Today is Kids Day at the Rock. No pressure for Our Favorite Team. They just have to avoid disappointing The Kids.
The Time: 1:00 PM ET
The Last Devils Game: The Devils went up to Boston and put up an early lead. Damon Severson finished a great attack to put the Devils up 1-0 early on. A fluke bounce benefited Kyle Palmieri on a power play to make it 2-0. In the second period, the Bruins clawed one back but the Devils stayed leading after the B’s put up 19 shots in the hopes for an equalizer. The Devils pulled away in the third. First from Blake Coleman blocking a shot and going off on a breakaway for a score. Second from Nico Hischier after he deked Jaroslav Halak out of his skates after Miles Wood set him up. Third from a power play empty net goal by Coleman after David Backes blindsided him with a headshot. The real star of the game was goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood. He faced 42 shots only to be scored on from a play he could not stop and an unfortunate bounce of Patrice Bergeron’s shinpad. Boston threw everything but the sink at the rookie goalie and the rookie goalie shined in the Devils’ 5-2 win. My recap of the win is here.
The Last Hurricanes Game: Carolina visited Washington on Thursday night. Washington brought the thunder as they out-shot the Hurricanes 16-8 in the first period. However, goaltender Petr Mrazek got them all. The breakthrough for Washington would come early in the second period. After Washington forced a turnover from Calvin de Haan, Chandler Stephenson buried a shot past Mrazek to make it 0-1. Stephenson would be hooked by Brett Pesce late in that same period. The resulting power play ended with T.J. Oshie deflecting a shot by John Carlson past the goalie to make it 0-2. Carolina brought the game back within one goal twelve minutes into the third period. Michael Ferland went one-on-one with Braden Holtby. Holtby denied him, but Sebastian Aho flew in to slam the rebound into the open net to make it 1-2. Carolina put up pressure for an equalizer and was agonizingly close with a late power play in regulation when a post and a bouncing puck denied Andrei Svechnikov in front. Carolina’s fate was sealed with less than a minute to go in regulation when Washington won a neutral zone faceoff and John Carlson hit the empty net from his own end of the rink. A big beef must have ensued at the end as Washington’s headcoach was given a game misconduct. No matter, the Canes lost to Washington 1-3. Over at Canes Country, Zeke Lukow called it a “listless” performance by the Canes in his recap.
The Last Devils-Hurricanes Game: Back on November 18, the Devils visited Carolina. The first 30 seconds were awful. Cory Schneider was beaten twice as the skaters forgot the game started. Schneider was much better from then on. He did not give up a third goal and arguably played his best game since the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Devils tried to come back from this effort against Curtis McElhinney. A first period goal by Pavel Zacha where he burned the goalie with a top-shelf backhander made a comeback seem really possible. The Devils’ offense was cooking but McElhinney was stopping everything else. Over time, the Canes started shutting the Devils down more and more. Their 5-on-5 excellence shined as the clock ran down, almost blanketing whatever fire the Devils’ attack tried to muster. The game ended with a whimper; a 1-2 loss. The game was lost in 30 seconds and the Devils were utterly frustrating for most of the 59:30 that happened after. That was my summation in my recap. For the other side, Brett Finger had this recap at Canes Country.
The Goal: Get going early and make Carolina chase the game. Consider the last Devils-Hurricanes game. While nobody anyone expected McElhinney to ride a hot streak for a couple nights, the Hurricanes are one of the more difficult teams to play against in 5-on-5 hockey. It makes making comeback attempts against them very difficult. According to Natural Stat Trick, they lead the entire NHL in Corsi For% at 56.55%, Shots For% at 56.09%, and Scoring Chances For% at 56.66%. What this means is that this is a team that knows how to defend well and attack well enough to tilt the on-ice action in their favor. Those are good marks of a well-structured and well-coached team. While they are not invincible with a lead, they’re generally a tough opponent in the run of play. As the Devils will not have Taylor Hall for another game, the Devils are down a top-tier talent that could provide some breakthrough moments that could help a team as well-structured and coached as Carolina. So it is imperative that the Devils repeat what they did in Boston and try to get an early lead. At a minimum, this will give them a cushion to work with, take off some pressure, and allow them to better manage the game.
Additionally, the Canes have struggled a lot this season from coming back in games. According to NHL.com, the Canes are 4-10-1 when trailing after the first period. That is not actually terrible; a 26.7% point percentage ranks is 18th in the NHL. But when they are trailing after two periods, Carolina is 0-11-2. They are one of three teams (the other two are L.A. and Boston) to not have won once when trailing after two periods. So if the Devils do get that early lead, they should be able to handle the business of making the kids at the Rock happy today.
