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Game Preview #56: New Jersey Devils vs. Detroit Red Wings

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Coming off a bad loss to Florida, the New Jersey Devils host the worst team in the NHL tonight: The Detroit Red Wings. This post previews tonight’s game by pointing out how terrible Detroit has been this season, who to look out for, and more.

Detroit Red Wings v New Jersey Devils
Luke Glendening! Jack Hughes! Tonight!
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Tonight starts a back-to-back set for Our Favorite Team. This is arguably the easier of the two games and not only because it is the home game.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (20-25-10) vs. the Detroit Red Wings (14-40-4, SBN Blog: Winging it in Motown)

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcasts: TV - MSG+, FS-D; Digital Audio - The Devils Hockey Network (Radio.com)

The Last Devils Game: On Tuesday night, the Devils hosted Florida. This game went pear-shaped to put it simply. Louis Domingue got the start over MacKenzie Blackwood, who had two shutouts in his last two starts, and Domingue was not good. The Devils defensive zone play featured a lot of puck watching and not nearly enough coverage of Panthers getting into space. Jack Hughes did open the scoring with a great shot on a power play. But the defensive miscues began starting with Brett Connolly being wide open in the left circle and only Vincent Trochek, who had the puck, noticing him. Pass, shot, five-hole, 1-1. The Panthers followed that up by dominating the run of play, most notably by a make-shift fourth line of Noah Acciari, Michael Matheson, and Mark Pysyk. The last two players are indeed defensemen. They were wingers tonight. They crushed the Devils. The line first struck late in the first period when Matheson put in a rebound. The Panthers made it 1-3 early in the second when Pysyk finished a play at the crease. The Devils did have a response when Joey Anderson took a turnover from Trochek, flung it in front to a wide-open Kevin Rooney, and Rooney scored to make it 2-3. Perhaps this was a sign of hope? Florida crushed that. Severson lost his stick and Frank Vatrano beats Domingue with a snapshot to make it 2-4. Not long after that, Florida’s fourth line made the Devils’ fourths look silly as Acciari put home a rebound to make it 2-5. Yes, the line of one forward and two defensemen had three goals in this one. Kyle Palmieri broke ahead in a one-on-one against Sam Montembault and scored to make it 3-5. However, Florida never really gave up on the game and the Devils only came close a few times to pull within one. The Devils lost 3-5, their first regulation loss since the All-Star Weekend ended, and it was not at all fun. Jenna recapped the game here.

The Last Red Wings Game: While the Devils were hosting Florida, Detroit was visiting Buffalo. The start went well for the visitors. Darren Helm took a shot early in the game and potted in his own rebound 27 seconds into the first period. The initial shot was created by the returning Anthony Mantha. However, Buffalo’s Conor Sheary provided an answer to that with a goal of his own less than a minute later. Those two goals would be it for the first period. Detroit went up again in the second period. Again, it was a goal by Helm. Again, the primary assist went to Mantha. Again, Buffalo tied it up later in the period. Not right away like in the first, but Marcus Johansson made it 2-2 with fine wrist shot to beat Jonathan Bernier. In the third period, Buffalo went up 2-3 just 57 seconds into the period with a goal by Sam Reinhart. The goal was a second-effort rebound after Jack Eichel tried to put home the loose puck from a shot by Henri Jokiharju. Detroit would make some attempts to tie it up but they did not succeed. So the Red Wings lost 2-3 to Buffalo. At Winging it in Motown, helmerroids recapped the game, calling it a “moral victory.” I suppose.

The Last Devils-Red Wings Game: On November 23, the Devils hosted Detroit. This game would be the first start for goaltender Louis Domingue as a New Jersey Devil. It was a success. Domingue was only beaten once; an early second-period goal by Taro Hirose. The Devils were down to Detroit, 0-1. What was the response? One the best ones possible: a goal by Kyle Palmieri on the very next shift. The score held even until the third period when the Devils just ripped and tore through the Red Wings defense. It started with a break as Will Butcher took a shot off an offensive faceoff win, which went in off Dylan McIlrath. It became 3-1 when Blake Coleman roofed a turnover from Madison Bowey by the left post. It became 4-1 after Detroit pulled Jonathan Bernier early and Taylor Hall scored an empty net goal. Right near the end of regulation, Coleman received a great pass from Miles Wood, went off on a breakaway, and beat Bernier with a backhander to make it a 5-1 win. Domingue won his first start as the Devil largely in thanks to five unanswered goals. Chris recapped the game here. For the other side, redwinger43 had this recap at Winging it in Motown.

