The road trip is technically a success, but a win tonight would really make it feel like one.
The Time: 8:00 PM ET
The Broadcast: TV – MSG+; Digital Audio – The One Jersey Network
The Last Devils Game: On Sunday night, the Devils went to Vancouver to wrap up the Western Canada portion of this four game road trip. After a scoreless first that eventually favored New Jersey in run of play, the scoring began in the second period. A lost defensive zone faceoff and Adam Henrique losing his stick ultimately led to Henrik Sedin setting up Loui Eriksson for a top-shelf goal. That happened 6:31 into the second. Later on, the Devils would get an equalizer. Kyle Quincey blasted a shot from the point that sailed past Beau Bennett and, more importantly, goaltender Jacob Markstrom. In the third period, the Devils had the better run of play in what would be a low-event game. Late in the third, it looked like the Devils would be up 2-1. Blake Coleman went for a jam after a Kyle Palmieri shot and the puck slid into the net. However, after a coach’s challenge by Vancouver, Taylor Hall was technically offside seventeen seconds before the goal. Therefore, the goal was wiped out. The Devils held on late to get to overtime. Vancouver struck with the first few shots, but New Jersey recovered the puck. Hall lost the puck after a zone entry, which yielded a 2-on-1 led by Sven Baertschi. Travis Zajac skated back and stole the puck before there was even a move by Baertschi. Zajac got the puck up to Hall, who led a 2-on-1 of his own. Hall kept the puck and ripped one past Markstrom for a goal that would and did absolutely count. The Devils won 2-1. Devin recapped the win in this post.
The Last Wild Game: The Wild visited Chicago on that very same Sunday. Chicago was strong to start, out-shooting the Wild 14-8 in the first period. They also scored the first goal thanks to Patrick Kane. Kane doubled the lead Chicago early in the second period. However, the Wild rose up to erase that lead. Artem Anisimov took a tripping call not long after Kane’s goal. Nino Niederreiter converted that power play to make it 1-2. Eleven minutes in, Chris Stewart tied up the game with a great top shelf shot. That score held into the third period. About five minutes in, Jason Pominville was set up to the left of the goal. A shot by Marco Scandella missed, bounced right off the end boards, and right to Pominville. He put it home to make it 3-2 for Minnesota. The Wild held Chicago to just five shots in the third and Devan Dubnyk stopped them all. Minnesota completed the comeback for a 3-2 win and to take the Central Division crown for now.
The Last Devils-Wild Game: Way back on October 23, the Devils hosted the Wild. The first period went well enough but there were no goals. The second period, well, the performance by the Devils left something to be desired. Cory Schneider made an error in trying to corral a puck early in the second; Joel Eriksson Ek charged at said puck and put it past him. And it looked like the Devils would be shut out by the Wild for quite some time until Devan Dubnyk did the Devils a favor in the third period. At 11:56, P.A. Parenteau unloaded a slapshot that just beat Dubnyk clean. He should have that puck. Alas, he did not and the Devils had a new energy. The game went into overtime and overtime did not last long. Taylor Hall intercepted a pass in New Jersey’s slot and led a 2-on-2 with Adam Henrique. Hall dropped the puck for Henrique and the Wild just focused on Henrique while ignoring Hall. Henrique was able to make the pass to an open Hall and Hall slid the puck through Dubnyk’s five hole for the win. It was a great finish to not-always-great game. My recap of the win is here. For the other side, The Noogie has this recap at Hockey Wilderness.
The Goal: Don’t get discouraged. The Wild are the leaders of the Central Division at this moment and they have lost only nine games in regulation in this season. One of the reasons for their success is their goaltending. It has been on another level. Their 5-on-5 save percentage is 94%, the second best in the NHL according to Corsica. Devan Dubnyk has been the main driver of that with a 94.7% even strength save percentage per NHL.com. And he’s been strong on the PK with a penalty killing save percentage just under 90% too. Dubnyk’s GSAA is 15.28, the third highest in the NHL per Corsica. In other words, Dubnyk has been wonderful at keeping the score low against the Wild. So it’s important that the Devils don’t get discouraged and that they keep attempting shots against him. It’s something they did very well against Calgary and I’d like to see that replicated instead of hoping a few shots will get in a low-event game similar to their recent win over Vancouver.
Shooting Hot: The Wild have not just received fantastic goaltending from Devan Dubnyk. They also have received great puck luck. Their 5-on-5 shooting percentage is 9.44%, second only to Our Hated Rivals according to Corsica. Despite a relatively low CF% (47.94%) and an around-average SF/60 (29.14), the Wild have kept putting up goals and that counts for quite a bit. Six skaters have at least ten goals, they’re shooting above 12%, and four of those six have at least thirty points. From NHL.com:
- Eric Staal: 15 goals, 24 assists, 110 shots
- Mikael Granlund: 10 goals, 25 assists, 83 shots
- Charlie Coyle: 13 goals, 21 assists, 86 shots
- Mikko Koivu: 13 goals, 17 assists, 68 shots
- Jason Zucker: 11 goals, 17 assists, 81 shots
- Nino Niederreiter: 12 goals, 15 assists, 77 shots
And this group doesn’t include prolific shooters like Zach Parise and Jason Pominville. They’ve been a bit unfortunate when it comes to shooting percentage, but both of those wingers have excellent shots to be aware of. And if that wasn’t enough, Chris Stewart has scored his ninth of the season on Sunday while averaging less than eleven minutes per game. The Wild has a lot of weapons at forward, so to speak, and with this game being in Minnesota, that could spell trouble for a Devils team that has struggled with deep teams at forward. In fact, I’m not sure who the Devils should focus the most on. Sure, Eric Staal has had a fantastic career resurgence with the Wild and leads the team in scoring and he’s been with Parise and Coyle. But Granlund, Zucker, and Koivu is a challenging group as well. Then the bottom six is left to contend with Stewart in one part and Niederreiter and Pominville in another part. It’s difficult on paper and for many teams, it’s been difficult on the ice given their 3.26 goals per game average - the fourth highest average in the NHL.
