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Game Preview #71: New Jersey Devils vs. Minnesota Wild

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The New Jersey Devils return home to wear their original jerseys for St. Patrick's Day. And to play the Minnesota Wild, who need all the points they can get. This preview focuses on what's new with NJ and who to watch for on the Wild.

Pictured: Something that very well could happen tonight, only in Newark and with both sides wearing different uniforms.
Pictured: Something that very well could happen tonight, only in Newark and with both sides wearing different uniforms.
Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Bring back the old uniforms, someone said! And so they will be worn tonight.

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (33-30-7) vs. the Minnesota Wild (32-27-11; SBN Blog: Hockey Wilderness)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils went into the O.C. on Monday night to play Anaheim.  After a period of scoreless hockey, the Ducks just dropped a train on the Devils.  Then another flurry of goals in the third period.  No, I'm not writing a full summary for this. The Devils lost 1-7 to the Ducks. It was as bad as you thought.  Here's a light recap of the loss.

The Last Wild Game: On Tuesday, the Wild went into Canada's capital to play the Senators.  It started off well enough for the Wild with Nino Niederreiter scoring an early goal to get the game going.  The Wild didn't build much off that, though they put up a better effort in the second period. Alas, Mike Hoffman would score on one of only five second-period shots to tie things up.  Ryan Carter would re-take the lead for Minnesota when he knocked in a puck in mid-air as he crashed the net on a Mikael Granlund play.  The Wild tried to hold on and they were so very close to doing so.  But with the extra skater and time running out, Erik Karlsson took a long shot.  Mark Stone recovered it in the slot and sent the puck on net.  The Wild forgot about Mika Zibanejad to the right of Devan Dubnyk and he slammed in the loose puck to tie the game with 7.1 seconds left in regulation.  That's bad. What's worse is that the Wild have been bad in overtime this season.   The Wild nearly took it to a shootout but then a disaster struck. Two Wild skaters went for Bobby Ryan at the sideboards.  Ryan got the puck away to Chris Wideman, who set it up for Karlsson in the slot.  Karlsson aimed, fired, and won the game with his third point of the night (he earned two assists, bringing his total to sixty this season).  The Wild lost 2-3. Here's Joe Bouley's recap of the loss.

The Last Devils-Wild Game: Back on January 10, these two teams met in Minnesota for a nationally televised game.  Yes, NBCSN chose this one.  The Devils definitely limped into this one - and the start of a four-game road trip - with three straight losses featuring some poor performances.  The Wild, well, they weren't sharp at all.  The game was scoreless through the first two periods.  The Devils played a smarter game and their execution was notably better. They still wasted a 5-on-3 opportunity in the second period, but they made the low-event, low-shot game work in their favor.  Early in the third, Adam Henrique broke through on the scoreboard with a shot from the right circle past Jonas Brodin and Darcy Kuemper.  Then NBC SN had technical difficulties so the live audience missed Minnesota's equalizer and Jon Merrill scoring his first goal in forever to break the deadlock. The Wild mounted a comeback effort from a shots perspective, as they out-shot the Devils 4-11 in the third period.  But it was too little, too late, and not too concerning for Cory Schneider. The Devils won 2-1 to break their slide; here's my recap of the game. Over at Hockey Wilderness, The Noogie was bored per the recap posted. Bummer.

The Goal: Make those power plays count. Based on the standings prior to the games played on March 16, the Wild are a playoff-bound team. If they do, they will likely have the worst penalty kill success rate among the sixteen teams playing beyond April 10, 2016.  It's currently 28th at 76.9% per NHL.com. While they have been shorthanded fewer than all but one team in the league, they've conceded forty goals out of 179 situations. According to Corsica, the Wild have a 50.27 SA/60 in 4-on-5 situations, which is the fifth most in the NHL. It's been a bad unit, discipline aside. It's been bad enough for Joe Bouley to focus on what he calls broken system for the PK in this fine post at Hockey Wilderness that went up last week. What does that mean for the Devils? It means if they get a power play, then they need to make the most of it and get shots on target. Given the low PK save percentage of Devan Dubnyk this season, who may start tonight for Minnesota, goals can be had.  Letting opportunities go against a poor PK team like Minnesota would be a real waste.

