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Game Preview #47: New Jersey Devils vs. Calgary Flames

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The New Jersey Devils return home and seek to put up a better performance as the Calgary Flames begin their road trip. This game preview goes in depth with a certain Cammalleri returning to the lineup and what the Flames do and don't have.

We could see this completely routine play by Kris Russell and Travis Zajac again...tonight!
We could see this completely routine play by Kris Russell and Travis Zajac again...tonight!
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

A return home.  Or is it #ReturningHome? Hashtags, at-signs, and more. It's Social Media Night.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (22-19-5) vs. the Calgary Flames (20-20-3; SBN Blog: Matchsticks and Gasoline)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils played an afternoon game in Arizona just this past Saturday. It got off to a good start. Travis Zajac sprung Reid Boucher to lead a 2-on-1 with Lee Stempniak.  Boucher played Stempniak into the zone, Stempniak passed it back, and Boucher beat Anders Lindback with a shortside shot to make it 1-0.  Then the penalties and the domination came.  It wasn't until the second period that the Coyotes just pummeled the Devils repeatedly.  The ice was simply tilted in one direction.  Who kept the game 1-0? Cory Schneider, as crucial as ever.  At the start of the third period, the Devils would make one attack.  On the very first shift, Adam Henrique forechecked on a dump-in to allow Joseph Blandisi to get the puck. He found Kyle Palmieri wide open at the left post, who made it 2-0. The Coyotes responded by dropping more hammers on the Devils' skaters and throwing every possible test at Schneider.  He got the breaks, the blocks, and everything that got to him.  The Devils were out-shot 38-16 and out-attempted 95-31, but they prevailed in a 2-0 victory thanks to #35. My recap of the less-than-impressive-other-than-Schneider-win is here.

The Last Flames Game: On this past Saturday night, the Flames visited their provincial rivals, the Edmonton Oilers. If you didn't like defense, then this was your game as the shots were 37-32 in favor of the Oilers. If you hated power plays, then you loved the Flames going 0-for-5 and the Oilers going 0-for-1.  If you like those things and a tight score, then this really was your game.  Sam Bennett continued his goal scoring streak with his sixth goal in three games at the 10:41 mark into the third period.  The goal held up until about mid-way through the third period. Mark Fayne fired a wrister off an offensive zone faceoff win that just found its way high past Jonas Hiller.  The deadlock held through overtime (despite Calgary getting a power play) and a shootout would decide this edition of the Battle of Alberta.  Teddy Purcell became the hero of the night as he was the only one to score among all six shooters. That meant Edmonton beat Calgary, 2-1 via a shootout.  Over at Matchsticks and Gasoline, markparkinson14 had this recap.

The Last Devils-Flames Game: Back on November 18, 2015, the Devils visited the Flames.  This would be the first of a three game road trip through Western Canada.  The Flames got off to the better start in the first period.  T.J. Brodie lit the lamp first on a shot that Cory Schneider probably would like to have back.  Minutes later, Matt Stajan jammed in a puck on a play that began with a mishap by Schneider at handling a dump-in.  The Devils appeared to have hope in the second period.  Bobby Farnham jammed in a loose puck of his own for his third of the season and made the score 1-2.  Alas, Calgary got the two goal lead back when a turnover by Henrique yielded Joe Colborne setting up Dave Jones for a one-timer.  A few minutes after that, Jordin Tootoo was found open enough in the slot by Lee Stempniak to convert a power play to make it 2-3.   Would the Devils battle back to tie it up? No. The Flames controlled the game from then on and the Devils' offense just kept coming up lame.  The hope fizzled as time went on and the score held for a 2-3 Devils loss.  Brian stayed up that night and wrote the recap for that game at this very site. Over at Matchsticks and Gasoline, Traci Kay had this more favorable recap.

The Goal: Actually challenge the goaltender. The Devils' shot count from all of their games in January so far, from the first game to the last game against Arizona: 30, 22, 20, 20, 17, 24, 27, 16.   Only two of those games have exceeded their 24.4 shots per game average.  Needless to say, the team's marketing slogan is at least a third wrong. That said, if there's a night to try to be more aggressive, then this is the one.  Calgary still has a team 5-on-5 save percentage of 91.1%, the worst even strength save percentage in the league per War on Ice. Calgary still has a shorthanded save percentage of 82.5%, the worst in the league per War on Ice. According to this Sunday post by Scott Cruickshank at the Calgary Herald, Jonas Hiller will start this game.  While Hiller had a very good game in Edmonton with 36 saves on 37 shots, he's rocking an 89.8% even strength save percentage and an abysmal 75.6% penalty kill save percentage this season according to NHL.com. It's not as simple as get something like thirty shots and they'll win.  However, the Devils have to do a better job of making their opponents defense. They have to force their goaltender to be great. The numbers for this season show that Hiller and other Flames goalies have been anything but.  Therefore, I think it's important for them to make the effort and fire away more. I think they'll then get the goals they need to take this one.

