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Game Preview #22: New Jersey Devils at Winnipeg Jets

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Winnipeg is the next stop for the New Jersey Devils on this four-game road trip. They will play the Jets. This game preview goes over what the Jets have been about this season, who to watch for, and more.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Winnipeg Jets
Severson! Maybe Burmistrov! Tonight!
Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

November effectively ends way up north. All the way to Manitoba.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (10-6-5) at the Winnipeg Jets (10-12-2; SBN Blog: Arctic Ice Hockey)

The Time: 8:00 PM

The Broadcast: TV – MSG+; Radio – 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN; Digital Audio – The OJ Network

The Last Devils Game: The Devils went to Pittsburgh to start a four-game road trip on Saturday night. The Pens came right out of the gate and kept attacking the Devils. Keith Kinkaid faced nineteen shots on net in the first period alone. The Devils led after the first period 1-0 as a turnover to Kyle Palmieri led to Michael Cammalleri ripping one past Matt Murray. Kinkaid stopped all 19 of those shots. The Pens would respond quickly in the second period. Jake Guentzel jammed in a puck to make it 1-1; Evgeni Malkin played Tom Kuhnhackl ahead to beat Damon Severson and then deke Kinkaid to make it 1-2; and then Ben Lovejoy high-sticked Scott Wilson after a 2-on-1 rush after the goal. During that penalty kill, Vernon Fiddler charged up ice with the puck, got inside position on Kris Letang, and slid in a backhander to make it 2-2. Yes, a shorthanded equalizer. Later in the period, the Devils orchestrated an effective power play that ended with Pavel Zacha setting up Cammalleri for an empty netter. The Devils were leading 3-2 in a shot-heavy (16-14, NJ) second period. The third period was akin to a penalty kill for the Devils as the Devils failed to keep the Penguins honest and so the Pens just kept coming at the Devils. With 14 seconds left in regulation, the Penguins would get an equalizer - Sidney Crosby fishing a puck among a lot of bodies in front to roof it over Kinkaid. After a spirited overtime, Kinkaid went into the shootout with 46 saves on 49 shots on net. In the shootout, Kinkaid was only beaten once by Letang - and the Devils could not beat Murray. The Devils lost in the shootout. I called it another point stolen in my recap.

The Last Jets Game: On Sunday afternoon, the Jets hosted Nashville. The Jets did not come out strong as the Predators out-shot them 11-4. But goaltender Connor Hellebuyck stopped everything Nashville would throw at him. Winnipeg managed to attack more in the second period, 13-11. They would also get the game’s first goal. Jacob Trouba fired a shot on net, Drew Stafford collected the rebound, and Stafford went around the net to beat Juuse Saros. The goal was Winnipeg’s first of the night, Trouba’s first assist of the season, and Stafford’s first goal of the season. Down one goal, Nashville really upped their attack and proceeded to put up twenty shots on Hellebuyck. The goalie got them all. The Jets sealed the win in the final minute of regulation with two empty net goals: one from Mark Schiefele and one from Adam Lowry. That boosted the final score to 3-0. Andy Rolfe has this recap of the win at Arctic Ice Hockey.

The Goal: Defending leads is not the same as killing a penalty. Heartbreaking as it is to allow an equalizer with fourteen seconds left in regulation, the Devils played with fire just about all third period long with Pittsburgh. With little success and eventually effort at going forward, the Penguins kept having opportunities to find that third goal. This tendency to sit back with the lead, or more accurately play more “safely,” has been an issue for the Devils earlier in the season. At best, it has made the ends of games the wrong kind of exciting as the Devils are trying to hold on. At worst, said lead is lost. The Devils need to keep up whatever good work they do to get a lead when they have one. If they are going to go lame for a long stretch or nearly a whole period with a one-goal lead, then they may suffer the same (or worse) fate that they did on Saturday. They will have to do better tonight.

Help Your Goalie: Expect the coaching staff for both teams to emphasize defensive play for this game. In their most recent game, the Devils allowed 49 shots in 65 minutes and the Jets allowed 42 shots in 60 minutes. Both teams received excellent performances from Kinkaid and Hellebuyck, respectively. Both teams can’t just hope their goalie will be near or fully perfect with that many pucks coming at them again. While giving up shots has not been a huge issue for Winnipeg this season (it’s more of an issue for NJ) per Corsica, I would think both teams will make helping your goalie a point of emphasis tonight. We’ll see how that goes.

