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Game Preview #29: New Jersey Devils at St. Louis Blues

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Tonight, the New Jersey Devils will visit the St. Louis Blues, who beat them soundly last Friday. This game preview summarizes how good the Blues are and makes some points about some Devils players such as John Moore.

St Louis Blues v New Jersey Devils
P.A. Parenteau and Paul Stastny will battle each other again, only this time in St. Louis.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Less than a week ago, these two played each other. Now it’s the runback.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (12-10-6) at the St. Louis Blues (16-9-4; SBN Blog: St. Louis Game Time)

The Time: 8:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV – MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN; Digital Audio – The One Jersey Network

The Last Devils Game: Sucked.

The Last Blues Game: On Tuesday night, the Blues visited the Nashville Predators. St. Louis looked primed for a win with the first twenty-two minutes of the game. Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan Reeves both scored in the first period to give the Blues a lead. Early in the second, Brad Hunt picked up his first goal as a Blue with a power play goal. Then the Predators did something alien to the New Jersey Devils and only alien to them: they went on the attack to try to get back into the game. The Preds started shooting more and kept firing away at Jake Allen. James Neal got on the board minutes after Hunt’s goal. Filip Forsberg made it 3-2 at 6:22 into the second period. The Blues survive the onslaught and surely will try to batten down the hatches (or something) to preserve the lead. No. Down a goal, the Predators continued what got them within one. They were rewarded with four unanswered goals in the third period. Ryan Johansen provided the equalizer, Mike Fisher provided the go-ahead goal, Mike Ribeiro shot the puck and it went into the net for insurance, and Fisher put home a late empty-netter to seal the win. The Blues were stunned, just stunned at being victims of losing a three-goal lead and losing by three. And it wasn’t even the craziest game of that night. Justin42 has this recap of the 3-6 loss in Nashville at St. Louis Game Time.

The Last Devils-Blues Game: Just last Friday, the Blues visited the Devils. They proceeded to pound on them. Robby Fabbri scored an early goal; less than two minutes into the first. The Devils were dominated for the rest of the first period. New Jersey showed an offensive pulse in the second, but the Blues kept up the lead. Ryan Reeves deflected a shot by Alex Pietrangelo to make it 0-2. Taylor Hall made a move towards the crease that resulted in P.A. Parenteau putting in a loose puck in front to make it 1-2. But the Blues extended their lead with Jaden Schwartz re-directing a shot by Alex Steen to convert a two-man advantage. Down 1-3, it appeared the Devils conceded in the third period. And Fabbri scored again in the third to make it 1-4 final. The no-regulation-loss-at-home streak ended with a whimper of a performance by the Devils. Devin recapped the game in this post. For the other side, Justin42 had this proud recap at St. Louis Game Time. As he should be proud, his favorite team played really well. Mine didn’t.

The Goal: Change the tactics. The dump-and-chase isn’t working. How the team collapses on defense isn’t working. The lack of aggression from the one in the team’s wedge plus one penalty kill formation isn’t working. The seeming lack of communication on and off the puck isn’t working. The attempts to “get it in deep” on offense, only to play it out to the defensemen and have them decide how to attack isn’t working. These tactics and tendencies and more didn’t work last Friday against St. Louis, they didn’t work against Our Hated Rivals or Montreal in the games surrounding the last Blues game, and they didn’t work in multiple games over the past few weeks. If the gameplan is really the same as it was in the past few games, then I don’t see how the Devils will win by any way other than good fortune and bounces. A more intense practice was a plus; but the team needs tactical changes. The Blues ripped the Devils to pieces in the run of play last Friday. More of the same won’t yield a different result.

A More Intense Practice: Chris Ryan of NJ.com noted on Twitter that Tuesday’s practice was the most intense he’s seen since training camp. He clarified that the hitting, skating, and battling was what he saw as more intense in this Tweet. Everyone practiced on Tuesday so clearly the message of “pick it up” was heard. We’ll see whether it leads to more fruitful effort on the ice on Thursday night.

A Return for Zacha: When Ryan meant everyone it also included Pavel Zacha. As reported in this post by Ryan at NJ.com on Tuesday, Zacha is cleared to play tonight. Andrew Gross’ report at Fire & Ice of Wednesday’s practice did note that Zacha was on a power play unit. Gross said to take the combinations with a grain of salt, but I’d be surprised if he was held out. With the bottom six not exactly contributing much in the last three games or so, head coach John Hynes has plenty of options to take him out.

You Don’t Say: Mike Morreale of NHL.com had a quote from John Moore after Tuesday’s practice:

He’s not wrong. And that this is coming from Moore says a lot. About a month ago, I took a closer look at how the Devils defensemen performed in 5-on-5 play. My conclusion was that while the team was not giving up a lot of goals, it was concerning as far as how many attempts and shots the defensemen were allowing. And that Moore was the most sieve-like of them all. I may need to do another closer look soon; but let’s focus on Moore. As of Tuesday night, Corsica has the following 5-on-5 stats for Moore:

  • Moore’s CF% is 44.15%. That’s the worst among all Devils defensemen.
  • Moore’s CA/60 is 60.49. That’s the worst among the Devils defense and the only one above 58 CA/60.
  • Moore’s CF/60 is 47.81. That’s the second worst among Devils defensemen; meaning when he’s on the ice, the team isn’t really attacking as much as with others.
  • Moore’s SF/60 and SA/60 are 25.65 and 34.84, respectively. Both are the worst stats among all Devils defensemen in those categories.
  • Moore’s expected goals against per 60 is the highest on the blueline at 2.93. His actual goals against per 60 is 3.35, which is second only to Jon Merrill’s mark (3.6) in six games.
  • Moore’s on-ice save percentage is 90.38%, which is a far cry from the ~97% mark he had about a month ago. Only Kyle Quincey - his partner - and Merrill - who has only played six games - have lower save percentages.
  • Moore went from being present for three 5-on-5 goals against on November 14 to being present for 23 goals against on December 13.
  • All of these stats are worse than what they were on November 14.

