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Game Preview #33: New Jersey Devils vs. Anaheim Ducks

In the first game after Taylor Hall was traded to Arizona, the New Jersey Devils return home from a four-game road trip to host Adam Henrique and the Anaheim Ducks. This post previews tonight’s game, noting who to watch for on the Ducks and other thoughts about the contest.

Anaheim Ducks v New Jersey Devils
Henrique! Zacha! Tonight!
Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

The first home game without Taylor Hall is a Wednesday night game against a poorly performing Western Conference team. I am sure plenty of seats will be available at The Rock tonight.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (10-17-5) vs. Anaheim Ducks (14-16-4, SBN Blog: Anaheim Calling)

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcasts: TV - MSG+, Prime; Digital Audio - The Devils Hockey Network

The Last Devils Game: On Saturday night, the New Jersey Devils ended a four-game road trip in Glendale, Arizona. They visited the Arizona Coyotes, now known for trading for Taylor Hall on Monday. Then, they were only rumored to be in the mix. A game was still played against a goal-stingy Arizona squad. The Devils went up first with a rebound goal taken by Michael McLeod and touched into the net by Jesper Boqvist. Arizona would answer back at the tail end of a power play when Alex Goligoski rifled a shot past Mackenzie Blackwood as a trailer on a rush up ice. From then on, Blackwood was unbeatable. He denied everything Arizona threw at him, which was quite a bit in the second period. The Devils’ offense largely disappeared in the middle period as they were busy failing to defend, but the goalie bailed them out. The Devils were better in the run of play in the third period - really - and did something rarer. They scored a goal to take a lead in the third period. Kyle Palmieri picked up a loose puck that hit off McLeod, skated to the right post, and put a high shortside shot past Darcy Kuemper to make it 2-1. The Devils did not sit back, they did withstand pressure, and Blackwood denied everything the rest of the way. The Devils held on to win their first game on the trip, their first game in December, their first game under interim head coach Alain Nasreddine by a 2-1 final score. Devin had a short recap here.

The Last Ducks Game: Last night, the Ducks were in Philadelphia. The Flyers and Ducks held even in the first period, with Carter Hart and John Gibson making all of the saves. 16 and 12, respectively. Early in the second, Gibson was finally beaten. Claude Giroux finished a play to make it 1-0 for Philly. Minutes later, David Kase scored his first NHL goal against Gibson and Philly went up 2-0. Anaheim would get on the board when Rickard Rakell finished a power play, uh, play to make it 2-1. However, Hart stopped everything else and Gibson could not. In the third period, Jakub Voracek scored on an individual effort to make it 3-1 and Sean Couturier added a very late one to pump up the score to 4-1. The Ducks lost by three to Philly. Check out Anaheim Calling for their take on the game.

The Goal: Contain Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg. Both Rakell and Silfverberg are two of three Ducks who have more than 20 points this season. While Ryan Getzlaf has as many points as Rakell’s 25 and one more than Silfverberg’s 24, Rakell is the team’s leader in shots with 99 and Silfverberg is the team leader in goals with 12 as per NHL.com. Both Rakell and Silfverberg have some mighty fine 5-on-5 numbers this season and both have played quite a bit together. Adam Henrique has been centering them for most of the season. Henrique is a good player in his own right, but the threats are these two wingers. Given how Anaheim has struggled to score goals, if the Devils can keep these two at bay at even strength, then the Devils’ chances of getting something out of this game will improve.

Similar but Not Exact: The Devils and Ducks share some similarities at the team level. Both teams have a penalty kill success rate of around 78% with around the same number of shorthanded situations (109) as per NHL.com. The two teams are next to each other in the league in terms of power play success rate (Anaheim is about a percent more successful), which is close to the bottom as per NHL.com. While Anaheim has a better CF% and SF%, they are both a bottom-ten team in the NHL in those team rate stats at Natural Stat Trick whilst the Devils have a better 5-on-5 xGF%. And the two teams are pretty close to each other in those stats too. Both teams have struggled to score goals this season with both teams being in the bottom-five in goals scored as per NHL.com.

That all stated, it is clearer that Anaheim is just a bit better than the Devils in most of these categories. They scored more goals than the Devils as well as allowed fewer goals. Anaheim’s power play is a bit better. While the Devils have an edge by the expected goals model, the other 5-on-5 percentages are slightly more in Anaheim’s favor even when they are also well below 50%. What this makes for is a game between two bad teams with struggles that both team’s fanbases may be familiar with. Again, plenty of great seats will be available tonight.

Tell Me He’s Been Good, Please Tell Me, Please: Adam Henrique will return to the Rock tonight. I would say he has been good this season for the Ducks. His production is not exactly eye-popping. Henrique is fourth on the team in points with 16, which is from nine goals and seven assists out of 76 shots. His on-ice rates at Natural Stat Trick should make you raise an eyebrow from being impressed. Henrique is one of Anaheim’s better 5-on-5 players this season with a CF% of 54.69%, a SF% of 51.65%, a SCF% of 55.43%, and an xGF% of 52.54%. His CF% is second only to Ondrej Kase and the other stats clearly are on the right side of the break-even mark of 50%. What this means is that good things tend to happen when Henrique is on the ice. So, yes, he has been good. He will also be a player the Devils will need to be aware of on the ice. Especially since if he’s on the ice, then Rakell and Silfverberg are usually on the ice too.

