Welcome to the second half of a back-to-back to open up a tough March schedule. And it’s within the division so this game is important.
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils at the Carolina Hurricanes (SBN Blog: Canes Country)
The Time: 7:30 PM ET
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Digital Audio - The One Jersey Network
The Last Devils Game: Last night, the Devils went to Florida. Cory Schneider made his return after being out since late January with a groin injury. It wasn’t an easy game at all for the Devils. The first goal was scored by Florida - a pass to the center by Aleksander Barkov as both Nico Hischier and Nick Bjugstad slid into Schneider. It was challenged but the goal stood on the basis that the puck hit off Hischier and he wasn’t contacted into Schneider by Bjugstad. Schneider would recover and the Devils would tie it up. In the dying seconds of the team’s second power play, Taylor Hall let loose with a shot from distance. It was re-directed in by accident off of Aaron Ekblad’s stick. The game was tightly checked as the Panthers seemingly had an edge in 5-on-5 play. The 1-1 tie was broken on a poor goal allowed to Maxim Mamin; a chip by left post that snuck past Schneider. Later in the third, Evgeny Dadonov fed Barkov a great pass in a 3-on-2 rush where Barkov made a great move to score to make it 1-3. With Schneider pulled, a block on Keith Yandle ended up with Patrick Maroon springing Jesper Bratt into a one-on-one situation. Bratt went top-shelf to end his goal drought and give the Devils some hope. But the Panthers held on at the end; the Devils lost 2-3. My recap of the loss is here.
The Last Hurricanes Game: Last night, the Carolina Hurricanes went to Philadelphia with a losing streak - and left with a win. The Canes struck first with Justin Williams putting home a shot that got through Petr Mrazek. Fairly early in the second period, Teuvo Teravainen finished a great little sequence with him and Sebastian Aho in a 4-on-4 situation to make it 2-0. The Canes ran over Philly as the shots were 20-8 in favor of Carolina before Williams would strike again. Williams re-directed a shot from Brett Pesce to make it 3-0. Philadelphia would get on the board early in the third period thanks to Travis Konecny. But Carolina would respond. After collecting a long rebound from Cam Ward, Williams led a 2-on-2 rush with Aho. Williams pass was bouncy but Aho sent the puck past Mrazek to make it 4-1. The Canes ended their streak with a big divisional win. Check out this recap by Andrew Ahr at Canes Country for his take on the game.
The Last Devils-Hurricanes Game: Back on February 18, the Devils rolled into Carolina after holding on in a 4-3 win at Tampa Bay. The Devils were shelled in that game. They were also shelled in this one. Carolina ran up 41 shots and 77 attempts in regulation. The Devils did go up 2-1 during regulation. The first goal was a power play goal by Nico Hischier, a result of a sweet pass through the neutral zone to get the rookie into space. It broke a PP drought for the Devils. The Canes came back with a soft looking shot by Teuvo Teravainen hitting off a leg in front and re-directing into the net. The Devils pulled ahead when a bad pass attempt by Derek Ryan turned into John Moore picking up the puck out of no man’s land after leaving the penalty box and sending it across to Pavel Zacha for a sweet goal. Keith Kinkaid was the star as he was holding a seeming constant wave of offense from Carolina. Alas, six Canes skaters were able to equalize late in the game. Jeff Skinner put one in at the post to end a 60-75 second long shift for the Devils skaters that were pinned back. Overtime was necessary and the two teams traded possession. Cam Ward was solid in net throughout the night but he made one crucial mistake. Near the end of overtime, he stopped a shot low, and looked around not knowing it was loose and right in front of him. The shooter followed his shot and poked in the loose puck. The shooter was the Devils’ Superstar, Taylor Hall. Hall made it a 3-2 win in overtime for the Devils. My recap of the win is here. For the other side, here is Brian LeBlanc’s recap at Canes Country.
