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New Jersey Devils vs. Edmonton Oilers: Game Preview #54

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Tonight, there will be a hockey game between a bad New Jersey Devils team and an even-worse-than-you-think Edmonton Oilers team. This game preview explains how bad Edmonton is and guesses what NJ might do for tonight.

It would be great to see Adam Henrique breakaway from Justin Schultz and score again.  Like he did just after this photo was taken in November.
It would be great to see Adam Henrique breakaway from Justin Schultz and score again. Like he did just after this photo was taken in November.
Chris LaFrance-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight's opponents are veterans of the draft lottery process.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - WCBS 880 AM

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (21-23-9) vs. the Edmonton Oilers (14-30-9; SBN Blog: The Copper & Blue)

The Last Devils Game: On Saturday night, the Devils took a three-game winning streak up to Montreal.  You know how the Devils have been getting heavily out-shot for the last two weeks or so?  Well, it did the damage on Saturday night as the Canadiens steamrolled the Devils.  The score was favorable to start.  An early shot by Peter Harrold was re-directed into the net by Mike Cammalleri for an early goal.  Keith Kinkaid stood on his head to preserve the lead as his skaters gave him seemingly as little support as possible.  Eventually, Montreal would break through thanks to Dainius Zubrus breaking some blood vessels with a high-stick on P.K. Subban.  Andrei Markov scored on the first minor and Lars Eller scored on the second minor, both with massive one-timers.  The Canadiens kept rolling and late in the period, Harrold was called for a hook.  In the dying seconds of the period,  Tomas Plekanec missed one a one-timer but didn't miss on a second one-timer attempt to make it 1-3.  The Devils would make it a one-goal game early in the third against the run of play.  Tuomo Ruutu played Jacob Josefson perfectly past the defense and Josefson beat Carey Price on a backhand.  But Montreal re-established dominance in possession and then the lead itself.  An uncovered Plekanec scored on an angle to make it 2-4 after a long attacking shift by Montreal.  Thirty seconds later, Dale Weise got behind Marek Zidlicky and poked in a tiny rebound for make it 2-5.  Later in the period, Max Pacioretty won a race to the puck in the corner and found Weise open in the middle for a point-blank one-timer.  The Devils got out-played and deservedly lost 2-6.  Here's my recap of the reality-inducing loss.

The Last Oilers Game: As the Devils were getting rolled by Montreal, the Oilers visited Toronto.  The Devils recently handed Toronto their eleventh straight winless game.  But tonight would be the end of that streak.  After a scoreless first period that was non-descript at best, the Maple Leafs began the scoring.  Richard Panik converted a power play just before the nine-minute mark.  Just after the halfway mark, Phil Kessel made it 2-0 for Toronto.  A few minutes after that, Morgan Reilly took a puck on defense, led a rush up ice, kept himself, weaved through the Oilers' defense and scored a lovely goal.  The Leafs did not let up in the third period as Mike Santorelli scored within the first minute of the period.  Peter Holland poured on the misery with a goal just before the halfway mark.   Edmonton would get on the board; Luke Gazdic scored with three seconds left in the game to deny James Reimer the shutout.  Edmonton would not deny the Leafs from a big win, though.  They got waxed again, 1-5.  Here's a recap of the loss by OilFanInYYC at The Copper & Blue, which features an audacious quote by Andrew Ference.

The Last Devils-Oilers Game: Way back on November 21, the Devils traveled into Alberta to take on the Oilers.  The first period was hideous for New Jersey.  They got out-attempted by the Oilers 5-25, they struggled to make passes or even clearances, and came away from the period 0-0 thanks to Cory Schneider.  The second period was the exact opposite.  The Devils put the Oilers to the sword and put up nineteen shots on Viktor Fasth.   They would also get two goals.  Steve Bernier played Adam Henrique perfectly into the offensive zone with inside position on Justin Schultz. Henrique easily beat Schultz and then Fasth for a goal.  Minutes later, Eric Gelinas sprung Tuomo Ruutu with a great pass up-ice and Ruutu took in close to put the puck up and over Fasth.   The third period was essentially a repeat of the first period in that the Devils got pinned back way too much and Schneider bailed the team out more than anything.   It would be enough for a 2-0 win. Yes, it was win despite the performance and it does seem familiar given recent events.  My recap of the win is here. For the opposition's perspective, here's Curtis LeBlanc's recap at The Copper & Blue.

