so without being so terribly difficult on their goaltender and/or the fans who paid money to see it?  Who do you expect to have a big game for the Devils?  How about the Senators? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.  Thank you for reading.