The Goalies to Help: While Kinkaid was fantastic in Pittsburgh, this should be a start for Cory Schneider. Schneider has been beaten quite a bit. While most of the goals against were really the fault of the defense, his save percentage took a hit all the same. Schneider is very good at what he does, so I am not terribly concerned. No, Hynes has not named a starter per Andrew Gross on Twitter yesterday, but As for the Jets, Hellebuyck has not been too bad. He put up a marvelous performance on Sunday, stopping all 42 shots on net by Nashville. That moved his even strength save percentage up to 92.3% and his penalty kill save percentage up to 87.8% per NHL.com. Those are not bad marks at all. Hellebuyck has been the starter for the Jets this season and so he should be given that Michael Hutchinson’s percentages have not been so solid. It should make for a good goaltending matchup tonight. We’ll see whether each team’s skaters will help out their goalies more than they did in their previous games.

Help Yourselves, Stop Taking Calls: I would also expect discipline to be a talking point for each team, too. The Devils and Jets had five shorthanded situations to deal with in their most recent games. Both teams killed all of those off; the Devils even had a shorthanded goal. But these were mostly avoidable penalties and at least gave an already rolling opposition more time to attack, if not opportunities to score. I would think this is a constant issue for the Jets as they lead the league with the most shorthanded situations in the league with 88 per NHL.com. The Jets have been a little more responsible at home with 40 situations, which is still tied for the fourth most in the NHL prior to Sunday night’s games. With a 79.5% penalty killing success rate, which ranks in the bottom third of the league, taking multiple penalties will be a familiar and potentially costly issue for the Jets. And unfortunately for Winnipeg, the Devils appear to be out of their power play slump. The Devils would be wise to try to push the play forward to draw fouls. We’ll see if they can.

The Jets at 5-on-5: The most curious thing about the Jets in 5-on-5 play is that they do not allow a lot, but they generate even less. Look at their numbers at Corsica. While they have one of the better shots against per sixty minute rate in the NHL at 28.71, their shots for per sixty minute rate is the lowest in the NHL at 25.72. That’s nearly two shots worse than 29th place New York. Their Corsi For percentage is an unimpressive 48.95%. The Jets can feel good about a relatively high shooting percentage of 8.33%. Less so about a team save percentage of 91.16%, which is on the lower end of that stat in the league. Between their not-so-hot PK and their around-league-median power play success rate, the Jets do not appear to be a good 5-on-5 team. And so it suggests that their record is about where they are.

That all written, the Jets do have multiple players unavailable at the moment. According to CBS Sports’ injury list, Bryan Little, Tyler Myers, Matthieu Perreault, Joel Armia, Toby Enstrom, and Shawn Matthias have been out. Rolfe’s recap of Sunday’s win references these injuries with the word that Little and Perreault skating that morning. A more recent Tweet from Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun states that Little is expected to be back tonight. That’s a big return, if true. Little has been one of the more underrated forwards in the league and he’s been important for Winnipeg for years. He will be welcomed back. After some time with a more full roster, the Jets may prove to be a more dangerous team at 5-on-5. In the meantime, the Devils should keep an eye on who remains out. Here’s an example. Without Myers and Enstrom, two defensemen who have played significant minutes for the Jets in past and in this season, the Devils should make a point of it to challenge the defense - especially their third pairing.

Five Productive Jets: Every team has players to watch for and the Jets are no different. Per NHL.com’s player stats, five Jets really stick out. These five Jets have at least twelve points and 51 shots on net. The leading scorer of the remainder of the team only has eight points; Adam Lowry with six goals and two assists. The leading shooter of the remainder of the team has 35 shots on net; winger Brandon Tanev. While I do not intend any disrespect for Lowry, Tanev, Nic Petan, Jacob Trouba (who just picked up first two assists of the season; he missed a lot of time this season due to a contract dispute. The Devils shouldn’t sleep on him.), or Marko Dano, those five players have stood out in this season and should be watched out for more than others. Those five are Mark Schiefele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Patrick Laine, Blake Wheeler, and Dustin Byfuglien. Let’s summarize them all.

