Wrestlemania is tonight. A squash match may be at The Rock, though.
The Time: 7:00 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (31-32-12) vs. the Anaheim Ducks (48-22-7, Anaheim Calling)
The Last Devils Game: On Saturday night, the Devils visited Carolina. This turned out to be an up-tempo game between the two teams. The Devils got into some early penalty trouble, but not only did they escape but they scored on their lone power play of the night. Mike Cammalleri denied a clearance by Ron Hainsey and took a quick shot towards the net. Patrik Elias re-directed it past Cam Ward for a 1-0 lead. Keith Kinkaid was tested early on and often, particularly in the second period when the top two lines by Carolina had some extended shifts on offense. The Canes would get their equalizer late in the period. Off a 3-on-2 rush, Jeff Skinner slid a cross-ice pass to a wide open Chris Terry. Terry recovered the puck and picked the top corner inside the far post to make it 1-1. Would the Devils respond? Not really. Nine seconds into the third period, Eric Staal beat Damon Severson to a short rebound off a Ryan Murphy shot and put in that short rebound. The Canes continued to attack and got an important insurance goal from Justin Faulk, a low blast that perhaps Kinkaid should've stopped. As time wore down, the Devils tried to get back into the game, but they couldn't get much on Cam Ward - certainly not enough to make up two goals. The Devils lost 1-3 and deserved to do so. My recap of the loss is here.
The Last Ducks Game: Earlier on Saturday, the Ducks visited the New York Islanders. A win would clinch a playoff spot for the Western Conference leaders. Frederik Andersen was in net for the Ducks and he was quite good, particularly during a 3-on-5 situation in the second period. The Ducks conceded a lot of turnovers, but Andersen bailed out the team on most of them. The Ducks got off to a scoring start with a goal by Rickard Rakell. However, the Isles found an equalizer later in the first period from Lubomir Visnovsky. It wouldn't be long before the Ducks scored again. Early in the second period, Kyle Palmieri tapped a puck around Michal Neuvirth to make it 2-1. Later in the second, Andrew Cogliano made it 3-1 to give the Ducks some more breathing room. In the third period, the Isles pushed to get back into the game. Casey Cizikas made that possible with a goal to make it a one-shot game for the final five minutes. But Andersen held on to give the Ducks a 3-2 win, keeping them in first place in the Western Conference and earning them a playoff spot. Here is Chris Kober's recap at Anaheim Calling.
The Last Devils-Ducks Game: Back on January 16, the Devils visited the Ducks as part of their road trip through California. Whereas the Los Angeles game went well, this went the opposite. Cory Schneider got stunned by a high shot early in the first period. That may or may not have contributed to Corey Perry scoring a goal that perhaps Schneider should've stopped. Martin Havlat provided a power play goal to even up the score later in the first, though the signs were clear: Anaheim would be able to do whatever they'd like. Schneider finished the first, but was pulled from the game out of concern for a potential injury after the period. The Ducks then turned it up for four straight goals, two in each successive period. Hampus Lindholm and Jakub Silfverberg scored minutes apart in the second period to put Anaheim ahead. In the third period, Patrick Maroon and Silfverberg each tacked one more on as the Devils got crushed. It was a 1-5 loss, another bad loss in a season full of them, as I wrote in my recap. For the opposition's perspective, Chris Kober noted how the Ducks cruised to victory in his recap at Anaheim Calling.
The Goal: Try to play competitive hockey. Too often, effort will be disguised by how hard one skates, how many hits there are, and how much energy is extended trying to do things. The Devils gave a lot of this last night in Carolina and still managed to get out-shot 22-32, out-attempted 53-64, and out-scored 1-3. Repeating the same thing over and over expecting different results is a poor choice. So the Devils need to change how they approach this game as opposed to the Canes. The Ducks have better players up front, in the back, and in net than the Canes. They have an incentive to win, too. I don't think the Devils have a great chance to break their losing streak tonight, but I want to see them not get squashed. This requires making good reads on defense, all five players contributing on defense, and a
What We Know for New Jersey: As Keith Kinkaid got the start in Carolina, Cory Schneider should get the start tonight. Schneider has proven without a shadow of a doubt that there should be no shadows of doubts of his performance. He'll be fine. It's everyone else on the team that should draw some concern. Given that the team hasn't made sweeping changes to their lineup, I wouldn't suddenly expect them now.
The Scratched: Here's who didn't play in Carolina: Stefan Matteau, Martin Havlat, Michael Ryder, and Peter Harrold. Havlat and Ryder have continued to be scratches, so I don't anticipate them coming in unless necessary. While Harrold was moved to defense, I fear he'll stay sitting unless someone gets hurt on D. Even in spite of Mark Fraser taking two avoidable penalties in the first period. Matteau, on the other hand, was called up but sat the past few games. I don't think they called him up to sit for too long. Therefore, I think the co-coaches may make some room for him to be involved tonight. I wouldn't complain about seeing him spell Tuomo Ruutu or (better and more unlikely yet) Dainius Zubrus for a game. We'll see.
