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Game Preview: New Jersey Devils at San Jose Sharks

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The New Jersey Devils will wrap up their road trip in California when they play the San Jose Sharks tonight. Learn more about the matchup with this game preview.

NHL: San Jose Sharks at New Jersey Devils
Coleman! Pavelski! Tonight!
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The California trip ends tonight in the Bay Area.

The Time: 10:30 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Digital Audio - The “Devils Hockey Network.” A.K.A. Go to Radio.com or NHL.com for an audio feed.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (10-12-6) at the San Jose Sharks (15-11-5, SBN Blog: Fear the Fin)

The Last Devils Game: Last night, the Devils were in Orange County and played Anaheim. This game became very stupid. While the Devils had good things such as Kyle Palmieri scoring twice, a power play goal from Damon Severson, a good second period, and Brett Seney putting home a rebound created by Jesper Bratt. They had bad things happen to them and, especially, Cory Schneider. Stefan Noesen finished a 3-on-2 rush for the Ducks in the first period, Ben Lovejoy re-directed a dump-in with his hand into the net, and Andy Greene batted a puck in mid-air into the net after Schneider made a save. Three own goals. Marcus Johansson salvaged the game with a late 6-on-5 goal. The Devils survived overtime. But they lost in their first shootout of the season. The Devils lost 5-6, driven by three stupid, stupid, stupid own goals. My recap of the loss is here.

The Last Sharks Game: Two nights ago, the Sharks were in Glendale and played the Arizona Coyotes. The start of the game went well enough for San Jose. They broke through with two quick goals in the first period; one from Joe Pavelski and one from Logan Couture. Early in the second period, Evander Kane torched a defender in chasing a loose puck, broke in alone, and scored to make it 3-0. Easy for the Sharks, right? Wrong. The Coyotes would claw their way back into the game. Nearly two minutes later, Arizona converted a power play to make it 3-1. A few minutes later, it became a one-shot game at 3-2. Early in the third period, Arizona tied it up 3-3. The Sharks were on the verge of blowing a game despite being up three goals at one point. Fortunately, there would be a hero in white and teal that night: Lukas Radil. This was Radil’s sixth NHL game this season and he would score his first NHL goal on a wraparound backhander that beat the goalie far post. The Sharks held on at 4-3 and Tomas Hertl tacked on an empty netter to make it a 5-3 win. Sheng Peng at Fear the Fin has this analysis of the important plays from that game in this post.

The Last Devils-Sharks Game: Way back on October 14, the Devils hosted San Jose for an afternoon game at the Rock. After a scoreless first period, the Sharks bit first when Pavelski pounded in a rebound past Keith Kinkaid to make it 1-0. Minutes later, Kyle Palmieri buried a power play goal for his fifth goal in three games to tie up the game. Alas, Timo Meier put San Jose up later in the period to make it 1-2 and send the Devils into the second intermission trailing for the first time this season. However, the game was far from over and the Devils made a comeback. Within the first minute, Palmieri jammed in a puck for his second of the game, his sixth of the season, to tie it up at 2-2. A little later, Jean-Sebastien Dea tapped in a loose puck from a Mirco Mueller shot that got through Martin Jones to make it 3-2. The Devils continued to roll on with an 18-shot third period which kept the Sharks on their heels. Kinkaid stopped all 10 shots from the Sharks in the third to secure the comeback win. It was the first in a while against San Jose and it was the team’s third straight win to start the season. Good times! My recap of the win is here. Over at Fear the Fin, eddie91razo had this post for the game.

The Goal: Pound the net with rubber. San Jose is quite a good team in the run of play. But what has not been good for them has been their goaltending. Their first-choice goaltender, Martin Jones, has one of the lowest even strength save percentages in the NHL at 89.5%. He’s played 21 games, so it’s not like had a short and awful run of games. On special teams, Jones has been great but most of the games aren’t special team team situations. San Jose’s backup, Aaron Dell, has been better but he still has a not-so-impressive 91.2% save percentage at even strength. As I will point out in a bit, the Sharks skaters are really good in 5-on-5 play, so it will be easier said than done to create and generating shooting opportunities. However, the Devils will need to exploit the opposition’s goaltending to come away with something tonight.

Also, A Goal: The Devils also need to not score on Keith Kinkaid. After last night, that is a thing I need to actually write out. Really.

Western Carolina But With More Talent?: This may be a harsh statement of the Sharks, especially since San Jose is occupying a guaranteed playoff spot in the Pacific Division and they have been tough to beat at home with a 9-3-2 home record. However, the Sharks skaters have posted some fantastic 5-on-5 percentages as a team combined with low shooting and save percentages. That is reminiscent of Carolina.

As of December 9, prior to the Anaheim game, here are San Jose’s 5-on-5 percentages with their rank in the NHL according to Natural Stat Trick:

  • Corsi (Attempts) For%: 54.65%, 3rd in the NHL
  • Shots For%: 54.93%, 2nd in the NHL
  • Scoring Chances For%: 54.19%, 4th in the NHL
  • High-Danger Scoring Chances For%: 53.66%, 6th in the NHL
  • Goals For%: 47.33%, 23rd in the NHL
  • Team Shooting%: 7.23%, 25th in the NHL
  • Team Save%: 90.20%, 29th in the NHL

What these all point to is a team that is a pain to play against, a team that is capable of lighting teams up, and a team that has been underachieving and/or unlucky. The Jones-Dell combination in net has been a hindrance. The skaters not finishing enough of these plays has also not hurt.

