Welcome back to the Rock for the 2016-17 regular season.
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (0-1-1) vs. the Anaheim Ducks (0-2-1; SBN Blog: Anaheim Calling)
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: On Saturday night, the Devils visited the Tampa Bay Lightning. They also came with two quick goals to start the game. Kyle Palmieri re-directed a shot by John Moore within the first minute. Travis Zajac finished a cross-ice pass off a spin-o-rama by P.A. Parenteau by sliding a shot through Andrei Vasilevskiy’s five hole. Great stuff, right? Unfortunately, the Lightning would strike the Devils multiple times to make up the difference. In the second period, the scoreboard seen Steven Stamkos score to make it 2-1. Minutes later, Alex Killorn registered his second of the season to make it 2-2. Fairly early into the third period, Valterri Filppula legally deflected a shot by Jason Garrison to beat Cory Schneider to make it 2-3. The Devils actually kept up with Tampa Bay shot-for-shot and worked to make it 3-3. They thought they did score a third goal in the second period when Andy Greene finished a pass from Taylor Hall. But Tampa Bay challenged it for offside and it was. The Devils would not be able to beat Vasilevskiy again. And so they lost 2-3 in Tampa. Devin recapped the game here. It was a game where while the shot count was close, the performance wasn’t so close.
The Last Ducks Game: Anaheim went to Brooklyn on Sunday to play the Islanders. Play is a relative term as the Islanders managed to out-shoot the Ducks in a 11-0 run in the first period. They would get three shots - and allow another five to the home team. Brock Nelson opened the game’s scoring amid the domination by the Isles. The Ducks would respond by tipping the rink in New York’s direction by leading 13-5 in shots in the second period. But there would be no other goals until the third period. John Tavares would put the Isles up two goals at 7:59. Less than a minute later, Cam Fowler scored his second of the season to make it 1-2. With a minute left in regulation, Ryan Getzlaf would tie it up and force overtime. Overtime did not last long thanks to Josh Bailey dekeing past two Ducks and rounding John Gibson for a lovely game winning goal. In other words, the Ducks lost 2-3 in OT.
The Goal: Be ready for Anaheim’s attempts at zone exits. If the Devils are prepared for them and force the Ducks into putting in too much work for very little, then they can really help their own offense out. Not that getting 30+ shots will guarantee the Devils will score enough goals to win, but it’ll be a lot easier to do. What do I mean by how the Ducks do it?
A Short Video Why Many Hockey Fans Who Like Analytics Don’t Like Randy Carlyle: Randy Carlyle is Anaheim’s head coach. Here’s a video by Jack Han (@ml_han) that sums up why this was a dubious coaching hire. Go watch it, it’s only two minutes.
As Han pointed out towards the end of the video, the Ducks can be more threatening than they have been with changes in some of their tactics. But they are what they are under Carlyle and so it would behoove the Devils to punish them for relying on the puck getting out of their zone to go their way.
Speaking of, how much of the John Hynes Devils do you see in this video? I don’t know; I admit that recognizing tactics isn’t one of my strengths. But I’m curious.
The Ducks to Know: It’s a shame that the Ducks are set in these ways because they have a lot of talent. They’re not actually at full strength since defenseman Hampus Lindholm is still not signed. Unfortunately, signing him is easier said than done because the Ducks have less than $379,000 in cap space according to CapFriendly. Still, their big dollar players are players that most opposing teams will have to prepare for.
Up top at forward, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are a big challenge to deal with. We’re only three games into the Ducks season and Getzlaf already has 17 shots on net to go with one goal and three assists. He’s been a very productive player for Anaheim in the past and he should figure to be one of their most prolific again in 2016-17. Perry has been a little quieter with only one goal and nine shots in three games. Given that he’s put up over 30 goals in five of the last six seasons (the exception was the lockout-shortened 2013 season), I wouldn’t expect him to stay quiet with him. Per Left Wing Lock, Getzlaf and Perry were together in the Isles game and I don’t see any reason why they would be split up. Those two alone should draw the Devils’ best defensive players and plenty of Cory Schneider’s attention. 20-year old left winger Nick Ritchie will join the two to provide an additional look.
Behind the Getzlaf-Perry connection is an intriguing second line of Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Kelser, and Jakub Silfverberg. Kesler may be on the wrong side of 30 (he’s 32), but he’s still used to go up against the other team’s top lines. These three skaters were first (Kesler), second (Silfverberg), and fourth (Cogliano) in quality of competition by time on ice per Corsica last season. I would suspect we’ll see something similar; they may get to see a lot of Taylor Hall tonight assuming that’s a matchup John Hynes is fine with. Anyway, Kelser could stand to do more on offense; while he has two assists already, he only has two shots on net. His linemates, Cogliano and Silfverberg, have two goals and an assist, respectively, along with nine shots each. It’s a bit quiet for them, but they can provide enough offensive punch following the Getzlaf-Perry connection on the first line.
