The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (20-25-8) vs. the Carolina Hurricanes (28-21-6)
The Time: 3:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG
The Last Meeting: The Devils have played the Hurricanes twice already this season. Their first meeting came at the beginning of the end for the Devils season on Nov. 18th, which ended in a tough 2-1 loss following 2 goals in the opening 30 seconds by the Canes. The Devils doubled down on defense and Cory Schneider settled in as he usually did, but they weren’t able to make up the difference. When the Canes came to town again on December 29th, the name of the game was all defense in anticipation of MacKenzie Blackwood’s first start with the team. The Devils defeated the Canes for the first of Blackwood’s back to back shutout wins, with goals from Pavel Zacha and Andy Greene to seal the deal for his first win. During their first two matchups, Carolina had been struggling to find their beat, but have since surged to become a much more dangerous team.
The Team to Beat: The Hurricanes have been sweeping their way across the tri-state area in the past week—they’ve defeated the Penguins, the Sabres, and the Rangers in the last five days. Along with a three-game winning streak, the Canes are also bringing the best shot differential in the NHL to the Rock. Carolina is first in the league in shots on goal with an average of 35.5 per game, and also first in the league in shots allowed at just 28 per game. They’re one point behind the Penguins in the Wild Card race, so they’ll be coming into Jersey with a lot of momentum and a big incentive to win.
Who to Watch: Since they last met, Carolina added left wing Nino Neiderreiter to the lineup. Prior to the trade from the Wild, Neiderreiter had 9 goals in 46 games. Since joining the Hurricanes on January 17th, he’s jumped up to the first line next to Sebastian Aho and netted 6 goals and created 22 high danger scoring chances in his first 9 games with the team. At center, Aho leads the team with 62 points. Their first line has been shaken around with the arrival of Neiderreiter, so the right wing position has been shared between Teuvo Teravainen and Justin Williams. Teravainen played on the second line in their last game against the Rangers and has 14 goals and 48 points this season. Williams, who is predicted to be on the first line again against the Devils, has 13 goals and 38 points. On the blue line, Dougie Hamilton and Jaacob Slavin make up the first pairing of the Canes shut down defense with a combined 46 points and 146 shots blocked.
In their last game against the Rangers, Slavin played like a second goalie, making three saves for Peter Mrazek that were almost guaranteed goals for the Rangers. They also managed to shut the Rangers top forward line down to just four shots on net. Not much excitement came from the Canes offense; despite 31 shots on Lundqvist and 16 high danger scoring chances, the Canes only put up 1 goal against the All-Star goaltender. The other 2 goals to seal the 3-0 win came on an empty net in the final minutes of the game.
The Details on the Devils: The Devils will be taking on the Hurricanes for the second half of a back to back after playing the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. Back in the lineup for the second time after being benched against the Kings last week, Brett Seney opened up the scoring in the first period with a sharp wrist shot past Dubnyk. The Wild scored the next three, until a silky move to the backhand from Jesper Bratt found the wide open net and brought the score to within one. Like most of the rest of this season, the Devils defense shined… like a black eye. Clearing the zone continues to be the defense’s Achilles heel, and poor puck control in their zone cost more goals than the Devils lukewarm offence could make up. Cory Schneider didn’t have the performance he did against the Islanders, but neither did the rest of the team, and he finished with 29 saves on 33 shots. The Wild defense held the Devils to just 18 shots, and despite a few good looks, the Devils power play couldn’t seem to find the net. They saw another 15 possible shots blocked which dampened their struggling PP even further. Gryba, Rooney, and Gabriel remained in the line-up.
Keys to the Win:
Hit Often and Hit Hard: John Hynes felt the Devils have been outbattled in games lately, and his team seems to have responded to that call in the last couple games. The Devils brought the physical play against the Wild and the Islanders, largely thanks to the call-ups of Kurtis Gabriel and Eric Gryba. Pavel Zacha and Ben Lovejoy have also been throwing the body at some key moments to prevent a few scoring chances.
Blake Coleman leads the team in hits by almost twice as many as any other player on the team with 151 hits this season compared to Miles Wood’s 82 and Kyle Palmieri’s 80. In his short tenure with the Devils, Kurtis Gabriel is topping Coleman’s hit rate with an average of 5 hits a game. In addition to bringing the physical play and finishing his checks, Gabriel tried his hand at sparking something for the Devils against the Wild by dropping the gloves with Marcus Foligno. It might not have brought them the win, but the return of the more physical play does make a huge difference in their game and will help tip the ice in their favor.