Do the Wild Want This Game?: I'm writing this on 3/16, so the answer is "Oh, hell yeah."  They may be the opponent most desperate for points at the time the Devils play them as New Jersey closes out their season.  The Wild's overtime loss to Ottawa did give them a valuable point to stay ahead of Colorado for the final wild card spot in the West.  They are ahead of the Avs by exactly that point.  Keep in mind the Avs have an advantage in ROW right now, so it's imperative the Wild stay ahead in points.  Minnesota has looked better under John Torchetti, who replaced Mike Yeo on February 13. According to NHL.com,. they have been 9-6-1 under Torchetti's reign so far. That's been pretty good but they need to be better to prevent Colorado from taking over.  Needless to say, they absolutely, positively need points tonight for their own cause.  I wouldn't expect them at all to come out flat.

Possibly 11/7, Or 10/7 If It's Competitive Late: The news from the New Jersey Devils' Wednesday practice wasn't so positive. According to Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, Mike Sislo was ill and did not practice. His status for today is unknown.  I hope he feels better just in general because being sick is never a good thing.   However, combined with the fact that Jordin Tootoo and Jacob Josefson both appear to be out again, Sislo being too sick to play means the Devils could be short a forward.   They could call someone up from Albany.  Or, they could just roll with seven defensemen and play without a full set of forwards.  With all due respect to Sislo, it wasn't like he was making a difference out there. That said, at least he putting in an effort without taking much away.  It's possible he plays and I hope that happens for his sake and the Devils' sake.  If not and the Devils don't bring anyone up, then that's the sign they'll go with eleven forwards and seven defensemen.   And if it's the third period and the game is close, I still expect Bobby Farnham to sit, essentially making it ten forwards.

Defend!: If you need a secondary goal for this one, then make it the defensive end for New Jersey. They were very stingy and largely successful against Los Angeles. They were very loose and largely terrible against Anaheim.  Clearly, they need to be more like the former than the latter.  Keith Kinkaid can take care of the rest, provided he isn't conceding plenty of rebounds or getting caught out of position.

So What Does Minnesota Do Well?: Ahead of this preview, I went to Hockey Wilderness. I found the post about their poor penalty kill that was noted in The Goal sub-section.  I also found this close look at Jason Zucker's struggles at staying in the lineup by Tony Wiseau. Wiseau also began a series looking at every one of Minnesota's overtime appearances to find out what's been wrong. Something surely is since the team is 1-9 when the game goes to 3-on-3 overtime.  Those dropped points matter given the tight battle they are in for that final playoff spot in the Western Conference.  They're good posts, but my impression is that things are not all that well for the hockey team designated to represent The Land of 10,000 Lakes.  That impression grows when I go to Corsica and learn that the Wild have a CF% of just under 48%.

So here's some positives about the Wild.  I mean, they have an overall goal differential and they're competing for a playoff spot.  They're doing something right.  While the offense sputtered to a degree under Mike Yeo; the goal scoring has bloomed under Torchetti. They've scored an average of 3.125 goals per game since he's been coach.  Their power play has been quite potent with a 20% success rate and twelve power play goals in those sixteen games. He's benefiting from some better puck luck, and so is the team.  Over the whole season, the Wild have been good in their own end. Their 5-on-5 SA/60 rate is one of the better ones in the league per Corsica and their 5-on-5 shooting and save percentages are solid. They've conceded an average of 2.47 goals per game, thanks in large part to the very good even strength goaltending performances by Dubnyk and Kuemper. If they could sort out their overtime and penalty kill woes, then it'd be more apparent that they're a solid team.  Of course, they would also be in a better position in the standings, too.