The Goal: Dig deep and don’t let the Canes get swarming on offense. Both teams playing tonight played last night. The Devils would do well to get over their fatigue first and see if they can get something going on the Canes before they get going. But when they do, the Canes can absolutely wreck havoc. Carolina did exactly that when these two teams last saw each other in Raleigh back on February 18. Their process was very effective as the Devils needed Kinkaid to come up with lots of saves as the shots came from all over. Their puck movement through the neutral zone has been great, they get great support from their defensemen, and their forwards know their roles well. Knowing that, it’s no surprise that the Canes have the second highest score-adjusted CF% in the league per Natural Stat Trick at 53.6%. While that has not translated into results, it does make them a difficult opponent. So if the Devils want to leave Raleigh with two points, they’re going to have not only get their legs quickly but somehow disrupt the flow of attack that the Canes have performed. Sure, the Devils could just lean on Kinkaid yet again - but who knows if that will necessarily succeed again.
Kinkaid Rising: Tonight’s starter for New Jersey is Keith Kinkaid, according to Andrew Gross. He has had a rough 2017-18 season until February. In this past month, he has redeemed at least some of his season. In addition to denying Carolina a whole lot of goals on February 18, Kinkaid put up a 91.3% even strength save percentage in 11 appearances in February per NHL.com. That’s not a great number on their own. It is not league average. It is, however, superior to the woeful 88.9% in 15 appearances that he put up until February began. Kinkaid’s PK save percentage has fallen, but there’s a lot more variation within those situations - his 94.4% save percentage there wasn’t going to last as he played more games and it did not. Still, Kinkaid has been playing better recently. I am more confident that he can help the Devils get something out of this game.
The Story of Carolina: It seems it has been like this for a couple seasons now. The Canes have been one of the better 5-on-5 teams in the run of play. They have a desirably talented and young core of players on defense. Their forward group is the definition of “hard-working” and “tough to play against.” Again, as a result, Carolina ranks highly in the NHL in terms of attempt, shot, and scoring-chance differential according to Natural Stat Trick. For these reasons and perhaps others, they were a fashionable pick to make the playoffs this season. Yet, they’re on the outside looking into the playoff bubble in the East. And a game like tonight’s could really hurt their cause if it goes badly for them.
The culprit? While this is from a quick glance, it’s all about the percentages for this season’s Canes squad. They’re bad. Actually bad. Their 5-on-5 shooting percentage is 6.55% is the third lowest in the NHL. The Canes’ 5-on-5 save percentage is the third lowest in the NHL at 91.11%. Their gamble on goaltender Scott Darling has yet to pay off; Cam Ward continues to get games and honestly has had a better season so far. As a survivor of the 2013-14 Devils, it’s frustrating to see a team play well night-in and night-out but not get the goals or stop enough goals to get the wins they may have earned.
What does it mean for tonight? A repeat of February 18 may be possible if the Canes aren’t too gassed from last night’s game. Even if they are, they’re not going to be pushovers in any sense of the word.
Hurricanes to Watch: Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, and Jeff Skinner are the stand out producers on the Canes. All three are very good skaters, all three have CF% values of at least 53% (so many Canes above 50% CF%, it’s ridiculous, but Teravainen is right up there with team leaders), and all three can mess a team’s defense up.
Skinner is definitely the shooter as he leads Carolina with 210 shots on net. 20 of those have become goals and Skinner has set up 18 other goals too. He has been a thorn in the side of the Devils as he scored a goal in each of the previous two games against the Devils. He is one to watch.
Teravainen was acquired from Chicago as part of the latter’s moves to stay cap compliant. It’s worked out well for Carolina. After a 42-point campaign last season, Teravainen has surpassed that already this season. The team’s leader in points has 16 goals, 33 assists, and 140 shots on net in 63 games. Given his positive 2.5% relative CF%, when he’s on the ice, the play tends to go on the attack more often with him. It’s not a coincidence, he’s very good at possessing and distributing the puck.
