Back at home in what may or may not be a chippy game last last year.
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (11-7-6) vs. the Vancouver Canucks (11-12-2; SBN Blog: Nucks Misconduct)
The Time: 7:00 PM
The Broadcast: TV – MSG+2; Radio – 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN; Digital Audio – The OJ Network
The Last Devils Game: You wouldn’t believe it if I told you. The Devils visited the Nashville Predators, went down 1-2 in a fairly even first period, went down 1-4 in a second period by Nashville, and somehow got bodied by Nashville in the third period but the Devils tied it up with three goals on four shots on net. The game went into overtime, the Predators controlled the puck, and somehow the Devils got one opportunity to attack. They missed the net, Nashville countered and missed the net, and then Taylor Hall fed Michael Cammalleri for the overtime winner with less than twenty seconds left in OT. The Devils won 5-4. Just read the recap. To sum it up, from member TWilliAM in the comments of that recap: “Great win! Now let us never speak of it again.”
The Last Canucks Game: You wouldn’t believe it but Vancouver pulled out a post-regulation win despite getting heavily out-shot in this game against Toronto. It started off well enough with Daniel Sedin scoring and the Canucks only being out-shot 9-7 in the first period. In the second period, Sven Baertschi scored early in the period to double Vancouver’s lead. That period had five penalties and Vancouver would pay for a goaltender interfence call on Jayson Megna. James van Reimsdyk converted that power play less than 15 seconds into that power play to make it 2-1. The Leafs ended the second period with 15 shots to Vancouver’s 10 and down a score. The third period was mostly Toronto’s. Auston Matthews scored early to tie the period and Toronto out-shot Vancouver 11-4. Overtime came and Toronto dominated with 7 shots on Ryan Miller to Vancouver’s lone shot. The shootout came and Vancouver found a way to win. Specifically, Markus Granlund and Bo Horvat scored and only Mitch Miller did so for Toronto. The Canucks won 3-2 through the shootout. Here’s a recap by jimmi.cynic at Nucks Misconduct.
The Goal: Do everything better. Seriously, everything. Yes, the Devils completed an epic and incredible improbable comeback where they scored four goals on five shots in the game’s last 24-ish minutes - and the one shot that didn’t go in set up a goal. Nashville, in that same time frame, did everything but score on the Devils. The only lesson to take out of that is to never give up. However, those kinds of comebacks are quite rare. The Devils need to sharpen up in all aspects of the game based on what was seen on Saturday afternoon. The defensive coverage needs to actually cover players and not the goaltender. There has to be an offensive attack that begins more movements up-ice other than dumping and changing/chasing. There has to be some semblance of playing to the score rather than hoping for one chance to come out of somewhere to finish it. What happened in Nashville was great and the message isn’t “out-shooting opponents equals wins,” but expecting a repeat of what happened on Saturday is bound to fail.
But Don’t Take My Word For It: Take the word of some of the Devils players regarding Saturday’s performance. All of these quotes were reported in this post by Andrew Gross at Fire & Ice.
Cammalleri, who had two goals, said it was not “sustainable” play.
“I thought at times, maybe even in the third period, we sat back and let them come to us,” Hall said. “We have to be a better team at playing with confidence and going at times and putting them on their heels like we did at the start of the (third) period.”
Added Greene, “We don’t want to get into these shootouts. We want to do a better job of defending and not just sitting on our heels and defending but attacking in our defensive zone and then getting the puck out as quickly as possible. We’re spending a little too much time in there. It’s tough, giving up 40, 50 shots, we can’t be doing that.”
The overtime goalscorer, the team’s most talented forward, and the team’s top defenseman and captain all state that what happened really shouldn’t happen regularly. It’s good that they recognize it. It’s up to them and their teammates to make sure it doesn’t happen, starting with tonight’s game.
Vancouver as a Team: If you’re down on the Devils taking so many games beyond regulation, then look at Vancouver. They’ve won as many games as New Jersey but they have five more regulation losses. Those are points that would have put the Canucks in contention in the Pacific Division.
That said, the Canucks aren’t so bad based on a few factors. In terms of possession, the Canucks have a Corsi For% of 49.72%, which is both decent and superior to New Jersey’s 48.14% (sixth lowest in the NHL) according to Corsica. The Canucks have been out-shot in 5-on-5 play, but with a Shots For% of 49.28% that is the result of a SF/60 of 29.09 and a SA/60 of 29.9. Again, not too bad per Corsica. In terms of total shots per game and shots against per game, it’s 29.4 and 29.9 respectively per NHL.com. While the Canucks were run over by Toronto, it doesn’t appear to be a regular occurrence. Their penalty kill has been strong with a 85.3% success rate, which is a top-ten rate as of this writing per NHL.com, and they have the third best road penalty kill success rate at 88.6%. These aren’t all bad. So what’s the problem?