The Solid Special Teams: Minnesota’s special teams have also been a source of strength. Their power play has a success rate of 20.2%, having converted 24 out of 119 opportunities. Their power play in Minnesota has been stronger; 14-for-52 has yielded a 26.9% success percentage, the third highest home PP% in the NHL. The Devils will be playing with the wrong kind of fire if they take several penalties tonight. Again, it’s not just one or two players carrying the load for Minnesota. Per NHL.com, nine different players have at least one power play goal and Coyle and Niederreiter lead the team with four each. In addition to the aforementioned forwards, defensemen Matt Dumba, Ryan Suter, and Jonas Brodin have contributed as well to the power play. The Devils’ penalty killers are going to get a lot of work if they’re not disciplined or if the referees are rather easy in what they call.
On the other side, the Wild have one of the most successful penalty killing units in the NHL. Over all PK’s, the Wild have only conceded 18 goals out of 119 shorthanded situations. At home, the Wild have only allowed 7 goals out of 53 shorthanded situations. Both of those success rates are in the top ten of the NHL. Based on ice time at NHL.com, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon will be the most common defenders on the PK with Mikko Koivu leading the forwards. Again, plenty of members of the Wild contribute to this end of special teams and even after dealing with them, there’s usually Dubnyk to beat and he’s been hard to beat in 2016-17.
The Not So Sterling Defense: According to Corsica, the Minnesota Wild have a SA/60 just below New Jersey’s in 5-on-5 play. The Devils are at 30.8, the Wild are at 30.72. Both are below league median and both suggest that the defense has not been so strong. Again, recall that the Wild have been below 50% in CF% and SF% and it’s apparent that they play plenty of defense. And that it’s been crucial that Dubnyk has been sensational all season long. If there’s a “weakness” on the Wild, then it appears to be with shot prevention.
I’m actually surprised because the talent level is surely there. Ryan Suter remains a massive-minute-muncher (he averages over 27 minutes per game per NHL.com) who can and does threaten opponents on offense. Yet, his underlying numbers at Corsica are just bad. His CF% is below 46% and his SA/60 is over 32.5. Jonas Brodin is the only regular defenseman who’s above 50% CF% right now. And he joins Nate Prosser - who isn’t a regular - as the only defensemen on the Wild who have a SA/60 below 30. I will admit I have not followed the Wild closely enough, but a group led by Suter, Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, and Matt Dumba has resulted in plenty of work for their goalies. That’s not good. But because the shooting has been hot, the forwards have been scoring as a large group, the special teams have been good, and Dubnyk has been amazing, this is not a huge issue at the moment. For tonight, I would just say that it can be possible for the Devils to at least give Dubnyk plenty of work.
No Greene, Maybe Vernon: With Vernon Fiddler and Andy Greene practicing, 25 bodies were in Devils practice. Fiddler and Greene practiced prior to the Vancouver game but were ultimately held out. Andrew Gross did confirm at Fire & Ice that Greene will not play; he is not good to go just yet. The hope is that he will be ready for Friday’s home game against Montreal. Fiddler is more of a possibility per Gross’ post. With the team winning their last two games and winning by more than just scraping by, it’s a good question as far as who would sit for Fiddler. Fiddler normally centers the fourth line, which has seen Sergey Kalinin, Devante Smith-Pelly, and, most recently, Blake Coleman take that spot. Neither Kalinin or DSP has done a good job with it. Coleman at least has come close to scoring in his few games with the Devils. Kalinin didn’t play in the last two games, so if the roster change is contingent on Fiddler, then I suspect Coleman will come out one way or another. If only because someone will have to be sent down so Fiddler can be activated. Coleman was called up in part due to Fiddler’s injury, so it could be him. That would be a sensible change since Coleman has played in that spot most recently and it keeps DSP at wing.
One Last Thought: Dubnyk has been fantastic for the Wild this season. Cory Schneider has not been as fantastic in this whole season, but he’s been great since the new year has begun. In seven appearances in 2017, Schneider has allowed eleven goals out of 183 shots on net. Yesterday at Fire & Ice, Gross did confirm that Schneider is starting this game. This game could come down to a goaltender’s duel. I think both Dubnyk and Schneider are up for it.
Your Take: The Devils can go 3-0-1 on this road trip with a win tonight, which would be great. Unfortunately, Minnesota has not done a lot of losing lately so it will be a challenge. But that’s what makes the reward so sweet. What do you make of the Wild this season? Who on the Wild concerns you the most? What can and should the Devils do tonight to best handle the Wild? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.