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Game Preview #6: New Jersey Devils vs. Arizona Coyotes

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The New Jersey Devils continue a four-game homestand by hosting the Arizona Coyotes tonight. This post previews both teams ahead of this evening’s match up.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at New Jersey Devils
The first of four games ended well. What about tonight?
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight is the second of four straight home games. Will you be there for this hot matchup?

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (2-2-1) vs. the Arizona Coyotes (1-4-0, SBN Blog: Five for Howling)

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Last Devils Game: The Devils took on the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night. The first period went well for the Devils. They limited the Wild to only three shots on net and took over ten of their own. Alas, they couldn’t beat Devan Dubnyk and from watching it, one would get the sense that not everything was “clicking” as one would hope. That sense grew in the second period. While the Devils would get around the same number of shots and a handful of glorious chances, the Wild hit back and hit back often with offense of their own. They outshot the Devils 18-11. More importantly, they scored. Cory Schneider couldn’t handle a shot by Jason Zucker and Joel Eriksson Ek charged the net to chip it up over the goalie and into the net. The Devils would take more control in the third, but the frustration factor was rising with every one-and-done attack and lackluster shots. Then, almost out of nowhere, P.A. Parenteau took a shot that beat Dubnyk high and to the goalie’s right. There was the equalizer. The fans got back into the game and the game got a lot more energy as the Wild tried to fight back. Overtime would be necessary and Taylor Hall would become the hero. He intercepted a pass on defense, rushed up ice, dropped it for Adam Henrique on a criss-cross play, and was wide open for a quick shot through Dubnyk. Yes, in 3-on-3 overtime, nobody on the Wild followed Hall or filled in a passing lane to him. Hall scored, the Devils won 2-1, and I wrote this recap about it with a pun in the title.

The Last Coyotes Game: Arizona is on a six-game road trip and went to the World’s Most Overrated Arena on Sunday for the fourth game of that trip. The good guys - Arizona, duh - were off to a fast start when Radim Vrbata scored thirty-three seconds into the game. Unfortunately, Josh Jooris would tie it up later in the first period. The score held until Jakob Chychrun took a hooking call in the second period. J.T. Miller would convert the power play to put the Rangers up 1-2. Fortunately, within the sixteenth minute of the second period, Vrbata would strike again to make it 2-2. In the third period, Rangers Hero, Legend, Very, Very Rich Man Thanks to Glen Sather, and defenseman Dan Girardi would hit a slapshot off a bounced puck off the boards that beat Louis Domingue. Girardi put the Rangers up 2-3 and that goal would hold up as the game winner. The Coyotes could not match that goal. Give Giradi another contract extension. Oh, and read Brendan Porter’s recap of the Coyotes’ loss at Five for Howling.

The Goal: Fire away! The Coyotes have had a rough start to the 2016-17 due in part of goaltender Mike Smith being out for “week to week.” Therefore, Louis Domingue and Justin Peters have been the team’s tandem in net. Domingue has taken most of the starts and he’s been taken to the land of ugly stats. I know it’s only four games, but an even strength save percentage of 86.3% and a power play save percentage of 75% is auspicious. While he’s young and has appeared in the NHL in the last three seasons, he’s rocking a 90.8% overall save percentage. I don’t think Domingue is going to suddenly blossom as Smith is out. Peters has done well in his one game with the Coyotes; however, the veteran is sporting a career overall save percentage of 90.1%. While I think Peters should get a look just because Domingue has had a rough go of it, I don’t think he should be feared. To that end, the Devils should try to cut back on making that extra pass or extra look to try to fool the goalie. They should challenge the Coyotes’ goalie and fire when they have an open shot. So far, it’s worked out fairly well for Arizona’s opponents. It might just work for New Jersey.

One Returned, One Yo-Yo’ed: The New Jersey Devils made some roster moves on Monday afternoon. Both were reported here by Andrew Gross at Fire & Ice. Blake Speers was sent back to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. That’s his junior team; the move means he’ll be there until the Greyhounds’ season is done. Speers played three games with the Devils, averaged less than ten minutes per game, and played less than eight against Minnesota despite starting with a “scoring” line. The move to juniors makes sense for Speers. While the coaching staff likes his skillset, Speers needs to play in an environment where he can play a lot of minutes and be put into a lot of situations to succeed. He’ll get that in the OHL. All the same, it was a feat for him to make the New Jersey squad right out of training camp. I certainly didn’t expect it. Good luck in the O, Speers.

The other move was to bring defenseman Steve Santini back to New Jersey. Back? Yes, he was demoted to Albany so he could play against Providence on Sunday. Why? So he could play in a game. Ever since preseason, Santini was a scratch for five straight games. Any young player suffers without getting some minutes somewhere, so the Devils gave him that with the AHL team. Now he’s back with New Jersey for tonight. Will he play? Who knows. If he doesn’t, Gross reports that he’ll be demoted to play in Albany’s game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Wednesday in this post where John Hynes discusses Speers, Santini, and Pavel Zacha. I get the sense that New Jersey wants Santini around in case anyone gets hurt and/or plays so poorly he can jump into the lineup. Despite the crummy underlying numbers of Ben Lovejoy and John Moore, Santini hasn’t seen the ice with the NHL team in five games. So if not by now, then I would think he’ll only get involved if someone is banged up. But if someone is banged up, the Devils could just call up Santini then. I think a smarter move would have been to send Santini to Albany last week, let him play, and when New Jersey has a use for him, then call him up. We’ll see if he plays tonight. I’m not holding my breath.