Also Good, This Team Legend: Ryan Getzlaf is 34 and has played over 1,000 games with Anaheim. The former 19th overall pick from 2003 has turned out to be everything as expected and then some. He is still a threat. Getzlaf is Anaheim’s leader in points with 25, he is shooting at 12.5% on a team that could use some more players shooting hotter than what they have, and averages less than 19 minutes per night. The thing about Getzlaf’s game is that in 5-on-5 play, the team is around the break even mark when he’s on the ice as per Natural Stat Trick. That is not bad, but for someone who plays a lot, his presence is not pushing it in the right direction so much except for scoring chances. That is not so positive. Still, it could be worse. The Ducks are not forced to play defense more often than not when he is on the ice and Getzlaf has been a producer away from Rakell and Silfverberg. He may not be the star he once was, but he is still good enough to deserve plenty of respect from the Devils tonight.

Their Top Pairing: Anaheim’s top pairing of Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm have been good. The production has been quite good. Per NHL.com, Fowler has six goals and sixteen points with Lindholm not far behind at fourteen points. Only four forwards have more points than them. The pairing takes up quite a bit of ice time, both average over 21 minutes per game. New Jersey should see them a lot tonight. In 5-on-5 play, the Ducks have done well with both defensemen. The thing about Anaheim’s blueline is that beyond those two, there is not a lot to be impressed with. Plenty of players below 50%, Erik Gudbranson riding the break even point, and no one else producing much of anything anywhere among the blueliners. The Devils will need to be careful with Fowler and Lindholm on the ice in either end of the rink. They should seek to press on the other pairings and hope they crack under it.

Kind of OK Goaltending: Anaheim was in Philly last night and John Gibson was their goaltender. Therefore, it is expected that the non-starter in that game starts this one. That would likely be Ryan Miller. It does not appear to matter too much whether it is Gibson or Miller. Gibson has been the clear #1 goalie for Anaheim. However, according to their save percentages by strength at NHL.com, they are not that different from one other. The Philly game did not help but prior to that Miller has a little higher even strength save percentage, but Gibson has a little higher penalty kill save percentage. Either way, both are somewhat decent enough so far in this season. They are not at all at the level of the goalies the Devils faced in their last three games (Bishop, Francouz, Kuemper), which should inspire some confidence for a Devils offense that could certainly use some. However, they are also not relatively easy to beat either. They are kind of OK.

Firewood: Anaheim’s real issue is not so much in the crease as it is putting pucks past the other goalie. This could be a real issue as Mackenzie Blackwood has been on fire as of late. While the Devils’ performances ranged from OK to awful last week, Blackwood conceded only three goals out of 86 shots against over the three games. The Devils do not have a chance in Colorado, do not get totally embarrassed in Dallas, and do not win in Arizona without his performances on those nights. Hopefully, the three days off were good to Blackwood instead of cooling him off. With the other option being an ECHL goalie, Blackwood will start and I look forward to how he performs.

No Hall, So Now What: Taylor Hall has been traded. His talent may not be replaceable but his role in the lineup will be anyway. The Devils scratched Hall in the last two games so the coaching staff has a sense on what they can do without him. I would suspect we will see Jesper Bratt play up with Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri again. At least to start the game. As the Devils won on Saturday, the temptation is to keep the roster the same. I hope there will be some adjustments. The combination of Pavel Zacha, Jack Hughes, and Wayne Simmonds was not performing well in either night of their back-to-back set last week. I do not think a home game will make it right. At least, I would expect that lines will change if/when that line or others do not function well.

From an offense standpoint in general, Hall’s permanent absence from this roster serves to put more pressure on others to pick up the pace. This means more shots and production out of the likes of Palmieri, Hischier, Bratt, Hughes, Zacha, Simmonds, Nikita Gusev, and more. It would be fantastic if players like Zacha, Simmonds, Hughes, and others end some terribly long goalless streaks. Likewise, it would be fantastic if P.K. Subban or another defenseman gets in the scoring mix - especially for Subban as Boqvist’s goal took away a secondary assist that would have ended a stupefying long pointless streak. With Hall gone, more will look to Hischier and Hughes to become the leaders of the forwards in time. Tonight would be a good first step towards that even if it is a small one in the bigger picture.

One Last Thought: As easy as it is to say just go have fun out there, I think that is the wrong approach. The younger players on the team need to keep demonstrating good habits and putting in good efforts to hone their skills for a better tomorrow. The veterans who could be dealt have an incentive to be dealt away and/or be worthy of being kept around. Getting a job done on a Wednesday night in December against Anaheim amidst a lost season may speak to one’s character as a player. That may be reaching for something but it is how I feel about this game as a whole.

Your Take: The Devils will play their first home game without Taylor Hall as a member of the organization tonight. They will host Henrique and the Ducks. What do you expect out of this game? Could the Devils take it? Should they? What part of the game do you think they will need to excel at in order to succeed against the Ducks? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s game in the comments. Thank you for reading.