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Game Preview #13: New Jersey Devils at Winnipeg Jets

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The New Jersey Devils will visit the Winnipeg Jets to continue their five-game road trip. The Devils have a chance for revenge for the home opener, but will they take it? This game preview goes over who to be worried about on the Jets and what you may see tonight.

NHL: OCT 04 Jets at Devils
P.K. Subban and the Devils will be in Winnipeg tonight to play Blake Wheeler and the Jets.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Revenge is a possibility with a win tonight. Adding hope is a possibility with a win tonight. A big lead being blown surely cannot happen tonight - right? Right?

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (3-5-4) at the Winnipeg Jets (8-7-0; SBN Blog: Arctic Ice Hockey)

The Time: 8:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSG; Digital Audio - The Devils Hockey Network

The Last Devils Game: The Devils won a game! They went into Carolina to start the road trip and they won! It went back and forth on the scoreboard. Carolina struck first, but the Devils responded with Miles Wood’s first intentional goal of the season. Carolina hit back on a power play but so did New Jersey late in the first period when Jack Hughes put home a puck that trickled through James Reimer’s legs. The Devils opened up the second period with a totally sick goal by Nico Hischier for his first of the season. Alas, the Canes responded with Erik Haula scoring in the slot and behind Hischier. In the third period, Wood won a puck in the corner and headed back to the point while P.K. Subban headed down the zone. Wood flung the puck towards the net and Subban re-directed it past Reimer to make it 4-3. And the Devils, get this, held onto the lead. Mackenzie Blackwood made saves. The Devils did not break down in a massive way. Damon Severson sealed it with a long empty net goal to make it 5-3, which gave the Devils and the fans a lot to smile about. Chris recapped the win in this post.

The Last Jets Game: Last Saturday, the Jets went to Vegas. It started well enough for them when Mathieu Perrault scored a few minutes into the game. Then the first period became a disaster for Winnipeg. Vegas put up three straight goals on Laurent Brossoit. The Jets were on the road and down 3-1. What were they to do? Mount a comeback. They tilted the ice in their direction. In the third period, it would pay off. Perrault converted a power play to make it 3-2. Minutes later, Kyle Connor provided the equalizer. The game required overtime and that was the time for the Jets to take the victory. Connor made it so 3:22 into overtime to make it a 4-3 win for Winnipeg. HappyCaraT at Arctic Ice Hockey has this short recap of the game.

The Last Devils-Jets Game: The Devils opened their season by hosting Winnipeg. It was great to start as the Devils went up as much as 4-0 on the Jets. Then the Jets clawed their way back, Cory Schneider left the game at 4-2 due to injury, Mackenzie Blackwood was lit up for two more goals, and the Devils fell in a shootout to be one of the very few teams to lose a game despite being up by four goals. It was awful to watch then and it is awful to remember it now. My recap of the choke job is here. HappyCaraT had a happier recap at Arctic Ice Hockey.

The Goal: Pay attention to who does not have the puck on offense. Even though the Devils won in Carolina, they got burnt for two of their three goals against simply because someone was not paying attention to who was open, they got the puck by some manner, and then would slam it in for a score. This has been an issue in previous losses. This has been notable enough that several fans think the Devils’ defense is lacking despite some really good team rate stats for allowing shots, attempts, and scoring chances. It is true that the goaltenders need to be better, the skaters can help them out by not having everyone watch the puck on defense. This is not to say they should not pay attention at all, but some players having their head on a swivel to be aware of what is around them could stem some of the goals-allowed bleeding they have had this season. Given how potent some of the Jets forwards are, this will be important tonight.

The Jets Are...OK-ish: As of this writing, the Jets around the middle of the league in most 5-on-5 team stats per Natural Stat Trick. Their Corsi For% is just above 50% and ranks 15th in the NHL. Their Scoring Chances For% is within a percentage below 50% and ranks 17th in the NHL. While they have been out-scored in 5-on-5 play, it may be more of a result of a somewhat low team shooting percentage of 7.6% as the team’s save percentage is 92.02%. Except even the 92.02% save percentage ranks 17th in the NHL. It could be argued that there are signs of defensive issues as the Jets have a Shots For% around 48% and a High Danger Scoring Chance for% of 42.80% - the third worst in the NHL. The Jets have not generated a lot of the latter while allowing a lot. The Devils would be wise to try to crash the net and look to create plays to the high slot to the crease. Those opportunities may manifest themselves.

