Happy Friday, everyone. For most of us this is the end of the week. We’ll go home, loosen our belts, and lay on the couch. But for the New Jersey Devils it’s gameday in Edmonton, where they’ll take on third-year phenom Connor McDavid and his struggling bunch of Edmonton Oilers.
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (9-2-0) at the Edmonton Oilers (3-7-1; SBN Blog: The Copper & Blue)
The Time: 9:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+
Road Warriors: These Devils are off to the best start in their 35-year history! Now, that’s something I’m sure you’ve heard a lot, as New Jersey has taken the league by storm in the early going, but it’s statistically true. The Devils have collected 18 of a possible 22 points so far, and a perfect 10 out of 10 on the road. New Jersey has yet to lose in another team’s building this year. They’re a perfect 5-0-0 on the road, the last team remaining with that distinction. And all this has been with a lineup of guys who few thought could consistently win games at the NHL level. New Jersey even started the season with one of their bigger off-season acquisitions on the shelf, as Brian Boyle found out he had Chronic Myeloid Leukemia in this past off-season. But in spite of everything, this team has succeeded early. They play a fun brand of hockey under John Hynes’ system, and plenty of youngsters have gotten the chance to prove their worth.
Storylines: The Devils have won three straight games for the third time this year with Wednesday’s 2-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Vancouver, like the Devils, have over-achieved thus far, boasting a team of young up-and-comers looking to prove themselves, mixed in with some grizzled NHL veterans. The formula has worked better than most expected it would, as both teams sat in a playoff spot entering Wednesday’s game.
The Devils never trailed in Vancouver. Cory Schneider was on top of his game after not practicing that morning, and kept New Jersey in front all game long. Unfortunately for the Devils, they couldn’t escape British Columbia without being bitten by the injury bug again. 57 seconds into the game Marcus Johansson slid head first into the backboards in Vancouver. He would leave the ice, and did not return. The Devils are calling it an upper body injury and, according to Andrew Gross at Northjersey.com, Coach Hynes said Mojo was sat as a precautionary measure. The obvious concussion tests must’ve been done during the game, and by now they obviously have been, but there’s still no word as to his return.
Oil Drying Up: Ah, the Oilers. When I saw this game on the schedule before the season began I figured New Jersey would be heading in with a sub-.500 record and Edmonton would be the team in the driver’s seat of it’s division. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that thought process. But here we are: New Jersey is 11 games in and seven games over .500. They lead the Metropolitan, hockey’s most stacked division, through the first month of play, and they’ve been exciting while doing it. Edmonton, on the other hand, is a team relying too heavily on their first line to produce offense, and the results haven’t been great. Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli came into the job knowing he had to improve the back-end. He did that with moves like the Taylor Hall trade. He also signed a strong starting goalie to carry the team in the GP column in Cam Talbot. These things are all well and good. He improved the back-end. But he improved it at the cost of offensive depth. Simply put, Edmonton doesn’t have enough scorers in it’s lineup. This Oilers team simply doesn’t have any reliable guys who can put the puck in the net consistently in 5-on-5 play. This past offseason the Oilers were fleeced by our Metropolitan rivals the New York Islanders, trading away Jordan Eberle, a proven 50-point-scorer in the NHL, for Ryan Strome, a player who I’m sure they’d hoped would recapture some form of his rookie campaign, where he put up 50 points. But Strome hasn’t recaptured that form. Nor did he a year ago, or the year before that. Plainly put, Chiarelli was looking to ship out a big contract and hoped to replace that output with a player who cost around $4 million less. Not a good move. Strome has more penalty minutes than points this season for Edmonton, who has already voiced their displeasure with the trade, and Jordan Eberle is quietly putting up some good numbers playing with other offensive-minded forwards in Brock Nelson and Mathew Barzal.
I can’t help but feel like Chiarelli simply gives too much for too little in return. I had to spend a couple days picking my jaw up off the floor after seeing the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade. And while that trade in hindsight makes more sense through the lens of time, the Eberle-Strome deal does not. Edmonton essentially freed up cap room to sign Connor McDavid to the largest contract ever signed in the NHL, and now they’re just going to stick him and his linemates into a lineup which boasts no scoring threats outside of McDavid’s line and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Your Thoughts: Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below.