No Hall Again: Matt Loughlin reported on Twitter from the team’s practice on Friday that Hall and Marcus Johansson will be out for today’s game. Additionally, there will be no changes among the skaters. This means Stefan Noesen, John Quenneville, and Drew Stafford will all be in action. The Devils are hopefully getting Hall and Johansson, who is skating again, back soon. If only to replace two of Noesen, Quenneville, and Stafford.
In contrast to last season, the Devils have done well without Hall this season. The team scored eleven goals in three games; they beat Vegas 5-4 in OT, lost in a shootout to Nashville 1-2, and beat Boston in regulation 5-2. That said, this is still a big loss. Hall is the team’s leading scorer with 37 points in 33 games, Palmieri just passed him by in total shots in the Boston game (Palmieri has 114, Hall has 113), and the 5-on-5 numbers for Hall are great across the board (and better than just about all of the other forwards). He’s capable of taking on even the toughest defenses to make plays happen - and he even succeeds. He’s the team’s best forward. He will be missed.
No Line Changes?: With Loughlin pointing out no changes in the skaters, I have a feeling we will not see any changes in the forward lines or defensemen pairings.
I would not really mind Jesper Bratt with Palmieri and Hischier being kept together as the first line for this game. Despite the goals Palmieri and Hischier scored, the line was ripped apart in Boston. It was not that competitive in 5-on-5 for the Hischier line. The good news is that Carolina does not have one of the best first lines in the NHL like the B’s have in Bergeron, Pastrnak, and Marchand. This is also a home game, so Hynes will have more control over the matchup for Hischier’s line. More importantly than that, I really do not think anyone else they have could fit with what they try to do. Quenneville and Brett Seney (or Brian Boyle) aren’t it and Miles Wood’s style would clash with Hischier and Palmieri leading the charge. Wood did have a very good game in Boston; but I’d keep him where he was. That would mean another game with Zacha and Noesen, which would be just fine as Wood and Zacha are coming off great games and I’d like to see them continue that.
I am more disappointed in the potential of no changes on defense. The team allowed 42 shots to Boston and suffered several breakdowns in their own end of the rink. I am not sure who honestly looked at that defensive performance and concludes that no changes need to be made. Not that Mirco Mueller or Egor Yakovlev (remember him?) are miracle workers but even sitting Ben Lovejoy would show that the vets are not afforded a free ride. Andy Greene was the worst among the six in Boston, but he’s the team captain so he’s not sitting anytime soon. I wonder whether some switching would work. Maybe swap Will Butcher with Greene and Hynes can manage the pairings based on performance instead of defaulting to one pairing for tougher matchups? I’m not sure, but even with the win in Boston, that defense on Thursday was not good at all.
Who’s in Net for NJ?: Per Loughlin’s tweet, Hynes has not decided on a goaltender. I find that to be telling in of itself. Mackenzie Blackwood had a great game in Boston and definitely justified more ice time. Coming off a win, Hynes could have stuck with a “hotter” hand in Blackwood and no one would protest it. He instead kept it open. I fear this means Keith Kinkaid may get this start.
While Kinkaid has not been the worst goalie in the organization this season, he certainly has not been good. His last start, December 23 against Columbus, lasted 26:47 as he was pulled for Blackwood. I can understand that Kinkaid needs to play (and I hope he does much better), but why not give him the Vancouver game? Today’s game carries some value as the Devils could actually move out of last in the division with a regulation win over Carolina. Blackwood has provided the most recent Actually Good goaltending performance on the Devils. He should be able to provide better chance of winning this one. I think Blackwood should get this start. We shall see.
The Percentages Continue to Degrade Carolina: For multiple seasons now, Carolina can be summed up thusly: great defense, great 5-on-5 team, great structure, and terrible shooting and save percentages. Despite changes driven by new ownership, this season is not much different. For those who remember the 2013-14 Devils, a team cannot succeed on being dominant in CF% (or SF% or SCF% or xGF%) alone. And if such a team struggles in a key area, they need to be excellent in all others to even try to make up for it. The 2018-19 Canes have not done that. In 5-on-5 play, while Carolina has the best differentials in the NHL, they have the league’s lowest shooting percentage at 5.47% and tied for the 11th worst save percentage at 91.26% per Natural Stat Trick. The save percentage is actually an improvement of sorts but, again, it isn’t good enough for a team that cannot score. For the sake of perspective, the Devils are shooting at 7.55% (ninth lowest in the NHL) and the goalies have combined for a save percentage of 90.78% (seventh worst in the NHL).