However, San Jose remains in a good position in the standings. Their special teams have ranked fairly well from a success standpoint. The Sharks’ power play has a conversion rate of 22.7% (22-for-97) is the 12th best in the NHL. The Shark’s penalty kill has the fourth highest success rate in the whole league at 84.3% (75-for-89). Unlike the Devils, San Jose has won some games in overtime, where they are 3-3-2 (the Sharks lost both shootouts). There are good things here at the team level and the 5-on-5 play numbers suggest that their systems are effective in the run of play. If their puck luck improves and/or the goalies are sorted out, then the Sharks will look a lot more like the annual contenders they have been for the better part of the last decade.

The Sharks to Watch For: The Sharks may get that contender-level of respect just by who is on the team and who is performing.

While the team’s shooting percentage in 5-on-5 play is low, one Shark is shooting at a very high rate: Joe Pavelski, who is at 21.8% shooting. Pavelski leads the Sharks in goals with a whopping 19 already this season. He shoots the puck frequently, but his 89 is only fifth most on the team. The most frequent shooter this season has been Kane, who is a very tough opponent when he’s on. His blend of speed and strength makes him difficult to defend in multiple situations and he has used that to generate a team-leading 115 shots on net. That’s impressive given who is on the blueline. Kane has nine goals and nine assists to go with those shots. The other big-minute forward to look for is Timo Meier. This 2015 first rounder (yes, another one from that draft class) is well on his way to setting career bests in his third season in the NHL. Already, Meier has 14 goals, 14 assists, and 92 shots. Should the game go to overtime, he may be one to watch in particular as he has two overtime goals with the team.

On defense, the Sharks have Erik Karlsson and Brett Burns. Their shot totals are just 101 and 96, respectively, which may seem a little low for them. Alas, there is only one puck. But both are impeccable defenders for how the Sharks play. They get stops and almost immediately translate it into offense. They are not just willing to shoot but they put themselves into position to blast away. Unfortunately for the Sharks, this has yielded only six goals between Karlsson (2 out of 101 shots) and Burns (4 out of 96). Fortunately, they have racked many assists - 19 for Karlsson, 25 for Burns - so they’re helping out. But if/when those many shots from these blueliners start getting in, it will be a very good time to be a Shark.

Based on this listing of 5-on-5 stats of the Sharks players at Natural Stat Trick, I wonder whether Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun are meant to take tough match-ups or whether opposing teams have found some success against them. They are the only regulars on San Jose with a sub-50% CF% and they are hovering around 50 SF%. Maybe this is the pairing the Devils should try to target, if they can?

On the flipside, the Devils should be wary of future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton in a depth role and winger Kevin Lebanc. Both average around 12 minutes in 5-on-5 play and around or above 15 overall. When they’ve been on the ice, the Sharks have tilted the rink in their direction. Thornton is still a great playmaker and he has 12 points in 22 games in a more limited role. Lebanc has contributed three goals and 16 assists with eight of those coming on the power play. If you’re looking for X-factors, then look no further.

A Challenging Matchup: On paper, it does not look so good for our favorite team. Fortunately, the game is played on the ice. Unfortunately, the Devils played a game on a rink last night. San Jose was off on Sunday. The opponent, who is 9-3-2 at home, will be at least a little fresher than the Devils. The potential fatigue factor will only add to the challenge that awaits for the Devils.

Devils Notes: Kyle Palmieri put up two more goals in Anaheim. He has four goals on this California trip so far and he may be heating up and/or on fire now. The Devils would do well to keep feeding him. Fortunately, Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Palmieri has been an effective line on this trip, so Palmieri will keep getting pucks to fire at the net.

Also, do not be surprised if some players are swapped into the lineup. In addition to playing last night, Stefan Noesen was really bad overall. I can see him sitting for Drew Stafford for this one. Ben Lovejoy also contributed an own goal. With Steve Santini presumably healthy, Lovejoy may be out too. I’m unsure about that as Lovejoy remains a key part of a penalty kill and going into San Jose with a less than full-strength PK is a poor idea. Andy Greene contributed an own goal too, but he’s the captain so it is highly unlikely that he would sit.

Since Schneider played last night, Keith Kinkaid should start this one. I think he’ll be OK, but if San Jose starts slicing through the Devils’ defense; Kinkaid would then need to be great. We shall see if he can do that. Pro-tip for Kinkaid: don’t knock a loose puck in front of you with opposing skaters coming at you - even if they are behind a teammate.

One Last Thought: The Devils already picked up 3 points on this trip. Getting another one (or two!) would be great tonight. If nothing else, this trip was not another loss in a season full of them.

Your Take: How well do you think the Devils will do tonight? Can they match up with San Jose again? Will the fatigue be a significant factor? What can the Devils do to not be at a disadvantage in 5-on-5 play? Will you stay up for this one? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the game in the comments. Thank you for reading.