A Secondary Benefit for The Goal: Doing so will help "Crucial" Cory Schneider out.  As amazing as he was in Arizona, the game plan of getting tripled in shooting attempts and more than doubled up in shots isn't going to lead to a lot of success.  Spending the better part of two periods scrambling around like headless chickens in their own end is not at all a good thing for New Jersey Devils. As good as Schneider is, he's not perfect.  They should make the effort to essentially avoid asking Schneider to be perfect yet again.  By forcing the issue to Calgary, it'll give Schneider and the defenders some time to breathe.

A Tertiary Benefit for The Goal: It'll make this game go differently than the last one.  The Devils put up a weak twenty shots against a similarly goal-sieve like Flames team.  A mere five shots in a one-shot third period isn't good enough.  It's worse than that as the Devils conceded twelve shots.  It may not really surprise me that the Devils have this tendency to not play to the score.  It still irks me.  By pushing forward and attacking more, they'll at least avoid a repeat of the last game.

Who Can Help Make That Goal Happen? This Guy: Mike Cammalleri.  Yes, Cammalleri is expected to return. According to this post on Monday's practice by Gulitti and this post-practice post also by Gulitti at Fire & Ice, Cammalleri did participate and should play in this game.  I am thrilled at this news.

Allow me to re-introduce you all to Cammalleri.  Cammalleri has missed eight games and he's still the team leader in points. Stempniak tied him in assists and only Kyle Palmieri has surpassed him in shots, and only Henrique and Palmieri have more goals.  I've written a few posts on his production earlier in this season that show his points have been mostly legitimate and his passes have crossed the royal road more than any other Devil in the first quarter of this season. Cammalleri has been missed a lot on offense.  While it's his first game back, I fully expect him to get back to his prolific shot creating and shot taking ways in no time.

Based on what Gulitti reported at practice, it appears head coach John Hynes will re-unite Cammalleri with Adam Henrique and Lee Stempniak.  This would be a very good decision.  Henrique and Stempniak have contributed more to Cammalleri's shots in the first quarter of this season than any other Devil. The line has been effective from early in the season and I think both Henrique and Stempniak suffered from his absence. I look forward to this reunion making something happen - starting tonight.

A Healthier Squad? Well, Not So Fast: Cammalleri was not the only Devil to return to practice. Jacob Josefson also practiced and slotted in where Kyle Palmieri would be next to Zajac per Gulitti. That also means Palmieri wasn't there, which is not necessarily good news.  He left the Arizona game for a bit after falling on his arm during a first period power play and he limped to the bench after blocking a shot with his knee near the final minute of the game.  There is good news: Palmieri is expected to play. Josefson, on the other hand, will not.   I would anticipate Palmieri to play with Zajac. As far as who would be at left wing, that's up in the air. It could be Reid Boucher as he was against Arizona.  It could be Joseph Blandisi who has played relatively well on the team's road trip.  It could even be Sergey Kalinin as he's better at wing than center.

However, just as the Devils are getting a bit healthier, another player hits the injured list. Jon Merrill has been ruled out from this game with an apparent "upper body injury" according to Gulitti. With John Moore back and Eric Gelinas having been available, the Devils won't need to call up any defensemen.   They have six. That should also mean the team will use twelve forwards tonight, something they didn't go with for the last two games.

What Calgary Doesn't Have: Per The Goal section, the Flames' goaltending has been a massive issue all season.  According to War on Ice, the Flames have shot at a potent 8.2% and they have 81 5-on-5 goals.  They rank in the upper tier in the league in both stats. Alas, their goaltending woes mean they've allowed 91 5-on-5 goals, the second most in the NHL.  Their possession isn't great at 47.6% CF%, but after the last two Devils games, I'm not putting a whole lot of stock in the notion that the Devils could take advantage of that.  By the way, the Devils' performance in Arizona dropped them to the second lowest CF% in the league at 46.6%.  Yaaaaaaay.

Calgary also doesn't have special teams success.  It's more than just going 0-for-5 on the power play against a hated rival in their most recent game.  The Flames' power play conversion rate is a mere 13.9% according to NHL.com. They have the fewest power play goals in the league at 19. With four shorthanded goals allowed, they have the lowest goal differential at +15.  They rank much better in power play opportunities with 137.  It helps that they have Sam Bennett, who leads the NHL in penalty differential with a mighty +18 per War on Ice. The Devils should watch their sticks around the young forward.  Yet, they have not taken advantage enough times from his drawn calls or anyone else's.  Other teams have been taking advantage of Calgary's fouls, though.  Their success rate on the PK is 74.3%, the lowest in the NHL per NHL.com. The good news is that they're actually closer to the league median with 27 goals allowed. The even better news is that they've been the most relatively disciplined team in the league with only 101 shorthanded situations, the fewest in the NHL.  Yet, when they do go down a man, a goal happening isn't uncommon.  Not that I expect the Devils' power play to break their seven game power play goalless streak tonight because it's been so bad. But if there's a night to make it happen, then this is a good one.