The Goal: Don’t sleep on the opponent; play a smart game and keep up the pressure. The Devils did beat Detroit earlier this season 5-1. It was not your traditional blowout where one team scores a lot early and just cruises to the win. The game was 0-0 after the first period and 1-1 after the second period. They won that game because they kept attacking, they limited their mistakes to avoid giving Detroit too many (or much of any) opportunities to beat Domingue. It worked out as the goals kept coming. First off a break, then off more intentional efforts. The Devils should keep this in mind no matter how the game turns out.

New Jersey really cannot count any NHL opponent out. Not with the season the Devils are having. And just ask Boston and Montreal about Detroit not being total doormats. That stated, they are the worst team in the NHL by far. In the league standings at NHL.com, they are a full eleven points behind 30th place Los Angeles. In terms of goals, the Red Wings are dead last in the league with 118 goals scored and 215 goals allowed per NHL.com. That is a goal differential of -97. In 5-on-5 team rate stats at Natural Stat Trick, Detroit is below 46% in every percentage stat from attempts to high danger chances. As well as having the league’s second lowest shooting percentage and save percentage. So even if Detroit starts off the game well, or like last time scores first, the Devils should not panic or get concerned. This is a team that has been outscored, outattempted, outshot, outchanced, and outplayed a lot this season, leading to a lot of losses. The Devils will need to correct the errors (hint: have someone pay attention to where the other four Red Wings are when one of them has the puck), give them enough respect to actually defend them, execute your own play, and keep up the pressure. Detroit has cracked many times before - such as against the Devils - and they will again.

Seriously, Detroit is Terrible: I noted this in the previous section, but it really does deserve to be spelled out. After their game in Buffalo, Detroit has the following team stats in 5-on-5 play this season at Natural Stat Trick:

  • A CF% (Corsi or shot attempts for) of 45.83%
  • A SF% (shots for) of 45.95%
  • A GF% (goals for) of 35.85% (!!!!)
  • A xGF% (expected goals for, based on NST’s model) of 44.82%
  • A SCF% (scoring chances for) of 44.83%
  • A HDCF% (high-danger chances for) of 44.33%
  • A team shooting percentage of 6.03%
  • A team save percentage of 90.66%

Detroit is either dead last or firmly in the bottom five in the NHL each of these stats. What is sad is that the Devils are not far ahead of them in these stats except in SCF% and team save percentage. There, the Devils are just ahead of the Red Wings. Just in case you wanted the chilling feeling of reality like a cup of cold water poured on your head.

It does not just end with really bad 5-on-5 stats for Detroit. Special teams have also been terrible for the Red Wings.

Their power play has a conversion rate of 14.6% (26 for 178), the 30th best rate in the NHL and just ahead of Anaheim for last in that stat per NHL.com. The Red Wings’ 26 PPGs are undercut by their 11 shorthanded goals allowed, the most in the NHL. Blake Coleman, Pavel Zacha, Travis Zajac, and Kevin Rooney should be amped up when the Devils have to kill a penalty. Their team rate stats at Natural Stat Trick for the power play are incredibly low. They have the league’s lowest attempt and shot rates and the third-worst scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance rates. Yes, the Red Wings have been even worse than New Jersey on the power play.

The Devils’ power play may even score again against the Red Wings’ penalty kill. They are not the worst, but their success rate of 75.3% (134 kills over 178 chances) ranks 26th at NHL.com. Which is still quite poor. Their 44 PPGAs is tied for the second most in the NHL and their PKers have only scored three goals all season. As with their power play, the team’s rate stats on the penalty kill at Natural Stat Trick are among the worst in the NHL including the league’s highest shots against rate. So the Devils’ power play just has to not make any massive turnovers to likely avoid Detroit scoring a fourth shorthanded goal this season. If the Devils’ power play units can get set up, then they have a chance as any to score. Detroit’s penalty kill has allowed a lot of attempts, shots, and chances this season. Their goaltenders can be overwhelmed by it, as evidenced by the 44 PPGAs.

In total, the Red Wings are often out-performed in 5-on-5, they struggle big-time to score goals and not allow them, and their special teams are among the worst in the NHL. The only good thing I can say about Detroit’s team performance based on what I can understand is that they are at least 2-1 in shootouts. Understandably, Detroit does not usually make it beyond regulation in most of their games due to all of the other things I just wrote.

