The fourth stop on Our Favorite Team’s final extended road trip of the season is the team’s third and final one in California. Fresh off being in L.A. yesterday, they are in Orange County and looking to make the first game of March a successful one.
The Time: 8:00 PM ET
The Broadcasts: TV - MSG+, PRIME; Digital Audio - The Devils Hockey Network (Radio.com)
The Last Devils Game: Yesterday, the Devils visited Los Angeles in the third game in their five-game road trip. The Devils went out there and the Kings bossed them around for the first period. The good news is that goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood was locked in from the get-go. Also, Nikita Gusev made a great cut to the middle and passed it across to Jesper Bratt for a one-timer that opened up the game’s scoring. Despite the performance, the Devils were up 1-0. However, the Kings would respond in the second period - which was better for New Jersey - as Anze Kopitar set up Dustin Brown wide-open in the slot for an equalizer. The two teams would trade opportunities, with Blackwood needing to make bigger stops. Overtime was needed for this one. But it only felt like forever as the Devils did not have the puck for all 1:58 that it lasted. The Kings took control, kept control, and took the game when Adrian Kempe fired a laser past Blackwood. The goalie was great, the Devils were not, as the Devils flopped in OT. My recap of the loss is here.
The Last Ducks Game: On Friday, the Ducks hosted Pittsburgh. Would Anaheim be able to spoil the Penguins? Short answer: yes. New Duck Danton Heinen scored his first goal for his new team in the first period on one of just two shots by Anaheim. John Gibson needed to be quite good and he largely was. Jason Zucker tied up the game on an early power play in the second period. Anaheim would pull ahead later in the second with goals by Ryan Getzlaf and Brendan Ghule. The Ducks were holding on in the third period. Zucker scored a late goal but it was not enough. Anaheim held on to win 3-2 in regulation. Check out Anaheim Calling for a recap of this game.
The Last Devils-Ducks Game: Back on December 18, interim head coach Alain Nasreddine was seeking his second NHL win and his first at the Rock. This was also the first game without Taylor Hall as a member of the Devils organization; he was traded days earlier that week. The Devils hosted Anaheim. Surprising to most who follow the Devils this season, the Devils played a fairly stingy game in terms of how much they allowed to Anaheim. Also surprising was that the Devils scored three goals out of twenty shots. While Devils cult hero Adam Henrique put the Ducks up early, the Devils tied it up and went ahead in the second due to an even strength goal by Nico Hischier and a power play goal by ex-Duck Kyle Palmieri. In the third period, the Devils picked up an early insurance goal from former Duck Sami Vatanen with an assist from Jack Hughes. Mackenzie Blackwood was excellent down the stretch and the Devils won 3-1. Chris recapped the game here. For the other side, CJ Woodling had this recap at Anaheim Calling.
The Goal: Win the depth matchups. Most bad teams have a respectable or dangerous first line or first pairing. When you look beyond them, then you see a lack of quality. The Ducks are very much like this team. The defense after Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm is not that impressive. The forwards after Adam Henrique, Jakub Silfverberg, Rickard Rakell, and whatever else they get out of Ryan Getzlaf is not impressive. The Devils’ own depth is not that impressive either - especially on defense. However, if the Devils want to prevail after playing in Los Angeles yesterday against a rested Anaheim team, then I think it is in the lesser match-ups like the third lines and fourth lines. Those players do not play a lot so they should have plenty in the tank tonight. Is it possible?Absolutely. Will they do so? We’ll see.
The Ducks - They’re Not Good: From a statistical standpoint, the Anaheim Ducks are simply not a good hockey team. They do not appear to be the very worst (except in one area) but they are not good. According to Natural Stat Trick, their on-ice percentages in 5-on-5 play are around 48% in terms of attempts, shots, scoring chances, and high-danger chances. In terms of the expected goals model, they are right with the Devils at being below 47%. In terms of actual goals, their goals-for percentage is below 46%. Anaheim’s team shooting percentage in 5-on-5 is 7.6%, which is in the bottom third of the league. Their team save percentage of 91.6% is the closest thing to being average. These percentages are not among the very worst in the NHL. They are better than the Devils in several of these categories. But they are not good in any of them.
Anaheim’s power play has one of the lowest success rates in the league at 14.8% per NHL.com. They also do not get to the power play very much. Anaheim’s 162 power play opportunities is the second fewest total in the NHL this season. This is a reason why they have the fewest power play goals in the league too with 24. Per Natural Stat Trick, their on-ice shooting and scoring chance rates are also very low relative to the other 31 NHL teams in the league. You can make a case that Anaheim’s power play is the worst in the NHL. What is not arguable is that it is not good.