Lastly, Calgary doesn't have road success. Their 6-11-3 record is the second worst road record in the NHL prior to Monday's games being played.  For whatever reason, Calgary is just less successful when traveling.  With the Pacific Division being as it is, a few extra wins can put this team into a kind of playoff contention.  As they're starting a four-game road trip tonight, this is an opportunity to make up for lost ground earlier in the season.  Fortunately for them and unfortunately for us Devils fans, the Rock has been closer to a pile of sand for New Jersey.  Their 9-10-3 home record is in the bottom-five in the NHL.  Still, the Flames have been lacking away from the Saddledome.

What Calgary Does Have: Calgary has a better defense than you may think.  Despite a ~47% Corsi for percentage, the Flames have a better Fenwick (unblocked attempts) for percentage (48.6%, 40.6 FA/60) and a better shots for percentage (49.1%, 28.9 SA/60). Maybe Calgary's scorer counts blocks more than they occur?  I don't know.  But this isn't a team that just concedes a lot of shots; they're not Colorado or Arizona.  This is largely in part of their first pairing on defense: Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie.  Giordano has put up Norris-worthy seasons recently only to be denied votes due to injuries. Brodie is not at all shabby himself. The two log about 25 minutes per game, they both have produced quite a few points (third and fifth on the team in scoring, respectively), and they both come out well in possession in the face of tough minutes and tough zone starts. Should the Devils want to break down Calgary to get at Hiller, then they'll be wise to pick on their other defenders.  Players like Deryk Engelland, Kris Russell, and forcing Dennis Wideman to play defense should be the targets.  Yet, they haven't played like pylons or one-way roads to the net either.

Calgary has young scoring talent.  Johnny Gaudreau is the most successful New Jerseyan playing in the NHL right now. With nineteen goals and twenty four assists, Gaudreau leads Calgary in scoring, he is averaging a point per game and he is in a four-way tie for eighth in the entire league in scoring.  No one else from NJ is doing better than Johnny Hockey.  And he's only 22, so he's going to make a lot of Flames fans happy for a long time.  He's clearly a threat for tonight.  Per Left Wing Lock's lines from Calgary's recent practice, expect Gaudreau to be centered by 21-year old Sean Monahan.  Monahan has jumped into the NHL right from 2013 NHL Draft and has been a goal scorer for the Flames. While thirteen now puts him a bit off pace from the thirty-one he had last year, he remains second on Calgary in scoring and he's second in shots only to Gaudreau.  The two of them can and will work well together; the Devils will need to monitor that line.  On a separate line, there's Sam Bennett.  I noted his awesomely high penalty differential. Also note his statline of eleven goals and nine assists.  Six of those goals have come in his last three games, with a four-spot dropped on Florida last week.  It may be only three games, but I would want the Devils to treat him like he's a hot player.  And, again, watch their sticks around the 19-year old wearing #93.   With these three plus any continued development out of Dougie Hamilton (six goals, eleven assists, can definitely chip in from the back), Calgary's future on offense looks pretty good.

Lastly, Calgary has secondary scoring.  While Jiri Hudler possibly not playing, the team still has Michael Frolik (seven goals, ten assists, 78 shots), Mikael Backlund (five goals, twenty assists, 81 shots), and a defense with plenty of productive players (the aforementioned Brodie and Giordano, Wideman, and Hamilton each has at least seventeen points). While Matt Stajan, Dave Jones, Josh Jooris, and Michael Ferland may not have produced a lot, they can make life a little difficult for the Devils' soft bottom six.  Ferland may be one to watch if he stays up with Gaudreau and Monahan, though.  For tonight, the match-ups may not be entirely in New Jersey's favor. Not that they have been for most of this month.

What this all means is that despite the possession issues, the graver special teams and goaltending issues, and the road issues, Calgary has quite a few things going their way.  If they can get some road wins and some improvement in those issues, then they could surprise some teams in the Pacific. Will they be bold enough to try to get that improvement? Well, we'll see.  I think how they do on this road trip will go a long way for their management in making that decision.   Let's hope the Devils make it a miserable start for them all the same.

One Last Thought: "Crucial" Cory Schneider is starting per Gulitti and that's better than any hashtag slogan.

Your Take: The Devils will play their penultimate home game this month against the Flames.  What do you think will happen? Will the Devils play any better than they did in Arizona? Will they actually attack Hiller? What do you make of Calgary?  Will this game go better than the last Flames-Devils game? Lastly, if you're reading this then you're probably inclined to use social medial, so do you care that it's Social Media Night?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.  Thank you for reading.