The leading scorer among those five is Schiefele, who actually was leading the entire NHL in points on some nights during this past month. His twelve goals and twelve assists place him third in the NHL prior to Sunday’s games. With 59 shots to go with those 24 points, he will be one of the biggest challenges for the Devils up front. Ehlers is behind him in points and can be thought more of a distributor. He “only” has 51 shots on net, five goals, and fourteen assists. The twenty-year old had a fine rookie season and looks to improve on that in a big way in 2016-17. Speaking of youth, Patrick Laine is a force to be reckoned with. He was picked after Matthews in this past June with a loads of hype for his shot. That hype should be believed. Laine is tied with Byfuglien for the second most shots on net on Winnipeg with 61 and he has twelve goals and six assists to rank third on the team in scoring with eighteen points. Laine is also tied with Mitch Marner for the current scoring lead among all rookies. He’s only 18, he’s going to be real force for the Jets in the future. He already is one now - and look out for him on power plays as he leads the Jets with five power play goals this season. He’s been a bit cold but the Devils cannot discount the powerful rookie. Rounding out the group of five are two veteran Jets. Blake Wheeler has been one of the most productive Jets since joining the franchise in 2011. This season looks to be more of the same as he has seven goals and nine assists. Expect the big winger to fire the puck a lot as he leads the Jets with 69 shots on net. The lone defenseman among this group is “Big Buff,” Dustin Byfuglien. He’s been with the . His large frame, deceptive speed, and heavy shot make him a two-way threat. He leads the Jets defense in points with two goals and ten assists and he has 61 shots on net. With an average ice time over 27 minutes per game, you can be sure the Devils will see a lot of the big man.

While the Jets surely miss Little, Perreault, and others; these five players provide something different to attack the opposition for the Jets and they have made the most of it. They may have been moved around between not having other players available and losing five games in a row before beating Nashville. But they have still been productive. When the Jets settle on who they should play with, how much, and in what situations, then they could even be more successful. That bodes well for the Jets. As for the Devils, well, they’ll know who to really watch for tonight.

Stay Hot, Please: The Devils have scored a combined eleven goals in their last three games. Michael Cammalleri has been involved in eight of them with four goals and four assists in those games. He has also put up seventeen shots on net in that same time frame. The production was so much that he was named the Second Star of the Week by the NHL. It’s a well deserved honor. Cammalleri’s stick has been hot and it could have not happened at a better time. His recent streak of points has eased the loss of Taylor Hall. It has made up for the lack of stepping up from other Devils forwards, such as Adam Henrique (one goal and seven shots in the last five games). The hope is that Cammalleri will continue to be hot on this trip. The good news is that Cammalleri is expected to continue receiving prime minutes in offensive situations with a similarly well-performing Travis Zajac. May he keep up the torrid pace.

The Return of Wood and the News of Hall: The big story from Monday’s practice is that Taylor Hall was at practice. Yes. Taylor Hall, who had arthroscopic surgery not that long ago, was at practice. Practicing with the Devils. What’s more is that head coach John Hynes says he could return to the team by the end of this week according to this post by Andrew Gross at Fire & Ice. This means he will not play tonight. I’m surprised he’s that far along in recovery. I hope he’s not rushing himself back to action; the last thing I want to see with any young player is to come back from a knee injury too soon. That said, if he’s fully 100%, that would be very welcome.

The Devils made a transaction yesterday: they called up Miles Wood back to New Jersey. Andrew Gross had the news at Fire & Ice. In the same post where Hynes discussed Hall’s eventual return, Gross reported from Hynes that Wood was called up as the team had an additional spot on the active roster and wanted give him another shot. Given how forwards like Jacob Josefson and Reid Boucher have fallen out of favor, that is a real possibility. It could also just be for cover, similar to how Vojtech Mozik was called up but not used on a road trip earlier in the season. As far as how Wood has been doing at Albany, check out Brian’s post later today. His basic numbers aren’t too bad: he has three goals, three assists, and 41 shots on net in 14 games. The high shots on net count in the A is encouraging (only John Quenneville has more shots on net). Should he enter the lineup, we’ll see whether he’s progressed or not.

One Last Thought: I wouldn’t be so concerned with the lines from Devils practice that Gross reported as Travis Zajac was given a day off. I will note that they do show how important to the roster he is at the moment.

Your Take: The New Jersey Devils hope to put up a better and more successful performance in Winnipeg tonight. Do you think they will do so? What will they need to do in order to score more goals than the opposition? Who on the Devils do you expect to perform better tonight? Can the Devils keep Schiefele, Ehlers, Laine, Wheeler, and Byfuglien somewhat quiet? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.