Overall though, the Jets are an OK team. They are sitting at 8-7-0. They have some really good players along with some not-so-notable depth. They have one goalie who has been good this season in Connor Hellebuyck and another goalie in Brossoit who is not. They are not particularly potent on the power play with a team conversion rate of 15.7% (8 for 51, which is a lot of opportunities). Could they be better? Yes. Could they be a lot worse? Yes. Will they good enough to compete for a playoff spot in a really difficult Central Division? It remains to be seen. One thing is for sure: They do not easily give up on games. The Devils learned that the hard way in their home opener and Vegas just became victims of it. Not that it is a surprise, but do not expect any leads by the Devils to be particularly safe.

Take Advantage If You Are Up a Man: There is one aspect where the Jets have been unquestioningly bad at in this season so far: the penalty kill. The Jets’ success rate is currently 30th out of 31 team with a success rate of 67.7%. They have allowed 10 goals out of 31 shorthanded situations. The silver lining for the Jets is that they do not take a lot of shorthanded situations. Their special teams opportunity differential is an astounding +20 in favor of their power play. That stated, when the Jets do take a call and go down a man, then PPGAs have been frequent. This is something the Devils can take advantage of. Despite some less-than-impressive breakouts (especially by the primary unit), the Devils’ power play has been on a run. After going scoreless in their first six games, the Devils have scored at least one PPG in each of their last six games. There may not be many opportunities for the Devils to convert tonight, but I like their odds of keeping their streak alive should they receive them and perform a functional power play. I also like their chances if they put in a PPG or two in tonight.

The Most Dangerous Jets: Based on David Minuk’s report from Jets practice on Monday at Illegal Curve, the Devils should expect to see Mark Schiefele with Connor and Blake Wheeler while Nikolaj Ehlers will line up with Patrick Laine and Bryan Little. No disrespect intended to the other two lines, but these two consist of Winnipeg’s most threatening players.

As per Natural Stat Trick, Ehlers and Little have been dynamite in 5-on-5 hockey. In 5-on-5 play alone, Ehlers has an amazing goals per 60 minute rate of 1.32 and points per 60 minute rate of 3.18. He is just behind the team’s leading scorer with seven goals and seven assists on top of 50 shots. Expect Ehlers to be a real threat. Along with his other linemates. While Little has only been in six games so far, he has two goals and three assists already and he will pile up more points should he keep playing with Ehlers and Laine. Laine may be below 50% CF% but the man has continued to be consistently on the scoresheet. Laine may be known for his great shot and I would not disrespect it just because he only has three goals out of 42 shots. At least anymore than I would not want someone to disrespect Hall’s shot because of a relatively low output early in this season. But Laine has been dishing the puck to great success. Laine has 11 assists and is tied with Ehlers in points. As the Devils will not have the last change on draws tonight, I would be very wary of this line all night long. They can score, they can control the run of play, and they can make life difficult for the Devils this evening.

The other line is also a source of worry. Schiefele is the Jets’ leading scorer with five goals and ten assists to go with 31 shots. He is a very talented forward. He has not been killing it in the run of play but he has been doing more than enough to be painful to opposing teams. Ditto for Wheeler and Connor. Wheeler may only have “just” five goals and three assists, but his 5-on-5 goals per 60 rate is up there with Ehlers and his past suggests his production is bound to increase. Connor is coming off a two goal game and has been moving up the scoring chart on his team. Connor leads the team with 60 shots, so expect him to fire away a lot. Also expect to see him quite a bit on offense. While Schiefele and Wheeler are well below 50% CF% and SF%, Connor is well above break even in both categories. It could be that Winnipeg is still figuring out which units would work out best, but this is an offensive line that can cause some real issues this evening for New Jersey.

