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Game Preview #5: New Jersey Devils vs. Minnesota Wild

The New Jersey Devils will dedicate “The Salute,” a statue of Martin Brodeur; and play the Minnesota Wild tonight. This game preview looks at the high-scoring Wild and the low-scoring Devils.

Anaheim Ducks v New Jersey Devils
Taylor Hall will be re-united with Adam Henrique and first-united with...Blake Speers?
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

First and foremost, the Devils will have a pre-game event outside of the arena. “The Salute,” a statue of Martin Brodeur that was unveiled back in February when his number was retired, will be dedicated tonight. The ceremony is at 6 PM and it will take place at the corner of Mulberry St. and Lafayette St. There will be a livestream of the ceremony at the Devils’ official website. Then there will be a hockey game.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (1-2-1) vs. the Minnesota Wild (3-1-0, SBN Blog: Hockey Wilderness)

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Last Devils Game: The Devils went up to Boston on Thursday night to play the Bruins. The first period featured a lot of Bruins taking shots at Cory Schneider, which largely did not threaten him. The Devils struggled to move the puck forward. Those struggles subsided in the second period as the Devils put plenty of rubber on Tuukka Rask. Those shots largely did not threaten him either. The third period came and the Devils opened the game’s scoring a PPG. Damon Severson kept a puck onside right on the blueline and sent it across to an open Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri had all kinds of time and space; his shot hit off Brandon Carlo’s skate to fool Rask for a goal. The Bruins then took New Jersey to school. Their breakouts were solid as a rock. Their puck movement was smoother than your favorite peanut better. Their attacks really began to threaten the Devils and Schneider, both at 5-on-5 and power play situations. Schneider was excellent and only near-perfect shots would beat him. Unfortunately, two of those happened. Brad Marchand provided an equalizer that hit off the left post (he was on the right side of the zone) and in. With 1:15 left to play, an open Patrice Bergeron fired a one-timer just as Kyle Quincey eclipsed Schneider - leading to a goal. The Devils had an man advantage opportunity late and tried to find a second goal with six skates, but it was not to be that night. The Devils lost 1-2 in a game that had a close score, but not a close performance. My recap, which explains that, is here.

The Last Wild Game: On that same night, the Wild hosted the Toronto Matthews. I mean, Maple Leafs. Toronto had a very good start to the game, out-shooting Minnesota 11-5 in the first period. Fortunately for the home crowd, Devan Dubnyk got them all. It would not be until 9:13 into the second period that Dubnyk would be beaten. Roman Polak blasted a slapshot from the center point to make it 0-1. Less than a minute later, Charlie Coyle would spring Eric Staal for a breakaway. Staal would tie up the game on said breakaway; an entertaining equalizer. The Maple Leafs would make it 1-2 when Auston Matthews potted in a loose puck in the slot during a power play. But the Wild were not done. Zac Dalpe became the twelfth Wild skater to score a goal in this young season when he just took the puck through the neutral zone, warded off the pressure, and beat the goalie on his own. With about eight minutes left in regulation, Staal would try to feed Zach Parise in front of the net. Instead, the puck got through for a goal. It would hold up as the winner in a 3-2 final score; the Wild remain unbeaten at home. The Noogie has this recap of the win at Hockey Wilderness.

The Goal: This may be its own post soon, but the goal really should be to maintain puck control in transition. By transition, I’m referring to when the Devils make a play on defense and then look to move forward on offense. The Boston game showed a night-and-day difference in this regard. The Devils had issues brekaing out of their own end and making passes going forward. Maintaining control through the neutral zone was an issue and when the Devils would gain the Bruins’ zone, too often they conceded possession with a pass that a defender easily stopped. The Bruins looked poised, they looked like they had a plan if the Devils tried to defend their approach, and they didn’t go for a lot of long passes to do so. There were more carries and short passes of the puck than that. And it led to Boston just coming at the Devils. I don’t think there’s a Devil fan who’s happy that the team has only scored six goals this season in total and three at even strength in four games. I do think the team does have good talent up front. But they’re going to struggle to utilize that talent and score goals until they improve in how they transition from defense to offense. Changing the lines will only do so much. If the Devils can show improvement tonight, then they’ll have a better chance at putting up a better performance and result against the Wild tonight.

