Will the Devils make it four in a row?
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 880 AM WCBS
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (21-22-9) at the Montreal Canadiens (32-15-3; SBN Blog: Eyes On The Prize)
The Last Devils Game: The Devils defeated the Maple Leafs 4-1 last night for their third straight win. First, congrats to Patrik Elias on his 400th career goal! As John recapped, the Devils didn't play well but they did play better than they have in previous games. Despite being out-shot and out-attempted the Devils were much more efficient in their passing and transition game which helped them put up four goals on the Maple Leafs. The Devils also did well to prevent the Leafs from having a lot of quality chances and the usual brilliance of Cory Schneider meant that the Leafs were in for a long night. Tuomo Ruutu, Patrik Elias, the recently hot Steve Bernier, and the legendary Jaromir Jagr all scored - though Jagr's was essentially an empty netter as James Reimer was unable to make it to the bench for the extra attacker and was left in no-man's land. It still may not have been an ideal performance but a win is a win.
The Last Canadiens Game: Montreal fell to Buffalo 3-2 on Tuesday night. Eyes on the Prize has this recap for the game. Brandon Prust had the first Canadiens goal as he came out of the penalty box and one-timed a David Desharnais pass to the back of the net on a 2v1. Desharnais would score the other goal for Montreal but they would come up short against a struggling Sabres team. The Canadiens out-shot the Sabres 34-18 and out-attempted them 92-40! Hopefully the Devils can keep things a bit more even tonight.
The Last Devils-Canadiens Game: The Devils lost to the Canadiens 4-2 on January 2. Here is John's recap of the game in which the Devils only were competitive for one period. The Devils found themselves behind by two goals after the first two periods of play thanks to goals by Michael Bournival and Max Pacioretty. Bournival opened the final period up with a goal that was quickly answered by a rare Michael Ryder goal. Mike Cammalleri would get the Devils second goal later in the period, putting in his own rebound, but it ended up being too little, too late. Tomas Plekanec would eventually score an empty net goal in the final minute to seal the victory for Montreal. The Devils did manage to keep the shots (26-24 MTL) and attempts (43-41 MTL) close.
The Goal: Make life difficult for Carey Price. Easier said than done but when your facing the guy that leads the league in SV% (.932) you have to create chances in the scoring chance area and in transition to get the puck past him. Last night the Devils had less shots and attempts than the Maple Leafs but managed to generate 19 chances in the scoring chance area according to War-On-Ice. If they can carry over their improved passing and transition game tonight, then they have a chance to get the puck past Price. Besides creating quality chances off of passes, I'd look for a player like Steve Bernier to cause chaos in front of the net and try to find a garbage goal.
Canadiens Forwards: Here are the lines from the most recent Canadiens game according to Left Wing Lock. As you can see from the player usage chart on War-On-Ice, the Canadiens like to deploy forwards like Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, David Desharnais, P.A. Parenteau, and the promising Jacob De La Rose in offensive situations. Tomas Plekanec stands out as a guy that takes on tough competition with slightly less favorable zone starts.
Pacioretty leads the Canadiens in goals (23) and points (41). Plekanec is the assist leader (20) and third on the team in points (33). Galchenyuk (34), Gallagher (27), and Desharnais (27) are other players that have been producing for the Canadiens. As you would expect, all of those players are amongst the team's best in possession and scoring chances.
Canadiens Defensemen: Here are the pairings from the most recent Canadiens game according to Left Wing Lock. The top pair is anchored by P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov and they also lead the D corps in scoring with 33 and 27 points respectively. That should come as no surprise given their skill and favorable zone starts as you can see via the War-On-Ice player usage chart. It appears that Nathan Beaulieu and Sergei Gonchar are a pair as well as Alexei Emelin and Tom Gilbert. Obviously, Subban is the big challenge both offensively and defensively for the Devils.
A Perfect Storm?: Could this be a night where the Devils get shutout? As I mentioned earlier, Carey Price leads the league in SV% at .932. According to Hockey Reference, he's also tied for 4th in the league in Quality Starts with 21 which makes up 60% of his starts. It's not a surprise that their Goals Saved Above Average metric has him in 1st place with a 22.19 number - well ahead of 2nd place. Montreal also has the 5th best penalty kill at 84.4% so it's not like the Devils can expect an easy ride should they earn some power plays.
Making Them Count: The Devils have only put up 20+ shots once in their last 5 games. Yet, lately they seem to be getting good results due to timely scoring and strong goaltending. Tonight, I'd expect them to once again get out-shot and out-attempted but the real question is, how efficient can they be in their passing game? A solid passing game can catch the defense out of position and lead to tough angles for the opposing goaltender to defend against. Last night, the Devils were so effective offensively due to their efficiency in generating shots on goal off their passes. ILWT's own Ryan Stimson found the Devils had a 73% SAGE which is crazy good but a reflection on the quality of competition. It's going to be much tougher to do that against a competent team like Montreal.
Kinkaid Starting: Tom Gulitti confirmed last night that Keith Kinkaid would get the start at the Bell Centre. The 25 year-old rookie is enjoying a solid season in which he has played in 10 games, started 5, has gone 2-3-3 with 3 quality starts, a .919 SV%, 2.34 GAA, 93 GA%-, and 1.31 GSAA (stats via Hockey Reference). Kinkaid last appeared a week ago when he made 26 saves on 27 shots against the Panthers to earn a win.
Your Take: Do you think the Devils extend their winning streak? What type of hockey will they display tonight? What matchups are you looking forward to seeing? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!