The Ducks as a Team: The Ducks keep getting results. As a result, they have an awesome record. Per the team stats at War on Ice, they haven't been exceptional at even strength but they have been good. Their team CF% is 51.4%, which isn't one of the best but not bad either. They are not shooting or making saves at an exceptional percentage, although a 8.2% shooting percentage is one of the better ones in the league. Their special teams don't appear to be all that impressive with 16.4% of all power plays converted and 80.4% of all penalty kills being successful. Nevertheless, they continue to generally out-shoot, out-attempt, and out-score their competition. It's a lame conclusion, but they just continue to take care of business and, clearly, business has been very good for Anaheim.
The Ducks' Dangerous Players: The team stats may not wow you, but some of the players absolutely will. Up front, the Ducks are led by the powerful duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Getzlaf lead the Ducks in points with 23 goals, 44 assists, and 181 shots. He usually has Perry on his wing. Perry is the Ducks' leading goal-scorer with 32, which looks nice next to 20 assists and 183 shots. These two face tough competition regularly and they do well from a possession standpoint. Clearly, they've done very well from a production standpoint. According to Left Wing Lock, Jiri Sekac was on their wing in their last game. Sekac hasn't played all that much, much less produced all that much. But with Getzlaf and Perry drawing attention, he could factor in tonight. As the Devils have continued to use Patrik Elias' line (Adam Henrique, Elias, Stephen Gionta), Andy Greene, and Adam Larsson against the other team's best players in recent games, I would expect those five to get a lot of Getzlaf's unit.
Of course, the Ducks are more than just one line. Ryan Kesler has anchored their second line throughout the season. Kesler has 19 goals, 27 assists, and 197 shots; his production is nothing to sneeze at. He's always been a solid two-way center, so the Devils will see him in a variety of situations. Per Left Wing Lock, he was in between Matt Beleskey and Kyle Palmieri. Both are solid wingers who have chipped more than just a handful of goals. Palmieri has 14 goals, 14 assists, and 102 shots this season. Beleskey has the more interesting stat-line of 22 goals, 10 assists, and 142 shots. It's a solid second line and whoever they draw from New Jersey will provide a challenge for the Devils.
Among their depth, one has to pay attention to the fact that Jakub Silfverberg, Andrew Cogliano, Patrick Maroon, and Rickard Rakell have provided their own fair share of points this season. The Ducks are strong in the middle down all four lines, and they can create as well as finish plays. This could give the Devils plenty of problems, even if they handle the Getzlaf line well.
On the blueline, the Ducks have tried many defenders but they've been good about using Francois Beauchemin against the toughest competition per War on Ice, followed by Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, and Sami Vatanen. It's a solid enough group, and a few of those names can and will be threat on offense. Fowler has been productive by way of playing a lot with the Ducks' top forwards; his seven goals and 24 assists is proof of that involvement. Beauchemin, well, he's not there for his offense but he's valuable in his own end against difficult competition. The other two defenders are more notable. Vatanen is fourth on the team in points with 12 goals, 25 assists, and 105 shots. Lindholm has just got ahead his rookie season's production with seven goals, 26 assists, and 101 shots. Both can jump up on plays as well as fire away from distance. It's not clear whether he'll play tonight. Trade deadline acquisition James Wisniewski played in his place against the Islanders and with Simon Despres as a partner. Wisniewski was very productive and effective for Columbus; if he gets going, Anaheim is that much more threatening from the back.
Again, the Ducks may not have impressive team stats, but most of their skaters are worth knowing and watching. That's reflective of a squad with one of the best records in the league.
But In Net for Anaheim...: Frederik Andersen has been the primary man in the net for Anaheim this season. As Kober alluded to in his recap, there apparently was hints of a goaltender controversy. Andersen's even strength save percentage of 91.9% isn't bad. It's not nearly as good as the #2 guy, John Gibson, who has an even strength save percentage of 92.7%. Andersen does have the superior penalty kill save percentage this season; but I can see how Gibson getting more stops at evens could lead some Ducks fans to wish he'd get more starts. But Andersen did well against the Isles, he's done fairly well this season, and so he remains the primary man. As he started in Long Island, I would think the Devils will get Gibson tonight.
An Anaheim Incentive: Believe it or not, clinching a playoff spot shouldn't be enough for the Ducks. They didn't get this far with a mindset of "just getting into the playoffs." Nobody in the Pacific Division will catch him, but there's meaning to winning the conference standings. They're just a point ahead of Nashville, which would mean a first round match-up with the second wild card team. Currently, that's Winnipeg. The first wild card team could be Minnesota or Chicago; a considerably more difficult opponent. That's something for the Ducks to shoot for; therefore, I'd expect them to continue the effort to take first in the West. In other words, don't expect the Ducks to take it easy on the Devils regardless of the fact that both teams played yesterday.
The Next Two Weeks: This game kicks off the final two weeks for the New Jersey Devils season. Should the Devils lose, they'll be mathematically eliminated from a postseason most us knew wasn't happening back in December. Their schedule: Anaheim tonight, at Columbus, vs. Montreal, at Rangers, vs. Rangers, at Tampa Bay, and at Florida. I don't see a winning record coming out of that schedule. Expect this losing streak to continue further.
Your Take: A repeat of the last Devils-Ducks game is entirely possible. I hope this doesn't turn into a squash and that it's a more competitive hockey game. Will I be right? Can the Devils quell the Getzlaf & Perry connection? Will Anaheim's center depth and defensemen give the Devils too many headaches to handle? Will the Devils overcome the fatigue from an up-tempo game against the Canes to keep up with Anaheim tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.