Lastly, the most dangerous Jet may truly be in the crease. Brossoit has been lit up this season. Tonight’s starter will likely be Connor Hellebuyck, who has been good this season. His overall save percentage of 92.7% (per NHL.com) and 5-on-5 save percentage of 94% (per Natural Stat Trick) are both leaps and bounds better than Brossoit. As Winnipeg was off last night and is not in a back-to-back situation, I would think they will start their #1 at home. Good luck to the Devils shooters at beating him. Even if they quell the Jets’ attack, Hellebuyck could really be the one to deny them a result.

The Elephant in the Room on Defense: The Jets do have an issue on defense. Dustin Byfuglien has been one of Winnipeg’s mainstays on the blueline for many years now. Despite his large frame, he is quite fast. And he is more than well conditioned as he played a ton of minutes for the Jets. However, he has not joined the team for this season. Per Drew Mindell at Illegal Curve, Elliotte Friedman reported on a recent episode of Hockey Night in Canada that Byfuglien was recovering from ankle surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot. The issue is regarding the time frame of the issue and the player and the team disagree over it. It has got to a point where it is a question whether he wants to return to Winnipeg and it is a question whether Winnipeg wants him back. Darren Dreger reported on Twitter that the union is looking into the issue and may even file a grievance over it. It is an off-ice issue but one cannot ignore it if taking a look at the Jets.

Has it led to the Jets defense imploding? Not really. The 5-on-5 on-ice rates are not that bad from a defensive point of view. With Byfuglien away from the team, Josh Morrisey and Neal Pionk have played a lot of minutes per NHL.com. Each has nine points so they have produced as well as taking power play shifts. As per Natural Stat Trick, the run of play has been good for Winnipeg when Pionk was on the ice. It has not been good at all when Morrisey has been on the ice. Neither of them have been good by the expected goals model, but that is true across the board for the Jets blueline. Maybe Byfuglien would have helped there, but who knows? The larger point is that the blueline has not been severely lacking without Big Buff. I do think it would be better with him. Given their current situation, I am doubtful of his future in Winnipeg.

What to Expect from New Jersey’s Roster: Jesper Bratt is not going to Manitoba as per Amanda Stein on Twitter. He will be out tonight. In his place, Nikita Gusev should come into the lineup. According to Stein’s lines at Monday’s practice, Gusev did skate with Pavel Zacha and Nico Hischier as a right winger, which matches up with his shooting hand (he’s a righty). That is a good sign for the return of the Goose. It is an interesting combo. We shall see if Gusev learned anything about playing without the puck after being scratched for the past few games. The rest of the forwards remain unchanged from the Carolina game. This would mean Jesper Boqvist will play another game, which may mean he may perform a little better since he was scratched for weeks until Saturday’s game. This would also mean John Hayden will be scratched again, which is understandable since the line of Miles Wood, Kevin Rooney, and Wayne Simmonds was Actually Good in Carolina.

I am a little more surprised about the back end. Matt Tennyson was sent down on Sunday but called back up on Monday and practiced next to Will Butcher again. I know Mirco Mueller is not amazing, but I was expecting him to draw back into the lineup. Tennyson has been quite bad in the past two games. He really has not brought much of anything to the table to make up for getting beaten and/or lost in his own zone on defense. Surely, Mueller can do just as well, but he shall wait again. In net, Cory Schneider appears to be the starter, which I find a little odd. With three games in the next four nights, he should get one of these games coming up. I suppose between Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton, the decision makes figure Winnipeg is the least likely to light him up? However, the three teams are not that far apart in goals scored so I think it is moot. All the same, he needs to get back on the proverbial horse and tonight is a good night as any.

One Final Thought: I am not stating I will cry if the Devils blow another four-goal lead to Winnipeg. I am stating that it is not off the table if it happens.

Your Take: The Devils have a chance to get some revenge from the last Devils-Jets game. Will they take it? Who on the Jets concerns you the most? What do you think the Devils need to succeed at in order for the Devils to score more goals than the Jets tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s game in the comments. Thank you for reading.