Bring on the Speed: Justin Williams has done well since his addition to the Canes first line, but he gives up a lot of turnovers, and the veteran winger doesn’t have the speed to catch the puck if it’s stripped by someone with the speed of Hischier or Bratt. On defense, Slavin and Hamilton are unlikely to be caught making mistakes in their zone. The Devils should look pressure the Canes--and in particular Williams--on the forecheck and in the neutral zone to create turnovers for odd man rushes. Hischier and Bratt both picked up a few solid chances and even a breakaway against the Wild, so the Devils have to try to feed that again against the Canes.
Fix up the PK: The Hurricanes power play and penalty kill lines have been nothing special this season. The Devils usually excellent penalty kill, though still ranked third in the NHL at 84% effectiveness, has faltered in recent games. The PK has allowed 4 goals in the last 5 games. The injury bug bit the PK unit a bit recently with Travis Zajac and Ben Lovejoy missing games due to injury, and Blake Coleman has all but abandoned the PK in favor of carving himself out a seat in the penalty box with 14 PIM in the past 5 games. John Hynes believes the recent injuries to Miles Wood and Travis Zajac may have led Coleman to alter his game a bit too much in trying to compensate; we’ll see if a sit down from Hynes, the return of Zajac to the line-up, and an added dose of physicality to the team from the newly formed fourth line will allow Coleman to settle back into his role driving the play and drawing penalties instead of taking them.
Injury Report: Miles Wood’s return to the lineup from a lower body injury at the end of the bye week will be short-lived. He left the game on Thursday after an awkward fall during the second period against the Islanders. He was placed on the IR with an upper body injury per Amanda Stein. He switched places with Joey Anderson, who was activated off the IR for the first time since breaking his ankle in November and played on Wood’s line with Coleman and Zajac. He will not be eligible to return until at least Friday the 15th.
Marcus Johansson, who has battled injuries since arriving to the Devils roster last season, tangled up with the Wild’s Marcus Foligno late in the third period and appeared to have injured a leg. He was helped off the ice and down the tunnel. Though he did return for the last few minutes of the game, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sitting out against Carolina.
Vatanen remains on the IR with a concussion, though he did skate on his own the other day. Noesen is also on the IR with an upper body injury, and has not skated. Nothing has surfaced regarding Taylor Hall, who Hynes has said is following a progression schedule, though that appears to be mostly off-ice work to this point. Hynes stated the team has every intention of seeing Hall return to play this year, though personally I’m not ready to guess whether that means the end of this season or the literal end of 2019.
Keith Kinkaid has been confirmed as the starting goalie against Carolina. Kinkaid has not played against the Hurricanes this season. He has a .879 save percentage in his last ten games, the last of which was the 5-1 loss against the Kings.
The rest of the lines are somewhat up in the air with possible injuries, but the lines from Saturday’s game were:
Johansson - Hischier - Palmieri
Coleman - Zajac - Anderson
Bratt - Zacha - Stafford
Seney - Rooney - Gabriel
Greene - Severson
Butcher - Lovejoy
Mueller - Gryba
Hynes changed his forward lines around for the third period. If they decide to keep those changes, we may see
Johansson - Hischier - Bratt
Coleman - Zajac - Palmieri
Anderson - Zacha - Stafford
4th line and D pairings remained the same.
The Devils also called up Lappin and Murphy from Binghamton ahead of the Wild game, though neither played. Yakovlev was returned to Binghamton. Santini has sat the last two games.
Carolina is expected to keep the same lines from their game against the Rangers on Friday:
Niederreiter - Aho - Williams
Ferland - Wallmark - Teravainen
Svechnikov - Martinook - McGinn
Foegele - McKegg - Maenalanen
Slavin - Hamilton
Pesce - Fault
De Haan - van Riemsdyke
McElhinney and Mrazek have been trading off starts, so McElhinney may play against the Devils.
Should the Devils stay with their starting line-up from the last game, or switch it up? Does Santini deserve to sit or be back in the lineup? What do you expect from Joey Anderson in his return to the lineup? Do you agree with the call-ups they’ve made recently, or should someone else be getting a chance? Let me know what you think and your predictions for the game in the comments!