The percentages, for one. According to Corsica, in 5-on-5 play, the Canucks have a shooting percentage of 6.32% and a save percentage of 90.38%. That shooting percentage is tied for the fifth lowest in the league. That save percentage is the third lowest in the league. While the Canucks are not usually getting out-shot so much in 5-on-5 play or out-possessed, that limits how much Vancouver scores and the goalies have not been so good to make it up. Once one or both of those percentages improve, then Vancouver will look better.
And exacerbating the issue is the power play. While the Canucks have stemmed any bleeding with a successful penalty kill, the other side of special teams have just struggled to help out. Their overall power play success rate is the fifth lowest in the NHL at 13.9% (10 for 72). Their road power play success rate is ranked higher but it’s a lower rate at 12.9% (4 for 33). Those 33 man advantage situations on the road is the tenth lowest in the NHL so it could be argued they have an issue drawing calls. But when they have drawn them, they have not taken advantage.
A struggling power play combined with a low 5-on-5 shooting percentage and a not-so-high shooting rate means that goals have been hard to come by. And so they have been for Vancouver: 55 goals and an average of 2.2 per game according to NHL.com. Both are a bottom five count and rate in the NHL.
Beware These Canucks Up Front: While the Canucks haven’t scored as many as they would have liked, there are plenty of players to watch for as per NHL.com. Two of them are in the headline photo. They are the faces of the Vancouver franchise for over a decade now. They are the Sedin twins. Henrik Sedin wears #33, he’s the center, and he’s the distributor. He’s just over a shot per game (29 in 25 games) but he doesn’t need to the be shooter since he has six goals and ten assists. Daniel Sedin wears #22, he’s a winger, and he’s the shooter. He has 71 shots to lead the Canucks and he has scored seven goals in addition to putting up eight assists. Henrik and Daniel are together. Henrik and Daniel do not take many penalties (only three minors each for them). Henrik and Daniel play a lot. They will continue to be a force, even tonight.
But it’s not just all about the Sedins. Per Left Wing Lock, they’ve been playing with Brandon Sutter as of late. I don’t know if that’s a good move. According to Corsica, Sutter has the second lowest CF% on the team at 46.13%. The Sedins, by contrast, are at 51-52%. According to Corsica’s WOWY section, Sutter with Daniel Sedin has a 44.65% CF% and Sutter with Henrik Sedin has a 46.86% CF%. The point is that the line has been picked on in 5-on-5. But Sutter has six goals, seven assists, and 60 shots on net so the Vancouver coaches seem to see that production as evidence of that line working. I’d like to see the Devils put the pressure on them, assuming they can get and maintain the puck against the Sedin twins.
The Vancouver second line is one to watch for if only for Bo Horvat. He’s tied with Henrik Sedin for the team lead in points with eight goals, eight assists, and 43 shots on net. The selection of Horvat at ninth overall in 2013 was seen as a reach at the time. Now, the 21-year old looks anything but a reach. But, again, is he with the right linemates? Left Wing Lock had him with Sven Baertschi and Alexandre Burrows in Vancouver’s last game. Those two have had a good amount of production (Baertschi has four goals, seven assists, and 42 shots; Burrows has four goals, six assists, and 44 shots). According to Corsica’s line stats, the team has a 54.50 CF% when they’re together. It appears it’s been a good line. The Devils should be careful when the Sedins aren’t out there.
As an ‘X-factor,’ consider Loui Eriksson. Somehow, he’s been moved away from the Sedins and replaced by Sutter. Eriksson with the Sedins? Canucks have a CF% of 59.13%. Sutter with the Sedins? Canucks have a CF% below 50%. I don’t get it. Eriksson can absolutely be a shooter and a scorer given his past. He has 47 shots on net, six goals, and five assists. I don’t get why he’s not higher up in the lineup. Still, among the bottom six, he’ll likely be the dangerous one.
The Canucks Blueline: Alex Edler and Chris Tanev are both out. This has meant Ben Hutton is with Erik Gudbranson, Luca Sbisa is with Troy Stetcher, and Philip Larsen is with Nikita Tryamkin. Only Hutton-Gubranson has been above 50% CF% per Corsica’s pairing data. Hutton has been particularly productive with three goals, four assists, and 51 shots on net to lead the Canucks defensemen on offense. Although I would be wary of Stetcher too. While Stetcher and Sbisa hasn’t exactly been a shutdown pairing, Stetcher has shown some spark and plenty of shots. In 16 appearances, he has 48 shots on net. While the points have not yet come in bunches - one goal, four assists - that does help the Canucks stay active on offense. The Devils would do well to keep an eye on Stetcher and try to make him play some defense.
38 Saves Aside...: Ryan Miller may have been the hero of Saturday’s shootout win as he made 38 saves on 40 shots. That’s impressive. What hasn’t been impressive? His season. You know how I’ve noted Vancouver’s 5-on-5 save percentage as being one of the lowest in the NHL? Here’s the numbers for both goalies at NHL.com, #1 goalie Miller is rocking a 90.6% save percentage at evens in 14 appearances and #1A goalie Jakob Markstrom has a 91.2% save percentage at evens in 12 appearances. That’s not all that good. Miller has been exceptional in shorthanded situations at least with a 92.5% save percentage on the PK. Should Miller be the starter, the Devils power play may have some issues. Should Markstrom be the starter, the Devils power play can feel a little more confident given Markstrom’s 82.5% save percentage in such situations. All the same, the Toronto game showed that any goalie can have a hot night. This season has shown that Miller hasn’t been so hot and Markstrom hasn’t been that much better. Should the Devils be able to break down the Vancouver defense, they should like their chances at against either goalie. Assuming Miller’s hot game isn’t the start of a hot streak.
Back to Cory: Andrew Gross reported at Fire & Ice yesterday that Cory Schneider will start this game. I think Cory Schneider should get this game. While his save percentage has taken a big hit over the past few weeks, it’s not going to get any better by not playing. It could get better if he faces 40+ shots, but as noted earlier, that’s a bad idea for New Jersey. Keith Kinkaid may have played as well as he could have against the deluge of rubber Nashville provided, but with a back-to-back set later in the week, he won’t be sitting for long. Besides, Schneider hasn’t so much the problem as it has been the guys in front of him - literally in a few cases.
A Return of Bennett is Possible but a Return of Zacha is Not: Gross also reported that Beau Bennett was back at practice on Monday. He remains on injured reserve for a leg laceration and per Gross’ lines at practice, he was just among a group of rotating forwards. I take that to mean that it is not a guarantee that he could come back tonight. That said, this post by Gross notes that Bennett is ready to return. The team just needs to make a roster move in order to activate him. They could send John Quenneville, who was called up for Bennett last week, back to Albany. They could also send back someone else, even though that would not be wise as Miles Wood and Nick Lappin have been contributing in recent games. Their spots on the roster are safe.
They could also put Pavel Zacha on injured reserve. He left Saturday’s game against Nashville in the first period when he took a puck to the face. Zacha did not practice on Monday and head coach John Hynes has ruled him out, per Gross. The team could put him on retroactive IR for it. That would mean he’ll sit out the next couple of games. Is that worth doing? I’m not sure. So far, a fully healthy Zacha is just about guaranteed to play every night. If he becomes fully healthy, then why keep him on the shelf to allow someone else to play? I’m sure these are the questions Ray Shero and John Hynes discussed as Hynes said he would talk to Shero about it in this post by Gross. That they’re talking about it makes me think that Bennett would likely return to the lineup tonight and strengthen the depth at wing. We’ll see if it happens though.
Keep it Moving: Out of the Nashville game, Taylor Hall scored his first goal in well over a month (keep in mind, he missed over two weeks with injury), Michael Cammalleri scored two goals, and even Adam Henrique got into the goal-scoring action. These players have and will play in New Jersey’s top six tonight. As they’ll be leading the offense, it’s imperative that they continue to find ways - more ways - to attack. I’m confident Hall can. I’m hopeful Cammalleri keeps up his great form in terms of production. I’m doubtful of Henrique since he really hasn’t done much in the way of shooting or creating offense; maybe the PPG will help him get going.
One Last Thought: The annual Devils Toy Drive is this Friday. Bring at least two new, unwrapped toys of at least $10 in value and you’ll receive a voucher for two tickets to a future Devils home game (limited quantities of those available). It’s a good thing to help others. So please use this time this week to get some toys for the kids who otherwise would not have them.
Your Take: The Devils and Canucks did not exactly have the best performances in their most recent games even though they won. Who will take this one tonight? Who on the Devils do you want to see have a better game tonight? Who on the Canucks worries you the most? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s game in the comments. Thank you for reading.