And Change the Lines, Hynes Will: Andrew Gross reported at Fire & Ice on Friday that the forward lines will change. Here are the new ones used in practice:

Taylor Hall-Adam Henrique-Blake Speers

Beau Bennett-Travis Zajac-Kyle Palmieri

Mike Cammalleri-Pavel Zacha-P.A. Parenteau

Sergey Kalinin-Vern Fiddler-Devante Smith-Pelly

The extra fifth line: Reid Boucher-Jacob Josefson-Miles Wood

In this follow-up post from Gross after practice, Hynes was candid about the “inconsistencies” he has seen that led to these changes. I can agree that plenty of players have not been all that reliable. I can even agree that Reid Boucher and Jacob Josefson did themselves no favors in Boston. I do not agree with all of these changes, though. Taylor Hall and Travis Zajac were working well together in the last two games. Hall still managed to take five shots on net and be credited for another five shooting attempts, largely alongside #19. I would have kept that duo together. I don’t think putting Adam Henrique, who could be playing better, is the right move. Likewise, I’m really doubting Blake Speers on the top line. He did not contribute in limited minutes in the first two games of the season; I don’t see him lasting on a top offensive line - assuming he’s kept there for tonight’s game. On top of that, while I’m intrigued to see what Michael Cammalleri can do next to Pavel Zacha, I’m doubtful that Beau Bennett will do much next to Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri. I didn’t think much of Bennett’s performance on Thursday. I know someone has to play there; but does it have to be him? I can appreciate the logic behind Hynes’ desire to change the lines in general. I can agree with it. With these specific lines, I’m not fully on board. As usual, I stand to be proven wrong.

It doesn’t help that there remains no details on the defense. Seeing that the Devils have conceded 34, 34, 24, and 36 shots in each of their four games, why are there no distinct changes on defense? It’s been the same six defensemen, with the same three pairings. While the quote focused on forwards, I would think Hynes’ feelings on “inconsistencies” could apply to the blueline. I don’t believe Steve Santini will make it all better or swapping Damon Severson and Ben Lovejoy. But it wouldn’t be a bad thing to try at this point. After all, the guys behind the forwards are just as complicit with some of the 5-on-5 woes the Devils have faced early in this season.

The Return of Kalinin: In the same post about inconsistencies, Gross reported that Sergey Kalinin will be activated from injured reserve. He’s been practicing with the team all week so I have no doubt he’s ready to go. Do I think he’ll answer the team’s offensive issues? Not really. After all, he’s slotted in a fourth line role as it is. Do I think he can provide some steady play in limited action? I think so and it’s a more reasonable expectation.

In order for Kalinin to be activated, a roster spot must be made. Gross correctly points out that Miles Wood, who has been scratched all week, can be sent back to Albany without going through waivers. That’s one option and the Devils could take it. Again, he’s been scratched all week and he’s been on the fifth line, which indicates he’ll be scratched again. There’s not much value for a young player like Wood to sit in the press box. However, the team could also easily just send Speers back to the OHL. It was a surprise that he skated with Hall and Henrique. It’s not common for a young player who hasn’t done much to go from a healthy scratch for two straight games to the top line so fast. Given that Henrique and Hall will get to see a lot of the Wild’s best players, I’m skeptical Speers would remain with them for an actual game. If that’s the case, then that opens him up to a return to the OHL. If it were me, I’d send both of them back because, again, there’s not much value to sitting in the press box watching the Devils struggle through the neutral zone. Both should be playing somewhere. We’ll see later today what the Devils actually do to have Kalinin play.

All Kinds of Threats: The Minnesota Wild have twelve different players with at least one goal this season. Four are defensemen (Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Ryan Suter, and Jared Spurgeon) each have one, and the other eight makes up more than two of their forward lines. All of them currently have a shooting percentage of at least 14.3%. So while only a few can say they’ve been frequent shooters, the team as a whole has a collectively warm-to-hot stick. In addition to matching up with the forwards receiving the most minutes, the Devils will have to contend with a squad that has been receiving early contributions from everyone.

