The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils at the Carolina Hurricanes (SBN Blog: Canes Country)
The Time: 6:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Digital Audio Broadcast - The One Jersey Network
The Last Devils Game: The Devils lost 4-1. Read my recap here if you want to know. Bad memories are bad memories.
The Last Hurricanes Game: The Hurricanes beat the Predators 3-2 in a shootout. Jeff Skinner and Ron Hainsey scored the goals, and Cam Ward stopped 25/27 shots (.926 sv. %). According to the Hurricanes’ SBNation recap, Elias Lindholm and Sebastian Aho had good games as well.
The Goal: Keep attacking throughout. Carolina's achilles heel is in net. For some reason I've yet to figure out, they have Eric Tlusky and Andrew Thomas (who founded War on Ice) who are both smart people any team would want in their analytics department. But management decided to give Cam Ward a new contract and stick with him as the #1 guy. Anytime you have to lock up a goalie with a career overall save percentage of 90.9% in a day and age where the average save percentage is in the 91st percentile, I guess you have to do it. Goaltending is a big issue in this young season as well. Prior to this weekend, Ward's even strength save percentage is 89.8% and backup Eddie Lack has been even worse with an EV Sv% of 83.1%. Yuck. Lack has at least been good on the PK; but that's a lot of bad goaltending holding an otherwise decent team back. To that end, the Devils would be wise to keep up the offensive effort. They're actually averaging 30 shots per game prior to this weekend. Challenging Carolina's goaltenders should yield the goals they will need to win this game.
Really, The Goaltending is Holding Them Back: Heading into this weekend, Carolina is allowing over 3.5 goals per game on average. That has hurt them dearly. It's a shame. Carolina has plenty going for themselves at a team level. On average, their shots for per game is higher than their shots against per game: 28.7 to 28.1. While they're not shooting a lot, they aren't allowing as much. Their special teams have very good percentages. Their power play success rate is 23.3% and their penalty kill success rate is 86.2%; both rate well in the NHL. Carolina has been good in the run of play. Their 5-on-5 CF% is 53.09% prior to last night's game; according to Corsica, that's the fifth best CF% rate in the league. If they can stop bleeding goals, then this is a solid, potential playoff darkhorse. But they have Ward-Lack as a goaltending pairing so that looks doubtful. Again, it's a shame.
Welcome Back, Lee Stempniak: As part of last season's above-expectations Devils season, Lee Stempniak was an excellent find. The man came to the Devils camp on a PTO, earned a contract, and immediately established himself as one of their more reliable forwards. Carolina is now benefiting from Stempniak's career revival. He's had 4 goals and 2 assists as well as an average ice time per game of over 16 minutes in his first nine games. Stempniak entered the weekend tied for third on the Canes in points. He's been good and the Devils, who should know what he's capable of, will need to pay attention to him.
Up Front Dangers: Jeff Skinner is an excellent skater and shooter, and he has led the post-Eric-Staal forward group in Carolina. He's the team leader in goals (6), shots (32), and points (11). The Devils will absolutely have to guard him more than most. His usual center has been Victor Rask, who's just behind Skinner in points. He has four goals, six assists, and 17 shots along with setting up Skinner for shots. It just so happens that Stempniak has been playing with those two. It's a top line for the Devils to contend with. Behind them, there have not been any stand out producers. But Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, and Elias Lindholm haven't been quiet from a shots perspective. And they have some solid hands even deeper in the lineup, led by Jordan Staal. Plus, they'll get support from their defense to attack.
A Burgeoning Blueline: Justin Faulk is an excellent defenseman similar to Ekblad and Hedman, who the Devils have dealt with in their last two games. Faulk will be leading a Canes defense that has been very good. They're also fairly young: Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin, and Brett Pesce are all regulars and under the age of 25 like Faulk. Slavin and Hanifin have been notable on offense with 16 shots each, just behind Faulk's 20 SOG (second to Skinner). Faulk has three goals and three assists, Hanifin hasn't scored yet but he has six assists, and Slavin has two goals and an assist. Provided they keep playing as they have been and contributing attempts, then they will get more. Again, as a unit, they've allowed just over 28 shots per game on average, which is one of the better ones in the league. It'll be a difficult defense to deal with.
While Hall is a bonafide star, and the unquestioned best Devil not named Cory Schneider, he hasn’t scored a goal in four games now. Teams know that he’s the main goal scorer on the team, so I believe it’s time for him to start passing now. Taylor Hall averages over 4 shots a game, and on the season he only has 2 assists. Likely due to this, his linemate Michael Cammalleri has no goals, and only 22 shots on the year. I do like Hall shooting, I really do — but I feel like he should pass more as well. The total shots number doesn’t matter, it’s the quality of the shots that are important.
I’m wondering if their should be new lines (Zacha shifting to the wing), or if a player (Quincey) should be benched. Yesterday’s game against the Lightning was far from acceptable, and I believe a change should be implemented. Since this the second half of a back-to-back game, it is likely a tactical change can’t be implemented too quickly. A dump-and-chase game, I believe, doesn’t fit the new team persona. Furthermore, passing needs to be practiced.
Now this is just my opinion, but I do believe Reid Boucher needs more ice-time. He’s only 23, and can’t be spending time on the bench. Plus, as he’s waiver ineligible, he can’t be sent down either. I’d prefer if he replaces one of Kalinin or Smith-Pelly, as neither has done too much this season. Nick Lappin has shown, from what I’ve seen, that he deserves to be playing in the NHL. His increased playing time shows that Hynes likes what he sees as well.
Analyzing both teams, I expect New Jersey to recover strongly after an embarassing defeat against Tampa Bay. Furthermore, Carolina isn’t particularly good, so I expect a 3-2 win.
Regarding the Devils: Keith Kinkaid will get this start.
I have to give credit where it’s due — John wrote most of this preview, but he’s out right now. Anyway, let me know how you guys feel about this matchup.