Anaheim’s penalty kill can boast that they have scored more shorthanded goals than the Devils. Indeed, per NHL.com, they have 10 and are second only to Las Vegas. (Note: Three of those ten goals were by Derek Grant, who is now with Philadelphia.) They can also boast that their rate of allowing attempts and shots has been rather good as per Natural Stat Trick. That is where the praise would end for the PK. The Ducks have been shorthanded 187 times. While that is around the league median, it is also over 20 more situations than how many times they have had a man advantage. The Ducks have been on the wrong end of special teams more often - that is one issue. The other issue is that their rate of killing them is not that high. The Ducks narrowly avoid the bottom third of the NHL with a 78.1% success rate and even then they still allow 41 power play goals - which is right in the bottom third of the NHL in that category. The Ducks’ penalty kill may be the best part of their team game - but it is still not something you can easily call good as a whole.
From an individual player perspective, the Ducks appear to be bereft of a top-tier player. Neither John Gibson or Ryan Miller in net is it this season. Adam Henrique is having a fine season as he leads Anaheim with 24 goals and is second on the team with 153 shots. He is one of the few Ducks who has been good (or at least decent) in 5-on-5 situations this season per Natural Stat Trick. He is a threat but he is not a star except on this Ducks team. Jakub Silfverberg is very talented and is likely to join Henrique as the next Duck to crack 20 goals on this team - he has 18 so far. But he is not a star and is not really pushing the play forward often when he is on the ice in 5-on-5 play. Defensemen Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm are like Henrique in that they are doing well in 5-on-5 situations, but they are by no means dominating. They are more or less leaders of a non-descript blueline. This is a team that could really benefit from having someone exceptional. Instead, it has some good players (Sonny Milano and Christian Djoos may be a good adds; Milano had an excellent debut with two goals), some players who are not what they once were, and just some guys.
The thing about Anaheim is that other than scoring shorthanded goals, they are not really a good team in any specific aspect. At least with New Jersey, you have to respect the goaltending if Blackwood is in net. And you have to respect the rising talents of Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Hughes along with forwards like Nikita Gusev and Kyle Palmieri. And the Devils’ PK is legitimately quite good. All of this can be claimed in spite of some of the most hideous 5-on-5 on-ice rates in recent Devils history. While Anaheim may not be as abysmal as the Devils when it comes to, say, allowing attempts and shots; they are not all that good at it either. I get the sense from a statistical look, the Ducks are the sum of some not very impressive parts. And so they are with the Devils in the bottom end of the league standings. Anahiem is not a good team.
The Dangerous Ducks: As previously mentioned, one has to at least respect the firepower from Henrique and Silfverberg. They are first and second in goal production on the team, respectively, and they can play in all situations. According to Natural Stat Trick, they are also among the better Ducks in 5-on-5 with Henrique being on the right side of 50% and Silfverberg not but not too far deep below them. The Devils will see quite a bit of them this evening.
While he has been a Duck for all of two games, I would be concerned about Sonny Milano. He was a Blue Jacket so he knows plenty about bringing disappointment to the Devils. In his first appearance with Anaheim, he scored two goals against Edmonton. Against Pittsburgh, he scored X. This is not to say that Milano will absolutely guaranteed to score, but he can be another weapon for an Anaheim team that needed them. This may make the deeper match-ups more difficult for the Devils.
Look Out for These Devils: As MacKenzie Blackwood started in Los Angeles, Cory Schneider is likely to start this game. This has not been an issue. In this past week, Schneider has been very good for the Devils. He was the only player to show up for sixty minutes against San Jose. He was very good in his return to New Jersey against Detroit. While his numbers are hideously bad from his earlier failures this season, his performances in the last two games are encouraging for this one. If he can play like he did against Detroit and San Jose, then the Devils should not have an issue in net tonight.
Look for the continued flying of The Goose. Nikita Gusev has been remarkably productive in recent games. He enters this game with eight points (two goals, six assists) in his previous five games. The Devils have slotted him with Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha and the line has found some offensive success. When it does, it has prominently involved Gusev. Gusev’s lack of speed is offset by the consistently swift Bratt and Zacha can play off of either fine at times.
Speaking of Bratt, he has four goals in his last five games. I cannot say that he has been utterly amazing in so much that the Devils skaters have not been close to all that amazing in these past five games. But he has been a consistent source of offense as of late. Hopefully Alain Nasreddine has recognized this and will keep Bratt active and never ever scratch him.
One Last Thought: I really hope the Devils are careful with the puck on power plays. Again, Anaheim has scored ten shorthanded goals this season. The Devils need to be careful about completing passes and maintaining control in the face of pressure unless they want to have Anaheim score #11 against them.
Your Take: The New Jersey Devils’ road trip will finish up the team’s games in California this season. 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? Who on Anaheim concerns you and why? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s game in the comments. Thank you for reading.