Interestingly enough, their most frequent shooter is Zach Parise and he has no goals on 13 shots. I’d still worry about him whilst he’s booed at the Rock as he has three assists and plays on a line with the only Wild players with more than one goal this season: Eric Staal and Charlie Coyle. Staal has been impressive to start; his two goals against Toronto were important and they showed that he’s got plenty left in the tank. The 24-year old Coyle is entering his fourth full season with the Wild and he has established himself as a solid player. In between Parise and Staal, he has a good chance as any as having that “breakout” season. I would expect John Hynes to try to get Andy Greene and, assuming he’s still with him, Damon Severson out against that unit.

Following those threesome are Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, and Chris Stewart. Stewart hasn’t played much; but Koivu has been a do-everything-and-do-it-well forward for Minnesota. He leads the Wild forwards in average ice time and only the Suter defensive pairing has a higher average ice time. The Devils will see a lot of him. Given how good he is on defense, I would like to see Taylor Hall not get matched up against him. As for Granlund, he has been a creator with the puck. He’s entering his fifth season with the Wild and has tallied over thirty assists in each of the last three. The Devils should be aware of #64 when he’s on the ice.

Following the top two lines are a number of notable contributors. Jason Pominville still has a good shot. Nino Neiderreiter is still under 25 of age and has two straight twenty-plus goal scoring seasons. AHL scorer Teemu Pulkkinen couldn’t stick in Detroit and the Wild picked him up off waivers befor this season started; he’s got a goal already and has a point to prove on the ice. Jason Zucker and Zac Dalpe provide plenty of energy without being a liability. The larger point is that the Devils aren’t going to be just fine if they shut down the Parise-Coyle-Staal line - which is much easier said than done. The team has received goals throughout their lineup and they have plenty of depth behind that good first line. The new Devils’ lines will all have to be prepared to play some defense and try to force them to play some defense to stem their attack.

The Solid Four: The top four defensemen for the Wild are a good crew as any. Ryan Suter continues to play a heavy load of minutes every night; he’s started the season averaging 26 per night. His regular partner, Jared Spurgeon, is averaging 23. The point is that the Devils are going to see a lot of those two - especially Suter - regardless of what kind of matchup Hynes wants to gain. They will play a lot. The pairing of Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin is another good pairing that can play a lot of minutes. Since Suter-Spurgeon takes plenty of ice time, Dumba-Brodin can be utilized more freely and not get overworked. For tonight, the Devils will have to hope one of these pairings has some struggles, identify where the “soft” spot may be, and then attack it. Either way, the Devils’ attack will have some solid defenders to deal with all night long.

Meanwhile in Net: For the Devils, goaltending is rarely a concern because Cory Schneider is great. He’s been great to start this season if only for only allowing eight goals over four games. The Wild haven’t been as great in net. Although it is early in the season, Devan Dubnyk (who may get the Devils game tonight) and Darcy Kuemper (the expected backup) both have overall save percentages around 90% and even strength save percentages below 90%. If the Devils are able to get in the Wild’s end and not concede possession so quickly, then they should have opportunities to challenge the goalies directly. They should do so as much as they can instead of trying to make an additional pass in the hopes of creating a greater scoring chance that tends to have a greater chance of failing to occur. I’d prefer they fire away first.

One Last Thought: I really hope the Devils are inspired to a degree with the statue ceremony. I’m looking forward to it. I liked the atmosphere at Opening Night and something like that could help continue it. Of course, the Devils themselves have to give the fans something to cheer. They’ll certainly boo #11 on Minnesota.

Your Take: The Devils return to The Rock to play the Wild. I think it’ll be a tough matchup, but the Devils have every reason to play better after Thursday’s game. What do you think of this game ahead of it happening tonight? Do you think Hynes’ new forward lines will work out? Do you think the defense should also change? Which Devil will be removed from the active roster to make space for Kalinin? Who on the Wild worries you the most? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s game. I should be at the game in my usual seat tonight, so I’ll recap it late tonight. Thank you for reading.