More Line Changes for the Devils: Per Gross’ post from Monday’s practice, it appears the lines have changed again. The starting line from the Minnesota game is back together: Hall, Zacha, and Kyle Palmieri. Travis Zajac centered Michael Cammalleri and P.A. Parenteau while Adam Henrique centered Beau Bennett and Devante Smith-Pelly. Jacob Josefson and Sergey Kalinin rotated at left wing on a fourth line with Vernon Fiddler and Reid Boucher. While I can appreciate both the Zacha and Zajac units as offensive ones, will Hynes give them the instruction to look for carry-ins and focus on puck control in transition? I’d like to think that would get the most out of skills of Hall, Zacha, Zajac, and so forth. I’m not surprised the fourth line may change either. In terms of possession, that line got owned. I’m not sure Boucher would be a great fit, but he gets a chance to prove a point to the coaches that he should be in the lineup at least.

Curiously, Gross noted that the defensemen rotated in practice. No, he doesn’t mention Santini but he did note that Kyle Quincey was switching sides with Ben Lovejoy and Andy Greene. I really hope I won’t see a Greene-Quincey pairing tonight. Lovejoy-Quincey is more plausible, although I fear they’ll get caught somewhere and their lack of speed would be exposed.

The Young-ish Coyotes: The Arizona Coyotes’ GM is John Chayka, who’s younger than I am. I feel old. And he is overseeing a revamping of the Coyotes’ roster. As Sarah Hall wrote in this post at Five For Howling, there’s a near 50-50 split of players over 26 and players under 25.

The former category contains some notable players. Franchise legend Shane Doan is still kicking it and his shot is still good. In fact, he’s tied for third on the team in shots on net so he’s getting it off. Alex Goligoski has been a very good (underrated?) defenseman and he gives the Coyotes the basis for a solid second pairing behind their best defender. Radim Vrbata has the reputation of streaky scorer and, unfortunately for tonight, he’s coming off a two-goal night so he may be starting a warmer streak. If not, he’ll at least make Cory Schneider work - Vrbata is tied for the team lead in shots. Lastly, Martin Hanzal isn’t 30, but he’s been a solid two-way center for years. I would expect Arizona to try to get him out there against one of New Jersey’s more talented lines if only to match up on defense. These are some names to know.

But it’s the younger Coyotes that Coyotes fans should be excited for and Devils fans should learn to recognize really quickly. While not exactly so young at 25, Oliver Ekman-Larsson is one of the best defensemen in the NHL. If he played on a better or more high-profile team, more people would recognize him. As it is, the players in the NHL know how good OEL is. The Devils will see a lot of the 26-minute-average man tonight in both ends of the rink and in all situations. Per Left Wing Lock, Ekman-Larsson’s partner has been the 23-year old Connor Murphy. Murphy inked a six-year extension this past summer; the Coyotes believe he’s a part of the future. Tonight, the Devils will see plenty of him with Ekman-Larsson. They’ve been good at even strength so far in this young season so far. Speaking of young defensemen, Jacob Chychrun has appeared in four out of Arizona’s five games. I don’t know if he’ll go back to the OHL before he plays his tenth game; he’s impressed Arizona’s coaches to play regular minutes. He’s definitely one to watch for in the future. For tonight, he could provide a spark from their third pairing. The lower lines on New Jersey should be aware of him.

At forward, the Coyotes have plenty of U-25 talent. Dylan Strome, Lawson Crouse, Laurent Dauphin, and Christian Dvorak are on the roster. While only Dvorak has averaged more than twelve minutes per game so far, they will make up a good portion of Arizona’s forward corps in the coming years. All four are recent draft picks and that they are here now speaks to how management is giving them an opportunity to stay here. Tobias Reider has become a regular left winger, now entering his third season with the Coyotes. Jordan Martinook has put up two goals and two assists already; he’s becoming a regular at center for the Coyotes in his third season with the team too. Of course, the two big names are Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. Sarah McLellan at Arizona Central (The Arizona Republic) had an article yesterday discussing their early scoring woes. As McLellan notes Domi only has two assists; but he’s been a positive possession player and he has 14 shots - tied with Vrbata for third on the team. To that end, he’s still dangerous. Duclair has had a rougher time with only seven shots on net and considerably less ice time than Domi. Both are still speedy, skilled wingers and the scoring will eventually come. Especially for Domi since it reads like he’s doing a lot of good things, the puck just isn’t going in the net for him. To that end, the Devils should be wary of Domi and Duclair tonight despite their lack of goals.

All together, Arizona has a squad that definitely isn’t built to suck. No, they have veterans who can contribute and help the team be competitive as the young players grow, develop, and eventually form the core of this team. Chayka will have plenty of decisions to make as with any GM, but he’s got something for the future. Provided Smith gets back and returns to form quickly, the Coyotes won’t be doormats for anyone.

Note: At the end of McLellan’s article on Domi and Duclair, she notes that defenseman Jamie McBain has been put on waivers with the intention of activating winger Jamie McGinn from injured reserve. We’ll see if McBain clears. If so, McGinn will play tonight. He’ll be at least a little excited to get back onto the ice.

One More Thing: Arizona has been winless on their six-game road trip. They have lost four in a row. The hope should be for New Jersey to put them to the sword quickly and hope that the frustration mounts for Arizona given their losing streak. That could make tonight’s matchup a bit easier for the Devils. Having the last change will help too.

Your Take: The Devils continue their homestand against Arizona. I should be in my usual seat in Section 1 tonight and recap the game afterwards. Will you come to this one? What concerns you about the Coyotes? Who on the Devils do you think needs to have a great game that has not already been great? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight’s game in the comments. Thank you for reading.