Moore is right that they need to stop the bleeding. He should start with himself and pick up his own play. Moore hasn’t been present for the creation of offense in 5-on-5 play and he’s been absolutely present for a lot of attempts, shots, and goals against. And if he won’t pick it up, then head coach John Hynes and his staff should do something about it.

Urrrrrrrrrrrgh: That was the sound I made when I read yesterday that the Devils sent down Yohann Auvitu, a defenseman who actually could skate with the puck sometimes, and called up Luke Gazdic, a forward who’s all about being physical because he isn’t all about playing hockey well at all. Chris got a post on the news yesterday and the reactions in the comments were mostly in agreement that this was a (to put it nicely) dubious decision. It’s Thursday morning and it is still a (to put it nicely) dubious decision. There is no need to carry fifteen forwards. Blues wiped the floor with the Devils in the run of play last Friday. A lumbering winger who’s a larger version of Jordin Tootoo wasn’t what the team missed that night. I hope he is not coming into the lineup tonight.

By the by, Auvitu being sent down guarantees that Jon Merrill is in the lineup. Auvitu may not be a full-82-NHL-game defenseman and he has his own things to work out in terms of positioning on defense. But he could at least move the puck well sometimes. That would be helpful for a team playing like they don’t have too many of those players as of late. Merrill isn’t on Auvitu’s level in terms of moving the puck, so I’m not pleased at that end of this roster decision either.

The Blues Are You Who You Thought They Are: They looked very good against New Jersey on Friday. They have looked very good all year round. Devin has noted plenty about them in his preview last Friday and that hasn’t changed much. After all, it’s been less than a week since the two teams last played each other. I’ll give you the big picture summary for those just joining us.

As a team, the Blues are quite good. Corsica has them with the third highest CF% in the league and the fifth best SF%. The team summary at NHL.com shows that they have relatively successful special teams units as well as out-shooting opponents with respect to per-game averages. If there’s a concern, then it may be in net as the Blues are in the bottom-third of the league - and just lower than New Jersey - in terms of 5-on-5 save percentage per Corsica.

In terms of players, they absolutely have the firepower to make up for any foibles (as per NHL.com) by Jake Allen (90.6% even strength save percentage) or Carter Hutton (88.9% even strength save percentage). Leading the Blues up front is one of the best forwards in the world: Vladimir Tarasenko. He didn’t score on New Jersey on Friday, but he definitely styled on them with three assists and eight shots on net. Tarasenko is among league leaders in goals, points, and shots on net. But even if Tarasenko is warded off somehow, the Blues have plenty of other forwards to attack. Robby Fabbri put up a brace on New Jersey; he has emerged as a scorer. Paul Stastny, Alex Steen, David Perron, and Jaden Schwartz can all make it a long night for any opponent. They have been productive for the Blues so far this season and in past seasons. The forwards are well supported by the defense. After all, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo, and Colton Parayko (somehow he has over 70 shots, more than the other Blues defensemen, and no goals yet) have been quite productive from the points with shots and points. Just look up the numbers at Corsica for the St. Louis defensemen and marvel at the good looking numbers. You know it’s a very good crew when the worst of the bunch in terms of CA/60 and SA/60 is Jay Bouwmeester and he’s still a sight for the eyes that watch, say, John Moore. In short, the top six features an all-world winger in Tarasenko among very good forwards and the defense is steady as a concrete foundation. If (when?) the goaltending improves, then the Blues are a contender in the Spring of 2017. And they may even be contenders already.

Again, they are a very good team. Oh, and they’re 12-1-3 at home. Even if the Devils were playing well, this would be a difficult game. Given how they have performed on their current three-game losing streak, it is clearly much more difficult. Of course, I stand to be proven wrong.

One Last Thought: It does not matter much to me who starts for the Devils. Cory Schneider has been slumping. But is Keith Kinkaid a superior option? On Friday, he was beaten for four goals out of 31 shots on net. That’s not really what the Devils could use. Then again, I don’t think he even saw Fabbri’s first goal and he was beaten by a deflection and a re-direction in the second period. Fabbri’s second goal, sure, he could have done better on it. It would have been nice if A) Parenteau back-checked him effectively and B) Ben Lovejoy engaged him instead of just skating back and allowing him space. So he could be the better option at the moment despite how he was hurt by his teammates last Friday against the Blues. Those two points from the last goal bring to mind my earlier pleas with Schneider in net: the skaters actually have to help the goalie and do their jobs defensively. And, no, that doesn’t mean trying to be “helpful” and stop the shot. Schneider has been excellent in the not-so-distant past. Kinkaid has shown to be a capable backup earlier in this season. So it doesn’t matter who gets the start to me; I just want either goalie to have the right to stop the shot instead of getting thwarted in part by the skaters.

Your Take: Maybe the Devils will perform better than they have in their previous games. Maybe this will be more competitive than their last game against the Blues. Perhaps that’s what I’m hoping for. What are you hoping for? What can and should the Devils do to give the Blues a tougher time tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.