The Goal: Make passes and play smart.  The former will allow the Devils to do things like "attack" and "not constantly scramble back to your own end of the rink to defend."  It will help the goaltender not have to put the entire team on his back for long stretches at a time.  It will make the game easier to achieve victory.  Given the state of Edmonton, playing smartly will likely pay off.

How Bad Are The Oilers (And What to Expect), Long Version: In 2014-15, the Oilers aren't actually one of the worst possession teams in hockey.  They're not good, but they're not at the bottom.  They're actually above a bunch of teams, including New Jersey, with a Corsi For percentage of 48.8% at even strength per War on Ice. However, a sub-50% just amplifies the others issues they have.

Starting in net, the team's even strength save percentage is 90.4%, which is the lowest in the NHL according to War on Ice. They don't have a great penalty kill (79% success rate, 22nd in the NHL before Sunday's games) in part by having a team save percentage of 85.5% in shorthanded situations.  Both Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth currently have overall save percentages below 90%. That would be acceptable in the 1980s; not so much in 2015.  Bad goaltending can hinder even the best rosters of skaters.

The Oilers certainly don't have an even average roster of skaters.  While the team is around the league median in average shots against per game, the defense can be remarkably bad at times.  Just look at that Reilly goal for example.  He went around multiple players as if they were pylons.   It's certainly not the first time where the Oilers defenders are just unaware of where they need to be to make a play.   Yet, there's little accountability.  Justin Schultz continues to be used as if he's a top defender when he's really not.  Mark Fayne, who you all know can handle tough competition and tough minutes, is seventh among Oilers defensemen in average ice time.   As noted in the latest recap at the C&B, team captain Andrew Ference has been pointing fingers and more fingers when he really should be looking in a mirror.  Seriously, Ference plays like Bryce Salvador.  (Hint to Devils: Go after him all the time.)  At least Jeff Petry may be able to play tonight according to head coach Todd Nelson via Marc Ciampa of the Oilers' official website. The Oilers may not be leaky as the Buffaloes or Ottawas of the league, but if they get attacked enough times, then the Devils can certainly catch them unaware.

Up front, the Oilers have their biggest threats.   Top draft picks playing significant minutes in offensive situations.  The sort of thing that some think will lead a team to success and, well, the Oilers keep waiting.  What's more, they won't have one of them tonight.  Taylor Hall, who plays a lot like Phil Kessel, is third on the Oilers in scoring and tied for first in shots. He also went back to Edmonton today, as tweeted by the Oilers organization. He didn't play against Toronto.  On top of that, Bob Stauffer noted that Benoit Pouliot - who has eleven goals and six assists in 33 games - wasn't at practice either. Ciampa at the Oilers' official website relayed from the coach that Pouliot is doubtful for tonight.  Their absences loom large for an Oilers team that has one of the lowest power play conversion rates in the league (13%), averages only 27.9 shots per game (I'm a bit jealous, imagine if the Devils averaged that many), and averages fewer goals per game than New Jersey.

Both Hall and Pouliot didn't play in the Toronto game and Ciampa at the Oilers' official website reported there have been no changes at forward in Sunday's practice. I would expect the lines Ciampa reported to be the lines head coach Todd Nelson starts with tonight.  The Devils should be on the lookout for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.  They are the top two scorers on the Oilers and the only two healthy forwards with at least ten goals and over a hundred shots on net this season.  Teddy Purcell played with them on Saturday night, he could do some damage if not accounted for.   Beyond that line, the depth gets thin and fast.   Nail Yakupov hasn't blossomed into the player the Oilers may have hoped. Derek Roy has provided a bit of production (nine points in 17 games) but he can't salvage an entire line.  Leon Draisaitl has been hurt.  Their bottom six is six fourth-liners.  Provided the Devils don't play stupid or concede the puck every other time they touch it, they should be able to contain the Oilers' offense.  Especially with Hall and Pouliot out.

To sum up, the team's goaltending is bad, the defense isn't good, and the offense is hideous beyond their top young players, who haven't been amazingly productive and will likely leave for anywhere else the second they hit free agency.

