Before tonight’s crucial Game 3 of the Stanley Cup playoffs 1st round series at home to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Bryce Salvador took the time to answer some questions from our editor, John Fischer.
You can catch tonight’s game and Wednesday’s Game 4 on MSG and MSG+.
John and Bryce touch on the benching of Keith Kinkaid, what the Devils can do to counter the Brayden Point line, and the returning Marcus Johansson. Amongst other things.
So without further to do here is the interview.
John: Obviously tonight’s a very important game. They’re down two games in the series and they’re making a change in net. Going from Keith Kinkaid to Cory Schneider. Regardless of what happens tonight, why do you think the team is making this change? Especially since a lot of the goals against Kinkaid don’t really appear to have necessarily been his fault.
Bryce: I touched on the fact that those goals, a lot of them were not Keith’s fault. You can look at defensive zone lapses on some assignments, bad coverage, some special team issues. But, the fact of the matter in the playoffs when you see trends like that where the puck’s just going in, whether it’s a high chance or Vatanen scoring on yourself. It’s just what it is. You need to make that change. In my opinion when Cory came in it was almost like the team set off that a bit. It’s like they were almost nice to see him back in the net and they wanted to make sure they really play well for him, not that they weren’t playing well for Keith. But just what Cory’s gone through, I kind of sense that a bit and quite frankly Cory came in and made saves. I also like the way Cory was managing the puck, especially on dumps and stuff like that. I’ve always said you’re going to see Cory in this series, I didn’t know when but I just felt you were going to see it. It’s just more of a situational thing.
John: That’s makes sense, I do agree. It’s not necessarily Keith’s fault but they’re just making a change to change things up. I guess that’ll be the long and short of it.
Well, going from a change made to a change not necessarily being made. It appears Ben Lovejoy will play tonight in Game 3 and it appears Mirco Mueller will be sitting out. Lovejoy had some rough moments in Game 2, granted a lot of rough moments for the Devils in Game 2, but a lot of fans are wondering how can he bounce back from that kind of performance in Game 2? And do you think he will?
Bryce: He’s gonna have to because this will be a game for him to really put that Game 2 behind him. I think he brings an element of steadiness and helps calm down Will Butcher and help him feel more comfortable moving up. But, it’s unfortunate there’s been a couple of situations, I’ve been there too, when you have a delay of game and how that can sometimes impact the game. I like the fact that Coach Hynes believes in Ben Lovejoy and that he is important right now but with that being said you also see Coach Hynes if he feels he needs to make a decision or change the lineup he will definitely do that. So I wouldn’t be surprised if Mueller’s back in sooner rather than later.
John: Certainly, and of course a lot will depend on what happens tonight in that regard.
Switching gears a little bit to one of the big points you’ve been making with Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is that he has been below average on high danger scoring chances, he’s weaker on his blocker side, the stats appear to back that up. However the Devils haven’t generated a lot of those high danger chances in general and have not been able to shoot at that blocker side. What do you think the Devils need to do, or what can they do rather to get more opportunities to get those shots where they can take advantage of Vasilevskiy’s short comings?
Bryce: I’ll just digress a bit. But, I’ve seen a couple of your guys articles and I know you guys are really heavily in to the stats and all that. Stats have been an interesting transition for me to kind of start looking at some of those things so I did do some digging in Corsica and slowly understanding the acronyms and abbreviations. Tying that in to Vasilevskiy the one thing that really stood out to me, why is their penalty kill so bad during the regular season? So that being said and getting to your question now, what Tampa Bay has done really well, and I have to give them credit, is they’re actually playing good defense which has been one of their weakest parts of their games in terms of they normally give up four or five goals and they just outscore you.
The offense is on par with where I expected them to be but I wasn’t expecting them to play so well defensively. The Brayden Point line and even the Anthony Cirelli line have been able to keep Taylor Hall and even if you want to put Miles Wood with his speed and Stefan Noesen and Blake Coleman, they’ve kept those guys to the outside. And if you go to the stats the Devils aren’t getting enough shots in that high danger area and that’s a testament to how well Tampa Bay is playing defensively.
John: Related to that one of the big assets from the Devils this season has been their speed. Getting guys into odd man rush situations, one on ones. There was a handful of those in Game 2 but for the most part Tampa Bay have been keeping them at bay in that regard. We know that Tampa Bay is really talented and we know, as you said, they’re playing very well on defense but is there anything specific you’re noticing what they’re doing on offense that’s keeping the Devils in their own end and from making that one pass or two pass to get out of their own zone and breakout to get those situations where they can get those scoring chances. Is their anything Tampa Bay is doing that the Devils are struggling with?
Bryce: What I’ve often noticed and is sticking out to me, maybe you guys will have the stats but I’m just going from the eye test. It seems to me they’ve been dumping the puck in a lot more and aggressively winning those wall battles and retrieval battles. Which I think they came in realising that the Devils were going to back side pressure and really put pressure on their entry so instead of trying to force plays it’s almost like they’ve thought “we are going to become a puck retrieval team” and it seems the guys have bought in. Tampa Bay are engaged emotionally, physically. They’re finishing checks, they’re grinding it out, they’re building off of their fans energy so I really think that part of their game.
I’m not necessarily sure the Devils were ready for the tenacity and aggressiveness of Tampa, and that led to the Devils having execution problems and we saw missed assignments. And with the Brayden Point line, that I’ll talk about in the pre game, once they got possession of the puck they did a really good job of cycling it, and whenever you create that much movement with that much speed you’re going to have a lapse in coverage. When Tampa Bay does it so well they’re so offensively gifted that they can make that split second seem play when there’s that missed assignment on the rotation to find a Ondrej Palat or Tyler Johnson in front of the net and those guys are going to score.
