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Game Preview: The New Jersey Devils vs the Edmonton Oilers

The Devils road trip heads to Edmonton to take on McDavid, Draisaitl, and the Oilers for the first time since opening night for the second game of a rough Canadian back-to-back.

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (25-36-9) vs. the Edmonton Oilers (31-31-7)

The Time: 9:30 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - NBCS

Tonight, we’ll watch a team rebuilding around speed and skill-style players, including a former first-round draft pick who is among league leaders in several categories and the young phenom first overall pick of his year, plus a big name defenseman the team traded a well-liked top forward for. Am I talking about the Edmonton Oilers, or the New Jersey Devils? Both, assuming we had a healthy Devils lineup. The Oilers have Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, and defenseman Adam Larsson (remember him?) where the Devils have (or rather, are supposed to have) Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and defenseman Sami Vatanen. With the injuries and other problems the Devils have faced in the last 70 games, no one can really use this season to evaluate the success of the organization’s rebuilding plan. The Oilers, however, haven’t had anywhere near the injury woes of the Devils, so if they have the same type of team core, why are they still struggling for wins and five points out of a playoff spot?

Write your thank you letters to Ray if you’re hoping next years Devils don’t look like this years Oilers, because thanks to Shero they probably won’t. Shero’s building depth around his highlight reel players (no, really, he is) while the Oilers have utterly failed to support McDavid and Draisaitl. Where it counts, McDavid and Draisaitl have performed above and beyond for Edmonton. Both players can be found among the top ten players in almost every offensive category. McDavid is second or tied for second in the league in points, total assists, and points per game. Draisaitl is second in league scoring, fourth in total points, fifth in points per game, and tied for second in power play goals. Surrounded by names like Ovechkin, Crosby, Kane, and Kucherov on the leaderboards, a team with two players like these should be running for the cup, not reaching for the wild card spot.

What’s rotten in Edmonton can and probably will be blamed on former Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli, who was fired in January. The biggest problem with Edmonton’s lineup can be seen in McDavid’s biggest stat: of the Oilers 192 goals this season (compare that to the Devils 190), McDavid’s 98 points means that he has either scored or directly assisted on more than 50% of the goals scored for the Oilers this season. Draisaitl, with 89 points, is not far behind on that mark. McDavid and Draisaitl alone have scored 40% of the teams goals. The two are first and second on the team in nearly every single statistic, but the rest of the team? Miles behind them.

Edmonton goal and assist network, 2018-19
Hockey Viz

The Oilers have 4 players on the team with 30+ points, and 6 more in the 20s. By contrast, the Devils have 7 players with 30 or more points and another 11 with over 20, and that’s in a season where only two players from the starting roster has made it through to this point of the season without injury — Damon Severson, who’s scoring a career high 10 goals and has 35 points of his own this season, and Andy Greene, the “Ovechkin of the penalty kill” according to Cory Schneider, who leads the league in shorthanded time on ice and blocked shots by a wide margin — both of whom have played in all 70 games so far this season. The rest of the stats between each team follow the same path: despite the injuries, the Devils have more players with 10+ goals, more players with positive GAR and WARs (love these or hate them, all stats tell a story and the story they tell about the current Devils roster is another post in itself). Basically, the 2018-19 Devils roster as it was designed by Shero has vastly more depth than the Oilers and, despite the fact that our team has lost about 3.5 more man-games to injury than they’ve actually played, still shows more forward depth than the non-injured Edmonton Oilers. Offensively, with the Oilers extremely top-heavy lineup and the Devils comparative albeit injury-stricken depth, the two teams stack up relatively evenly with the healthy Devils having a slight edge: the Oilers and Devils are 23rd and 24th in goals for and 27th and 21st in shots for, respectively.

How does the D match up? Again, despite the definite defensive issues the Devils have had this season, the Devils have still done a better job defensively than Edmonton. The Oilers have allowed more shots against, more goals against since the start of 2019 (basically, removing Schneider’s injured numbers from play) and have the second to worst penalty kill in the league. Proportionally, the best defenseman on the Oilers allows more high danger scoring chances per total on-ice scoring chances against than the worst defenseman on the Devils. If you’re a fan of WAR, the only New Jersey D-man with a negative WAR? Eric Gryba. The Oilers have four blueliners in the negative, including Adam Larsson. Regardless of how you look at the statistics, a healthy Devils team has the Oilers beat in every way.

Even goaltending? You betcha. The Oilers starting goaltender, Mikko Koskinen, has a season .913 SV% with a 2.73 GAA. They traded their backup, Cam Talbot, to the Flyers at the deadline for rookie Anthony Stolarz. In the two games he’s played with Edmonton, Stolarz has a .917 SV% and a 3.19 GAA. By contrast, the Cory Schneider has put up a .923 SV% since returning from injury (that was his brother, Cody Schneider, playing earlier this season before the Bingo stint, I don’t count his numbers) and has a 2.43 GAA. After trading our backup Kinkaid to Columbus we brought up rookie Mackenzie Blackwood, who had a .931 SV% in 13 starts (would be tied with the Lightning’s Andre Vasilevsky for league lead if he met the 15 start minimum) and a 2.23 GAA prior to last night against the Flames.