Aho - not to be confused with the Sebastian Aho on the Isles - is currently Carolina’s leading goal scorer. He has 22 goals out of 161 shots, making him the rare Hurricane with a good shooting percentage this season (13.7%). Aho had a very good rookie season last year with the Canes with 24 goals and 49 points in 82 games. The 20-year old forward is on pace to exceed those totals by a good margin. His shot is quite good and he’s quite good at generating offense as well. Get used to the name, he’s going to be a very good player for Carolina for a very long time.
Per Left Wing Lock, expect Teravainen and Aho to be together with the also-talented Elias Lindholm in the middle. Skinner will likely skate with Lucas Wallmark and Phillip Di Guiseppe. Of course, lines may change as the game goes on.
What about the D? Do you like your defensemen to supress shots? Do you like them to contribute to the attack as well? Then check out the top four in Carolina. Noah Hanifin, Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce have been excellent these regards. OK, Pesce (67) does not shoot the puck nearly as much as Faulk (183), Hanifin (138), and Slavin (118). But all four are great at either blueline. Per Natural Stat Trick, all four have CF% values above 53%, with Hanifin posting an astounding 56.3% in 5-on-5 play. Only Faulk has a shots against per 60 minute rate above 30 and he’s only just above it. The others are below 29, which are stupendous values. What’s even more impressive is their age. Faulk is the “old man” of the group at age 25. This is as solid of a foundation on defense as anyone else in the NHL.
What does this mean for tonight? The Devils will have to respect them at a minimum. They can’t just be left alone at the points to either deny exits, jump up on offense, or given space blast away. They’re also not a group that is going to be easily broken down in any of three zones. Now, if someone is having a bad night or just a less-than-good one, then the Devils need to figure him out and go at him. But that’s a lot easier said than done. With Darling expected in net, the Devils won’t be facing a super goalie. The challenge will be getting the shots off at all.
And their Goalie?: I would have figured that Scott Darling his sub-90% even strength save percentage would be given the start. But since Cam Ward only faced 22 shots from Philadelphia and he’s been the better goalie this season, I wouldn’t put it past Carolina to run him out in two straight games. In general, playing a starter back-to-back does not go well in the second game. I think Darling has been leaky enough to warrant an exception to that rule. We’ll see soon enough.
Devils to Watch For: Michael Grabner, Miles Wood, and Jesper Bratt are good X-factors as any tonight for the Devils. All three are very quick skaters. All three can use their speed to try to throw off Carolina’s defensive game. Or at least give the Devils’ defensemen longer options in the neutral zone when they breakout. I think these three can definitely play a big role in tonight’s game if only because the Canes only saw two of these players earlier this season. They actually only one on February 18 as Grabner was not yet a Devil and Wood was suspended after the Tampa Bay game. Bratt was struggling then so it’s arguable that a more refreshed Bratt could give them some issues. If the Devils need to keep the Canes honest or go for long passes to hopefully break some plays into space, then these three could be the ones to help make that happen. (P.S. Oh, and Grabner, put the one-on-one opportunities on net tonight. Thanks.)
I’m also expecting a much better night from Kyle Palmieri. He was quite good against the Isles and the Pens, but he was invisible in Florida. He was bad on the puck, he was not a factor off the puck, and he finished last night with no shots on net. Given that he’s a shooter, that’s pretty bad. I hope he turns that bad last night into motivation for a better tonight.
Always: Always watch Taylor Hall. He’s the Superstar of the Devils. The MVP of their season (and maybe in the NHL). The engine of the offense. But telling you he’s expected to play a large role in this game is like telling you to expect the Sun to rise up tomorrow. He didn’t have such a good game in Florida and he still ended the night with a goal and two other shots on net.
Your Take: It’s a quick turnaround for the Devils as they’ll take on Carolina tonight. A win tonight would be a big help for the Devils and another blow to the Canes’ chances. What do you think will happen tonight? Who on the Canes worries you the most? What do the Devils need to do to score more goals than Carolina? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.