Behind the forwards are a number of defensemen who can bring it on offense. Cam Fowler’s defense may not be as strong as one may expect for someone who’s an average of over 25 minutes per game in their first three games. But he’s got two goals and ten shots to be an early offensive leader on the Ducks. Sami Vatanen has also featured on offense with 38 points last season and 37 in the season before that. The Ducks committed to him for $19.5 million over four years this summer. If he can keep up that production while still being good in his own end, that’s money well spent. Unfortunately, the Ducks’ cap management has prevented Hampus Lindholm from being a third threat from the back end. It looks like the Ducks will have to move someone (Fowler?) to accommodate Lindholm. We’ll see in time what they do. Still, those two are the names to look for among their blueline.
Lastly, there’s the goaltending duo of John Gibson and Jonathan Bernier. It’s early, so it’s not really worth looking at their numbers just yet. Gibson split time with Frederik Andersen last season. It looks like he’ll get a chance to be the solid #1 for the Ducks. But if he falters - which we should hope happens tonight - then Bernier may force another #1A/#1B situation.
All together, on paper, this isn’t a bad roster. They have legitimate first-line-on-most-teams forwards in Getzlaf and Perry. They have defensemen who can contribute on offense and take plenty of minutes. They have decent goaltending. Give them a smart coach like Bruce Boudreau and they’re a solid squad. With Randy Carlyle, well, you’ve seen the video.
A Curious Change: Andrew Gross’ report at Fire & Ice of the Devils’ practice on Monday shows two changes to the lineup, including one that should raise a few eyebrows. Or at least mine were raised. Miles Wood was replaced on the fourth line by Reid Boucher. I didn’t think Wood did a whole lot in the first two games, so this one didn’t pique my interest. I don’t think Boucher is a good fit on a fourth line, but I suspect John Hynes will move him around as needed. The other change is that Jacob Josefson replaced Pavel Zacha. This confuses me. I thought Zacha was holding his own well at center. At least to a point where I think he’d be more useful right now than Josefson at center. The coaches must have saw something different that they want to try. In conjunction with the fact that Blake Speers - who also did little in his first two games - is still on the roster, I’m not sure what to make of it. Why not take Speers out and put Zacha in his spot? I don’t believe the 19-year old Zacha needs to be in every game; I can understand a night off or two if he’s having a rough time of it out there. But I don’t think he has been, so I don’t understand the decision. Gross reported in this Fire & Ice post that Hynes wants to rotate his younger forwards. I don’t know if that will make the team better for the game, though.
Additionally, Hynes has swapped Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique at center. That means Zajac may start with Taylor Hall and P.A. Parenteau with Henrique in between Mike Cammalleri and Kyle Palmieri. It may work. Hall needs to be supported to succeed and Zajac, who isn’t really a shooter anyway, can do that. When Henrique is on, then that line can provide different looks from three forwards who are pretty good at firing the puck. If things go awry tonight, though, then I would expect a switch back at center. I can support this change more so than sitting Zacha to play Josefson and Speers.
The Return of Kalinin Will Wait: Gross also reported at Fire & Ice that Sergey Kalinin skated with the squad on Monday. While he says he feels good, Hynes ruled him out for tonight. Gross correctly notes that since Kalinin was on injured reserve, a roster spot would need to be opened in order to place him back on the active roster. That shouldn’t take too long to do. Sending Blake Speers back to juniors would do it and it would probably be the best for both Speers and the Devils. I don’t think riding with Vernon Fiddler on a fourth line with an occasional PK shift is doing much for Speers. Let him go off in the OHL for 2016-17 and then re-assess him in 2017-18. As for the Devils, Kalinin may be a good fit for that spot instead as he’s shown to be a solid bottom-six winger last season. Maybe we’ll see it soon enough.
Gameday Posters!: The Devils hired Anthony Zych after last season ended. You may know him as the artist who drew up gameday posters for Columbus. He’ll now do it for the Devils. The New York Red Bulls (and other teams) do this to help make each game feel a little more special. (They also give them away, I’m not sure the Devils will do that.) The team’s Instagram account posted what the first one will look like:
Well, other than the not-so-menacing nets, it looks nice.
Speaking of fanfare, it’s Opening Night for the Devils. They’ll have a Fan Fest at Championship Plaza starting at 3:30 right up until gametime. The players and personnel will arrive to the arena a red carpet at Championship Plaza at 4 PM. There will be a new on-ice video for their introductions. I’m sure there will be some other changes, including the branding of this season’s slogan: One Jersey. Hopefully the plan won’t require the Devils to win one to nothing, although Cory Schneider can make it possible. (But seriously, Devils, score more than one for Jersey. And the world.)
One Last Thought: I’m wondering why Steven Santini has not received any game action yet. Since Hynes thinks young forwards should be rotated, how about a young defenseman? Surely he can fill in for Kyle Quincey on one night. I hope his time will come soon.
Your Take: The Devils and Ducks will hope to earn their first win of the season tonight. Ideally, it should be the Devils who do so. Will they? What will they have to do to get that win beyond the obvious “score more goals than Anaheim?” Who on the Ducks concerns you the most? Do you also wonder how they would be if they had a better coach than Carlyle? Please leave your answers and other thoughts for tonight’s game in the comments. Thank you for reading.