John: Absolutely. We saw twice in the first period in Game 1. We saw it in a couple of other situations where maybe Kinkaid made the save and the puck went away but they’re getting those chances. I’m glad you brought up the Point line because that leads to my next question.
The Point line, they’ve been putting up the goals and breaking the Devils down while their end of game stats might not look so good but it’s because they build up the big leads. We know the Devils focus a lot of their match-ups on Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and J.T. Miller. It’s been two games, what do you think the Devils can do about the Point line? Have they got to change their match-ups? Come up with a different scheme? They’ll be at home tonight so John Hynes will have the last change, but what can the Devils do about this line that keeps running them over?
Bryce: If you talk to a lot of NHL management, scouts and all that. Everyone expected to see this kind of performance from the Point line. There was no surprise from a lot of people. They’ve just been so effectively neutralising the Hall line and we even saw Coach Hynes try to switch Hall up on the first line, put him on different lines and he started taking momentum and were able to get the match-ups, and that’s what playoff hockey is about. Either you are a believer in match-ups or you’re not. Me, I am a believer in match-ups but that can change. Right now these two games match-ups have been a factor the Point line have been effective and they’ve been scoring.
So now when you come home Coach Hynes has the luxury now to get Hall out with the match-ups he wants. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the Travis Zajac line with Coleman and Noesen against the Point line tonight because it seems like Stamkos and Kucherov have been almost kind of feeling out the playoffs quite frankly, it’s been a bit surprising. Everyone’s talking about Kucherov but they’re not dominant plays that Kucherov, in my opinion, that he’s been doing throughout the season. Right now, especially with the Devils having last change here that’s how you’re going to combat it. You’re just going to have to win your home games. I said at the start of the series this is gonna go seven games. The Devils have to win their home games and they have sneak out a game on the road.
John: That’s why the game tonight is so critical. I’m hopeful that the Devils do get a match-up win against the Point line and hope that Stamkos and Kucherov don’t suddenly wake up and start scoring four goals themselves because they have the talent to do that.
Switching back to the Devils, it’s been announced that Marcus Johansson is going to play in tonight’s game. He’s coming off a concussion, he hasn’t played since January 23rd or so. Whilst he’s been skating and practising he’s gonna have a lot of rust. What would you reasonably expect from Johansson tonight? What would be a good game for Johansson?
Bryce: I think 12-14 minutes, he gets the feel of the puck and some power play time where he can get into that atmosphere of handling the puck. Those skill players thrive on the power play, that’s their time to really feel the puck. So I hope he gets some PP time. I hope there isn’t too much jitters because things are going to be fast. He’s a high skill player and that’s the reason you can put him into a game like this. He’ll be able to feed off the energy and they will also be able to protect his minutes and his time. Being at home if things aren’t going so well then he (Coach Hynes) can sit him for a couple of shifts. He can put him out with Hall if Hall’s pushing and driving the play, you can put him in situations to have success. Overall I think he has a good chance of success because it’s at home.
John: Of course. I have one last question for you, Bryce. Thank you again for helping out. Your use of stats and referencing has been very good and it’s been well noted by the Devils fans and outside of the Devils as well.
You’ve been in the post season before. You’ve made a deep run in your career, you’ve done it with the Devils in 2012 and you’ve been a captain of the Devils. You’ve been in these kinds of situations. If you were in the room before tonight’s game or even before Game 4 what would you tell the players?
Bryce: I would tell them “Hey. There’s a lot of hockey left here. We’re at home, we have the fans to support us”, and with all the different energy coming in with Johansson coming back into the lineup and Schneider having a big start you just want to really build this environment inside the locker room that we’re bigger than life coming into this game. We’re gonna feed off the fans, we’re gonna come out guns blazing, it’s the start of the game. When you’re in the locker room you paint that picture. You want to get the guys believing in that feeling that it’s a long series, everyone expected Tampa to have that start at home. We were in the games at times. We controlled the play. We ourselves gave them a lot of their offense, so we can’t give a team like that the ability to capitalise because they’re going to get their looks anyway. When you paint that picture that we’re assisting Tampa Bay’s success it goes a long way inside the locker room.
That’s what I would be building upon but I’d also be keeping the room loose. Be joking with guys and even making light of some of the situations that happened in the previous two games.
John: Yeah, its’ a big game but you don’t want the team being so wound up that they’re going to be afraid to make a play, make a mistake, or have too much pressure.
Bryce: It’s what you live for and to come back and to embrace the fans and use that energy and support to help you guys. That’s what you feed off of. It could also be a little overwhelming for some guys that have never experienced that before. I tell people when play that first home game in the playoffs you get bumps. You’re not human if you don’t feel it and it’s a great feeling. When you feel it for the first time sometimes it takes a little time to get used to it. What I say to young guys is it’s OK to start off with just chipping the puck in and going and getting a hit. You don’t have to make that breakaway pass first shift. It’s OK to play safe for your first shift to get into it, get a hit, feel alive, make more plays and just slowly settle into it.
John: Well hopefully we’re talking about tying up the series on Wednesday night. Again, thank you for your time for answering some questions. Good luck with the broadcast tonight and let’s hope for a good result.
Bryce: Thanks, I appreciate the questions.