That Being Said, Look Out For...: Detroit as a team has been terrible. But there are some players to be aware of ahead of tonight’s game.

The biggest threat for Detroit for several seasons now is Dylan Larkin. He is fast. He is skilled. He will attack, attack, and attack some more. Per NHL.com, he leads the Red Wings in points (15 goals, 25 assists), shots (175), average ice time among forwards (21:34). Larkin is also one of the few Red Wings who we can say is decent in 5-on-5 play based on the team’s on-ice rate stats when he is on the ice as per Natural Stat Trick.

Right up there with Larkin would be Anthony Mantha. Mantha recently returned from injury and added two primary assists to put him up to 26 points in 30 games this season. Mantha is arguably Detroit’s best 5-on-5 player as per the on-ice rate stats at Natural Stat Trick. Mantha is the only Red Wing to have a CF%, a SF%, and a xGF% above 50%. This means that when he has been on the ice, the Red Wings have actually out-attempted and out-shot their opposition. The Devils will need to beware of Mantha as well as Larkin in terms of the run of play. As well as scoring since, hey, 26 points in 30 games is rather good.

While he is not that good in 5-on-5 play (a 47.40% xGF% is a far cry from the worst on this team, for example, but it is still not favorable), some respect needs to be given to Tyler Bertuzzi. He leads Detroit in goals with 18 per NHL.com. He has five power play goals, which is tied with Larkin for the most on the team; and he has 12 power play points, which is the most on the team. If nothing else, it appears he can finish plays if given the chance. His 17.3% shooting percentage suggests strongly that the Devils should not let him have many chances if they can manage it.

A Guess at Goalies: The Devils did not practice yesterday. It appears that the Red Wings did not either. So I will have to guess for the goalies.

This is not a back-to-back situation for the Red Wings, so I would think that Jonathan Bernier would likely to start this one. On paper, he really should. He has been Detroit’s best goaltender with a 91% even strength save percentage per NHL.com. That is not a bad save percentage and it looks brilliant compared to everyone else who has took to the crease for Detroit this season. The other option for tonight would be Jimmy Howard. Given his 88.9% save percentage in even strength situations, it would be to the Devils’ advantage and, I guess, the tank’s advantage if he starts. But Detroit really does not need to help themselves lose this season and the Devils put a four-spot on Bernier the last time he was the Rock, so I would expect Bernier.

Louis Domingue was really bad against Florida. I was also confused why he received the start. I understand that the Devils want to manage MacKenzie Blackwood’s workload. I do not know why he needed the night off after two days without a game. Yes, he stopped a lot of shots in his two shutouts. He had more than 48 hours of rest. Ahead of this week, tonight’s game would be a sure-bet for Domingue to start. But Domingue started against Florida, got wrecked, and now I wonder whether he will get both games in this set. If there is an opponent in the NHL in 2019-20 to help a goalie get their groove back, then it is Detroit. So I do think it could be him, leaving Blackwood to be very well rested for Carolina on Valentine’s Day. If it ends up being Domingue, then I really hope he is sharper this evening because he also can provide a way for New Jersey to lose to Detroit. And, no, this is not the season where one can rationalize a loss to Detroit.

Some Short Words about the Devils for When They are In Their Own Zone: Look around. Talk to each other. Challenge and win pucks.

Staying Hot: Damon Severson extended his point streak to seven games as he set up The Big Deal for his power play goal against Florida. Say what you want about Severson, but he can create offense and scoring plays. I hope he keeps it up in that sense. Kyle Palmieri does not have a streak necessarily, but he does have five goals and two assists since the All-Star Game weekend. His breakaway goal on Tuesday was sweet and with Hughes acclimating to playing with an actual shooter, I am looking forward to seeing how Hughes, Jesper Bratt, and Palmieri function against Detroit.

To that extent, I am still not expecting a return from Nico Hischier or Sami Vatanen. Unless they show up at morning skate and they are cleared quickly, I doubt they will play this evening or even in tomorrow’s game in Carolina.

One Last Thought: Seriously, do not lose to this Detroit team.

Your Take: The New Jersey Devils are hosting the worst team in the NHL tonight. How confident are you that the Devils will come out this one with a win? Who do you think will need to play well for the Devils to get that win? Does any Red Wing or any part of Detroit’s game concern you? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s game in the comments. Thank you for reading.