WILDBOYS!: I won't get a chance to use that again this season, so there it is.  Let's look at the Wild players to see who to pay attention to.

There's their big star and top scorer: Mikko Koivu.  Who else did you expect? Koivu has been leading the Wild forwards and the team with fifteen goals and thirty one assists per NHL.com. While he's not one to shoot, his solid CF% - finishing positive in three of last four seasons per Corsica - suggests he's driving the play.  According to Left Wing Lock, he's been skating with Charlie Coyle, who leads the Wild in goals (21, with only 2 on the PP) and shooting percentage (16%). And he's been skating with booooooooooooooooooooooo Zach Parise as well.  Parise's second to Coyle in goals and his production certainly isn't shabby.  He also shoots the puck a lot more than Coyle, so expect plenty of rubber to come from the left side of that unit.

Speaking of goals, Minnesota is very much a score-by-committee team.  Coyle is the only member of the Wild with more than twenty goals, but there's eight other forwards with at least ten and defenseman Matt Dumba with ten of his own.  While Jason Pomminville's status is unknown - he missed the last three games - Thomas Vanek and Nino Neiderreiter have 18 and 16 goals, respectively. They've been on different units, which spreads things out.  Vanek has been with Mikael Granlund (who also has ten goals) and Jordan Schroder (who has only one in seventeen games this season).  Neiderreiter has been with Justin Fontaine (only four goals) and Erik Haula (ten goals).  I think Jason Zucker - who has twelve - would be an improvement up front.  It's still a set of three lines where everyone can chip in.  That should make match-ups somewhat interesting for a potentially short-on-forwards Devils lineup tonight. And there's of course Ryan Carter, who's got seven in a fourth line role to chip in as well.

The Minnesota defense is also one to watch for.  Ryan Suter has the money, the contract length, and he's a mere point behind Koivu for the team lead in scoring.  He's also way ahead of all other Wild members in average ice time with 28:43.  What this means is that the Devils are going to see a lot of Suter in both ends of the rink and in all situations.  Keith Kinkaid, who will likely start this one, will get to see plenty of rubber from him given his 165 shots on net.  He's also first on his blueline in CF% at just over 50% per Corsica; an impressive figure given how much he plays and how often he's taking on tough situations.  Per Left Wing Lock, you'll likely see Jared Spurgeon playing with him at evens.  Spurgeon is a fine producer in his own right, although Suter has been taking more care of firing it on target.   The recent Wild game had Jonas Brodin, who's a solid defender, start with the limited-minute defender Nate Prosser before moving him with others.  This meant the other pairing had Marco Scandella with Matt Dumba, who's the power play threat on the blueline that isn't Suter.  He's got twelve power play points to Suter's seventeen as well as 137 shots, the second most on that blueline behind Suter.  In short, consider him at least as an "X-factor" from the back.

I suppose the fact that there's this much to say about the individual players is another point for the "The Wild are a playoff quality team" thought.  Again, if Torchetti can sort out the penalty kill and, to however he can, overtime, then this is a more solid squad.  As it is, the Devils will have quite a few issues making sure certain players are watched.  At least it's a home game so John Hynes can stick Travis Zajac's unit on Koivu's all night long if he wants.

One Last Thought: Should the Devils go with seven defensemen or, if Sislo is healthy, then six; I want to see Damon Severson in the lineup.  With all due respect to David Warsofsky, I don't think he's really making much of a difference out on the ice.  I think Severson should get some minutes to get out there and show what he can do based on what he's been told while not playing.  Besides, after the 1-7 loss to Anaheim, surely there has to be some change on defense just out of general principle.

Your Take: The Devils return home for a St. Patrick's Day night and their old throwbacks, where the fans will get together to go boo Parise for ruining their 4th of July a few years back.  And probably cheer for the Devils. Will they have something to cheer for? What will the Devils have to do, other than play a more competitive game than Monday's loss, to get those cheers? Who on the Wild should the Devils be most concerned about? Will Parise ever stop getting booed at The Rock?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.