So how did things go at their last meeting? Well it went great for the Devils... because it was back at the first game of the season. The Devils won 5-2 on goals from Palmieri (2), Noesen, and Zajac (2). Severson, Wood (2), Mueller, Hischier, and Butcher all collected assists in that game. The Devils held the Oilers to just 19 shots with extremely strong showings from the top line of Hall-Hischier-Palmieri and the middle pairings of Wood-Zajac-Quenneville and Johansson-Zacha-Noesen. Dea-Coleman-Boyle rounded out the offense on the fourth line. The best defensive pairing of the night, and the most effective at shutting down McDavid’s line, was the first D pairing of Mueller-Vatanen. Greene-Severson and Butcher-Lovejoy were the other two lines. Kinkaid made 17 saves for a .895 SV% with Lack backing up. With five of those players no longer with the team in any capacity and another 6 from the starting night lineup unavailable due to injury, the lines for tonight’s game will more likely look like they did against Calgary last night (the first two periods that is—here’s hoping they don’t look anything like they did in that third period):

Coleman - Zajac - Palmieri
Agostino - Rooney - Stafford
Tangradi - McCleod - Anderson
Noesen - Pietila - Lappin

Greene - Severson
Butcher - Carrick
Yakovlev - Santini

Schneider is scheduled to start against Edmonton.
Possible to draw into the lineup are Kurtis Gabriel, who was a late scratch yesterday due to illness, Miles Wood, who has been out since Feb. 25th with a fractured ankle but did travel with the team on the road trip and has been skating, and the newest AHL call-up, defenseman Colton White. The Devils would do well to add in as many players who did not play yesterday as possible, since the AHLers in the lineup don’t seem to handle back to backs at the NHL level yet and will be very tired after barely making it to the third period of last night’s game before absolutely shutting down and allowing six goals despite carrying a lead over the first two for the second game in a row. Hopefully they will be mad and hungry enough for a win coming into tonight to maintain it for 60 minutes.

Edmonton’s lineup will likely look as it did against the Rangers on Monday:

McDavid - Draisaitl - Kassian
Khaira - Nugent-Hopkins - Gagner
Reider - Cave - Chiasson
Malone - Brodziak - Currie

Larsson - Klefbom
Nurse - Russel
Sekera - Benning

Both Klefbom and Benning left Monday’s game with injury, but Benning returned after going through concussion protocol and Klefbom is expected to be able to play against the Devils per Head Coach Ken Hitchcock’s post-game interview. Milan Lucic was scratched the past two games for an undisclosed issue and is scheduled to be reevaluated again today ahead of the game. If he returns to the lineup I’d expect to see Draisaitl return to his usual place as the second line center and Khaira move back to bottom six minutes, though Lucic’s five goals and 12 assists on the season isn’t exactly top six minutes-worthy.

Oil Streaks: McDavid comes into tonight on a 7 game point streak since returning from his 2-game suspension for a high hit on the Islander’s Nick Leddy. Leon Draisaitl is also riding a 14 game point streak, the longest currently active point streak in the NHL. Shutting down top players has been a struggle for the Devils this season—Zibanejad’s hat trick the previous time they played the Rangers, Gaudreau’s hat trick and six point game last night— and is made even more difficult by the lack of their best shut-down offensive line from earlier this season: Wood-Zajac-Coleman, which will hopefully be reunited soon. The Devils will have to find some way to shut down the red hot Oilers tandem if they hope to avoid another game like last night.

A Note on that Depth I mentioned: I know what you’re thinking— J, we have a team made up of AHL players and our biggest offseason move was Eric Gryba, the only depth we have is the depth of our despair. I know. While we certainly aren’t Tampa Bay or Toronto and aren’t going to look like them any time soon, this years Devils (as planned, without the injuries) beats the depth of the Oilers by far, and its looking like Shero is gearing up for some major growth this offseason. The Devils already own prospects like Ty Smith, Jesper Boqvist, Jeremy Davies, and Aarne Talvitie, among a number of others, who have all made waves this season and are possible to come to the NHL next season. Egor Yakovlev and Mackenzie Blackwood have both come up from the AHL and performed well at the NHL level. With ten draft picks in 2019 including 6 in the first three rounds (more than any other team but the Rangers) Shero is either planning some big purchases or a hefty influx of young talent, or both. While it can be argued that Shero should have made purchases last offseason and will have to make up ground this time around, I’d argue its better to buy the whole farm at once than one cow at a time, so if Shero’s going to make moves he might as well go big all at once and the Devils are now stacked to do so. Whether or not it works out, we’ll have to wait and see.

Your Take: Will this makeshift Devils team be able to hold off McDavid and Draisaitl and their 1.5 and 1.25 point per game averages, or will they fold to the uninjured Oilers? Do you feel Shero’s been better at adding depth to the lineup than Chiarelli was, or are the Devils destined to look like this year’s Edmonton? What, if any, line changes would you make before tonight in light of last night’s game? Leave your comments and ideas, and thanks for reading!