What about special teams? Carolina has had struggles there too. Their success rate on the power play is 15.2% (19 out of 125), which ranks 24th in the NHL per NHL.com. 125 power play opportunities is one of the higher values in the NHL; the eighth most. Even with the skaters drawing calls more than most teams, the Canes have faltered at finishing them. Their penalty kill ranks better. Their success rate on the PK is 80.3% (90 out of 112 kills), which is tied for 13th in the NHL. Again, the number of shorthanded situations, 112, is towards the lower end of the NHL. At least the goalies have not been blasted there.
When you put it all together, it is not exactly a surprise that Carolina is just two points ahead of the Devils in the standings. Despite excelling in some areas, they are not scoring enough goals in 5-on-5, they are giving up too many goals in 5-on-5, and their special teams have not been successful enough to offset the outputs of their 5-on-5 play. Adding to the frustration, the Canes seemingly changed everything but Eric Tulsky when new owner Tom Dundon took over. Dundon has made it clear that he wants more scoring. I do not blame him. While he talked about the draft, I wouldn’t be surprised if he pushed management to acquire more scoring. Like the sort that ex-Cane Jeff Skinner is doing this season.
That all said, the Canes are a tough out. Even with a “listless” performance against the Caps, they still made it a game and were unlucky for the umpteenth time to not get a needed goal that could have earned them a point.
The Dangerous Hurricanes: While Carolina has had struggles scoring, it would be foolish to discount the following players. These are the ones to watch for today:
- Sebastian Aho is Carolina’s leading scorer with 15 goals, 24 assists, and 110 shots. He is also one of two Canes with a shooting percentage above 10% right now. Expect to see him in all situations as a threat to attack. He leads the Canes in power play points with 10 (2 goals) and shorthanded points with 3 (2 goals). Carolina has won exactly two games in overtime this season - Aho scored both goals. He is Carolina’s leader in individual scoring chances with 124, 15 more than who is in second place. Aho is Carolina’s most offensively effective player this season. He plays on the left wing, so I hope the Devils’ right wingers are ready to engage.
- Michael Ferland is the other Cane with a shooting percentage above 10%. Ferland is shooting at 13.9%. While he has missed some time this season, his 11 goals are second only to Aho. Ferland came to the organization through the big Dougie Hamilton trade back in June 2018. He has been a fine fit as a second-line winger and arguably the biggest offensive threat outside of the top line.
- Andrei Svechnikov is the future scorer that Dundon and Canes fans hoped for. The young Russian has been playing with Aho and Teuvo Teravainen recently (as per Left Wing Lock) and he has some promising figures. While Aho leads in individual scoring chances, Svechnikov leads in individual high danger scoring chances with 70, 14 more than the second place guy on the team. Svechnikov has 102 shots, ten goals, and eight assists already as a rookie; he is not at all shy about firing away or going to the net. He does need to settle down a bit, he also leads the team with 28 PIM. This suggest he plays with some kind of edge. With Aho and Teravainen with him, the Canes’ top line can do some damage.
- The Carolina defense. This recent post at Canes Country by Andrew Ahr notes how the Hurricanes defensemen fire the puck a lot. This is largely due to Dougie Hamilton, who is the team’s leader in shots with 119, and Justin Faulk, who has 105 of his own. Expect long shots and hope that they do not take a weird deflection or find its way through bodies into the net. (This may also be a reason why the team is shooting below 6%, they’re taking plenty of long shots with little chance of going in.) On a paper filled with 5-on-5 stats, you can make a case that Hamilton, Faulk, Pesce, Jaccob Slavin, Calvin de Haan, and Trevor van Reimsdyk are as good of a six-pack of blueliners as any. So even if their defense does not produce a goal, they will make it difficult for the Devils to get in their end with the right zone entries to create offense - assuming they do not make a huge error like de Haan did against the Caps.
An Expected Goaltender for Carolina?: Petr Mrazek got the start after Christmas and Boxing Day. After a day off and with no back-to-back set this weekend, I expect Mrazek to get this game as well. Mrazek has not been that good this season. His overall save percentage is quite low at 90.1%. His even strength save percentage is not bad at 92%, but that 80% on the PK is. McElhinney has better percentages (92.7% at evens, 91.8% overall), yet Mrazek has received more starts and appearances. It could be due to recent play. He was only beaten twice by Washington in his last start, after all. In December, McElhinney has played just twice and has been bad while Mrazek has been closer to decent. I think I talked myself into Mrazek justifiably getting this start. Of course, I could be wrong.
One Last Thought: I hope the Devils don’t let down the Kids today.
Your Take: The Devils are going to take on a Carolina team that may be more of a challenge than their record would indicate. This game is by no means a gimmie. Who do you want to see start in net for the Devils? What do you know about Carolina? Who on the Canes concerns you the most? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.