Lastly, the organization seems to have a cult of personality associated with it.  The Oilers have won a whopping fourteen games (fewest in the league) and only seven under interim head coach Todd Nelson.  Yet, general manager Craig MacTavish thinks things have improved in an interview Derek Zona stated was full of softball questions. MacTavish surely cannot be serious.  Moreover, you'd think the media in Edmonton would be a little tougher on a team that has done nothing of significance in almost a decade, but I guess they like to play along.  After all, after David Perron spoke his mind after the Devils' loss, reports not-so-coincidentally came out that he was on the trading block. And he eventually was traded to Pittsburgh for a first round pick because if there's one thing the Oilers totally need, it's more magic beans draft picks.  Surprisingly, the fans at the C&B hated the deal.  If there's any team that needs a completely fresh start, then it's probably the Oilers because their current plan of "Let's make this a rebuilding year, every year" has kept them drafting high to little avail.  That's why fans write stuff like this. It's a depressing situation where everyone knows the emperor has no clothes, yet he thinks and acts like he's got a fur coat and a three piece suit.

You want the worst case scenario for the Devils' future? This is it and you'll see them tonight.

How Bad Are the Oilers, Short Version: The Buffalo Sabres lost fourteen games in a row and have been the worst Corsi% team by far ever since the statistic was tracked.  And they're only two points behind the Oilers.  Never get into a tank battle with Edmonton.

Day Off for NJ So I'll Guess: Tom Gulitti confirmed on Twitter that the Devils had Sunday off.  They did just play a back-to-back and will have a game tomorrow, so the rest makes some sense.  Therefore, I will guess what the Devils will do.

Most likely, we'll see Cory Schneider start as he's the starter.  He'll probably play well because he's a very good goakltender. I hope he doesn't have to repeat what he did in the last Edmonton game, where he had to be the one to make sure the Devils didn't pay for their failings.  If the co-coaches surprise me and play Keith Kinkaid, that's fine; but he'll definitely get a game by the week's end.

As for the skaters, I'm hoping the big loss to Montreal causes some changes to the lineup.  I'd like to see Eric Gelinas replace one of Peter Harrold or Mark Fraser.  I'm not picky on either; I just don't think Gelinas is so bad defensively that he should remain sitting.  Up at forward, I'd like to see Adam Henrique replace Dainius Zubrus to give the Devils a completely offensive line and for Henrique to replace Jordin Tootoo on the power play because, seriously, Tootoo doesn't help the power play.  I'd also be open to replacing Zubrus entirely with Tuomo Ruutu.  I don't think there's anything Zubrus does that Ruutu can't do.  I wouldn't be unhappy with replacing Michael Ryder with Martin Havlat, though I still feel bad for Travis Zajac not being able to play with Jaromir Jagr and/or Mike Cammalleri.

In general, the skaters just have to pay attention to each other, communicate better, and make an effort to connect their passes. When they're just tossing pucks away to get a clearance or dumping them in, they're just handing the puck away.  Montreal took those pucks and crammed them into New Jersey's collective throat for six goals on Saturday.  The Oilers are definitely nowhere near Montreal's level, but they can be competitive if given the opportunities.  Of course, I've been demanding better from New Jersey in this regard for months now and I haven't quite seen it for more than just an occasional period or game.  I'll keep demanding it because it's the path to getting better as a team.

I fear I won't see any of the changes I guessed and, more importantly, any actual improvement in puck movement. Here's hoping I'm wrong about my fear.

Lastly: It's going to be fun to see what the attendance will be for a Devils-Oilers game on a Monday night.  Not that it was ever going to be hot ticket, but with the Devils being bad and the Oilers being even worse, I'm not expecting a full house. I'm sure the sales team is looking forward to it.  Pro-tip for the suits on the business side: this isn't Edmonton, the fans will not keep showing up for crappy hockey for close to a decade.  Especially as you are raising ticket prices for at least parts of the arena.

Your Take: This should prove to be a game of sorts.  Hopefully, the Devils will be smart from their recent crash-down-to-reality loss and try and take it.  In the meantime, I want to know what you think. What are your expectations for this match-up?  Do you have a better understanding of how bad the Oilers are?  Do you think the Devils can beat them again?  Will you be watching this one?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments.