The California road trip ends tonight. Will it be perfect?
The Time: 10:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: Saturday night was all right for a late night (New Jersey local time) against the Los Angeles Kings. Things kicked off early when Devante Smith-Pelly put up a shot on Jonathan Quick and Tyler Kennedy was able to bang home the rebound. Then, the Devils...played a rather good first period. They took three penalties, killed them all, and proceeded to be the better team at even strength. The Kings looked like, well, the Devils in most games this season at evens with their missed passes and poor decisions going forward. The second period would be better for them. They actually threatened on a four-minute power play (thanks, Bobby Farnham) but could not convert. After a few minutes, the Kings started to put better shifts together. Then they absolutely pinned back the Devils, got a breather, but Seth Helgeson and David Warsofsky wouldn't be able to get off the ice. The two defensemen were stuck in their own end for a whopping 3:34. The end of that epically long shift featured Milan Lucic attempting a shot where his stick hit Helgeson in the mouth and Anze Kopitar slamming in the rebound. Painful. The Kings looked more like themselves to close out the period until Alec Martinez took a hooking call within the final minute. While the Devils did not score on that power play, they set the tempo in the third period that the second period run by the Kings would not continue. It could have, but the missed shots and blocked shots meant it didn't. And that affected the Devils too. There would be a late surge by the Kings, but Dustin Brown hit the iron and couldn't elevate a puck over Keith Kinkaid late. Overtime would be needed to solve this one. The Kings played it methodically, but the Devils preyed upon them when the puck got loose. Odd man rushes and a breakaway by Adam Henrique didn't decide it. But in the dying seconds, John Moore turned into a superstar, skated all alone though the neutral zone, beat Jeff Carter and Martinez to go around the net, and slid in a shortside shot on Quick at the left post with fifteen seconds left. The highlight reel-worthy goal made it a 2-1 win for New Jersey. My recap of the win is here.
The Last Ducks Game: Friday night featured the Ducks travelling to St. Louis. The beginning went well enough for the visitors. The ending, less so to put it lightly. After a scoreless first period, Ryan Getzlaf converted a 5-on-3 for Anaheim to make it 1-0. The Blues' Paul Stastny would answer back to tie it up before the period closed. Then the turnovers and the errors and the mistakes and the run-on sentences and the problems mounted for Anaheim. The period opened with Jori Lehtera making it 1-2 before the two minute mark. That play was created by pressure forcing Cam Fowler to give up the puck. Just before the three minute mark, a costly giveaway by Josh Manson led to Patrik Berglund slamming a puck into the net from the slot to make it 1-3. Rickard Rakell pulled the Ducks within one. But as the game started to be closed out, Vladimir Tarasenko emerged. He picked off a pass by Simon Despres that led a shot that made it 2-4. About a minute later, he sailed in the ENG to make it 2-5. The four-goal-allowed third period by Anaheim featured three unassisted goals. Well, unassisted by St. Louis players. Here's a short recap by Kyle Nicolas at Anaheim Calling about the loss.
The Last Devils-Ducks Game: Way back on December 19, the Ducks were a bottom-of-the-division team that was struggling mightily to score goals and the Devils were very much not near the bottom of the Metropolitan. The game that transpired was, well, stupid by New Jersey. A bad shift yielded Kevin Bieksa throwing a puck in front for Chris Stewart. Stewart fired a puck towards the center, which went off Eric Gelinas' skates and through Keith Kinkaid for the game's first goal. In the last minute of the first period, Adam Larsson decided to fire a slapshot around the boards in an attempt to get the puck out of his end. It got picked off at the sideboards by a lurking Corey Perry, who passed it to a wide-open Ryan Kesler. He was open because he was in front of the net waiting on Larsson to make a move. Kesler put up a turnaround backhand shot, evaded the D, and put home his own rebound with 22 seconds left for a 0-2 score. How did the Devils respond? To a Ducks team that put up a mere ten shots in the remaining forty minutes, the Devils put up fifteen with five in the third. The turnovers, the bad passes and decisions, and all of that just was rife for a frustrating watch. Mike Cammalleri would score on one of those five third period shots to make it 1-2 late. But there was little urgency to tie it up, so New Jersey lost 1-2. What a stupid game by New Jersey, which was the main word used in my recap for the loss. As far as I can tell, there's nothing at Anaheim Calling for this one.
The Goal: Watch the fouls, again. I'll agree Mike Sislo getting a goaltender interference call because Jake Muzzin knocked him into Jonathan Quick was weak. The other four calls were legitimate. Bobby Farnham alone was responsible for two, which totaled six minutes as one was a double minor for a high-stick. Something he did while he and the Devils were on offense. Anaheim's power play has been fierce in 2016. Handing them several power plays in a row or something like three to five opportunities within the first half of the game is just asking for trouble. It worked against Los Angeles due to the Devils penalty killers playing very well, the Kings' power play struggling on their first opportunities, and Keith Kinkaid being unflappable in net. Two out of those three may be within their control, but not the third. They may have lost to St. Louis, but I wouldn't poke that particular bear if they can avoid it.
Do the Ducks Want This Game?: You bet. I'm sure Ducks fans wished the Devils beat the Kings in regulation on Saturday. Better than the Kings winning outright in their minds, though. For Anaheim to continue to fight for first in the Pacific, they need to get wins as Los Angeles falters. I wouldn't say they're the most desperate team for points that the Devils will play this week - that team comes to the Rock on Thursday - but they'll want them. Of course, I've written about the same thing for the other two California teams and, well, you saw the results.
If 2015 was a Sigh, then 2016 is a YEAH!: If nothing else, know this about the Ducks. Here are their basic team stats from October 2015 through to December 2015 at NHL.com:
Ducks: 14-15-6, 66 GF, 86 GA, 1024 SOG, 968 SOG Allowed, 16 PPG, 17% PP Conversion Rate, 15 PPGA, 87.7 PK% Success Rate
For the sake of perspective, that's the lowest goals for amount in 2015, the fourth lowest SOG amount in 2015 in the NHL, the second lowest power play goal amount in 2015, and the eighth lowest power play conversion rate. The only parts of that stat line that are good are defensive. Their goals against total was tied for the fifth fewest in the NHL in 2015; their SOG allowed total was the second lowest, and their penalty kill success rate and PPGA total were each the second lowest in the league. While this isn't the whole picture, it really sums up how things went for the Ducks. They were more than just pretty good at preventing shots, goals, and power play goals. But that doesn't matter much when you're abysmal at scoring goals, taking shots, and converting power plays.
During this time, it's not unheard of for a coach to be fired, some trades made to significantly shake up the roster, and/or just a management decision to just bail on the season. Anaheim decided to be patient. Needless to say, their patience was rewarded as their super-low shooting percentage didn't stay low. Now, here are those same stats in 2016 (1/1/2016 to 3/13/2016) at NHL.com:
Ducks: 22-6-3, 97 GF, 69 GA, 991 SOG, 852 SOG Allowed, 30 PPG, 28.3% PP Conversion Rate, 17 PPGA, 85.3% PK% Success Rate
Again, here's some perspective. Their 97 goals scored are the third most in the NHL. Their 991 SOG are the fourth most in the NHL. Their 30 PPG and 28.3% power play conversion rate are both the highest in the NHL in this calendar year so far. Needless to say, their offense has not only turned around from 2015, it seemingly got turned up to eleven. Defensively, they haven't conceded much. Their 69 goals against is the fewest in the NHL. Their 852 shots allowed are the second fewest in the NHL. Their penalty kill remains very strong as that conversion rate is the third highest in the NHL. The 17 PPGAs, not as lofty, but still a top-ten total in the NHL.
In short, the Ducks have been fantastic in 2016 after seemingly rudderless in 2015. These are not the same Ducks the Devils lost to with a stupid performance on December 19.
Defensive Issues: The St. Louis game was marred by errors for Anaheim. Defensive giveaways just killed them. It'll be something to watch for as I'm sure Bruce Boudreau and his staff have highlighted it in practices and meetings since then. According to Eric Stephens' report at the Orange County Register, the blueline isn't at full health. Sami Vantanen missed the St. Louis game, his first of the season. This led to Korbinian Holzer getting a call-up to play. Kevin Bieksa got hurt in the third period of St. Louis game. His status is in doubt. According to the team's official Twitter account, both are questionable for this game. If missing, the Ducks' impressive unit will be weaker than usual. There will be Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Simon Despres, Holzer, and...I guess Clayton Stoner would draw in? That's definitely a group that drops off after the first few names. That could open up opportunities for the Devils provided they execute to the best of their ability.
About the Goalies: Let's start in net: Keith Kinkaid will likely get this start because starting Yann Danis in this one would be a very curious and unnecessary decision. Kinkaid has played very well in his last two games. Opposite him could be Frederik Andersen, who's enjoying a fine season in net based on these numbers at NHL.com. If it's not him, then it'll likely be John Gibson. He's been more vulnerable at 5-on-5 play than Andersen (not to a terrible degree, just writing it's a drop off), but he's been sensational on the PK.
About the Ducks Skaters: With ten players contributing at least eight goals this season, the Ducks do have some depth going for them. Two are even defensemen: Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm. Of course, they only have four players with more than ten goals this season: Ryan Getzlaf (11), Ryan Kesler (14), Rickard Rakell (18), and Corey Perry (28). This isn't to say the points aren't there. For example, Getzlaf may only have eleven goals but he also has forty-two assists, which makes him Anaheim's leading scorer. According to their recent lines at Left Wing Lock, these top goal scorers are spread out through the lineup. Perry has been with Rakell; Getzlaf has David Perron and Ryan Garbutt; and Kesler has been skating with Jakub Silfverberg (who's shot a lot but has a sad 5.4% shooting percentage) and Andrew Cogliano. This gives the Ducks plenty of ways to match-up with opponents. Should something not work out so well, I wouldn't be surprised if Boudreau switches them up. Say, to put Getzlaf and Perry together. Still, it's a crew that's been able to produce more shots - look at how many skaters have over a hundred shots! - and get more goals over the last two and a half months. The Devils would be wise to put up a similar defensive performance as they did against Los Angeles again. Assuming they can.
One Last Thought: The lack of Devils news and updates is for one reason. Per Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice at the end of this post, they had the day off on Sunday. All I really want to John Hynes to change is to replace David Warsofsky with Damon Severson. I think Severson should get more ice time, especially in this part of the season where the Devils are just playing out the season. While he's only played for one or two games with the team, I don't think Warsofsky is adding much to the squad. If Jordin Tootoo is good to go, then I'd also like to see Tuomo Ruutu switch to the left side so Bobby Farnham can be scratched. Ruutu adds very little, but he's not taking penalties by being a "Wild Thing." I don't know Tootoo's status, so it's just an additional hope. Of course, since the team won on Saturday, I could easily see no changes to the lineup.
Your Take: The Devils will complete their road trip tonight and end the late night (New Jersey local time) games for this season. What do you think will happen tonight? Will the Devils make it 3-for-3? Or will the Ducks prevail as they have been for most of 2016? Who on Anaheim concerns you the most? Should the Devils make any changes to their lineup? Can the Devils play a far less stupid game than the last Devils-Ducks game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.