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Game Preview #8: New Jersey Devils @ Anaheim Ducks

The Devils begin their annual California road trip with a date in Anaheim against the Ducks. This preview covers a tricky matchup against an upstart team looking to make noise in the Pacific and who to look out for on both sides.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Anaheim Ducks
Former Devil Adam Henrique has been amongst the Ducks leading scorers in 2021-22
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (4-2-1, 9 points) visit the Anaheim Ducks (3-4-3, 9 points). SB Nation Blog: Anaheim Calling

The Time: 10:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - ESPN+, Hulu. RADIO - Devils Hockey Network

The last Devils game

The Devils lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 in a shootout on Sunday evening. I wrote in the recap for that game how Ty Smith’s two critical turnovers directly led to goals against, which ultimately led to the loss.

The last Ducks game

The Ducks defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 in a Halloween matinee, as Troy Terry scored the eventual game-winning goal, his team-leading 5th goal of the season. Longtime Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf assisted on that goal, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne to become the all-time leading scorer in franchise history. Former Devil Adam Henrique added a power play goal and an assist and is among the leading scorers on the Ducks.

The last Devils-Ducks game

This is the first meeting between the two franchises since March 1, 2020, when the Devils blanked the Ducks 3-0 in Anaheim behind 34 saves from Cory Schneider. Pavel Zacha scored twice on the power play. Nico Hischier added a third period goal for good measure. Ideally, both Zacha and Hischier pick up where they left off the last time they faced the Ducks and find the back of the net once again.

What will the lines look like?

The Devils flew out to Southern California Monday afternoon so it appears that we won’t get an update on potential lines or the starting goaltender until today’s morning skate at the earliest. I would expect the Devils to roll similar lines to what they have the last two games, with Jonathan Bernier presumably starting against the Ducks.

The Ducks lines on Sunday were as follows....

Groulx - Getzlaf - Terry

Henrique - Zegras - Milano

Comtois - Lundestrom - Lettieri

Deslauriers - Grant - Carrick

Lindholm - Drysdale

Fowler - Manson

Benoit - Shattenkirk

Gibson (Stolarz)

Anaheim doesn’t have another game until Friday when they host the lowly Coyotes, so I would not be surprised to see John Gibson in net against the Devils.

What to look out for?

The Ducks are 26th in the league in CF% at 46.91 and 28th in xGF% at 45.41%, yet they’re 12th in the NHL at 3.1 goals per game. So how are the Ducks scoring so much with bad possession stats? They’re doing it on the power play.

Anaheim sits 8th in the league with the man advantage at 25.8% and 8 power play goals in 10 games, including two on Sunday. The Devils are once again one of the worst penalty killing teams in the league at 72% (28th in the NHL), so they would be wise to avoid careless mistakes, stay out of the box, and not give the Ducks any extra opportunities to punish them. Some penalties are unavoidable, while others (too many men, puck over the glass, some tripping and holding calls) are not.

Hockey fans would be familiar with the veterans on the Ducks who are contributing, such as Getzlaf, Henrique, Cam Fowler and Kevin Shattenkirk, but they’ve also gotten contributions from some of their younger players. Trevor Zegras is one of the most exciting young players in the NHL and he’s gotten off to a decent start with 5 points in 10 games. 2018 first round pick Isac Lundestrom has 7 assists already. Jamie Drysdale is playing close to 22 minutes a night on their top pairing. Anaheim is similar to the Devils in that they have also made a lot of high lottery draft picks the last few years, so expect to see some names you’re familiar with in significant roles for the Ducks not only tonight, but in the future.

Lastly, John Gibson has been ok thus far this season with a .906 save percentage. He’s only a few years removed from being the rock in the crease that he was when Anaheim was still a perennial postseason team, so don’t sleep on Gibson turning back the clock with a big performance. It seems like he’s been around forever, but he’s still only 28 years old.

What else do the Devils need to do?

Honestly, just cut down on the boneheaded mistakes. The Devils probably played their best two games of the season over the weekend. Zacha-Hischier-Tatar might be their top line, but Johnsson-Mercer-Bratt has been their best line. Their top pairing of Ryan Graves and Dougie Hamilton has been as advertised. The Jonas Siegenthaler-PK Subban pairing has mostly been invisible, which is an upgrade over what we have seen from defensive pairings the last few years. There’s a saying that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The Devils should not change up what has been working.

Now, with that said, they do have players that need to start getting it going. Nico Hischier has been fine, but he needs to be better than fine, especially with Jack Hughes out. Yegor Sharangovich has hit numerous posts to start the season. He needs to start putting those in the net. Tomas Tatar was signed to fill a Top Six role on this team. He has no goals and three assists in seven games. The Damon Severson-Ty Smith pairing needs to take advantage of easier matchups now that they’re no longer being asked to play top pairing minutes. Maybe they’re a little behind because of the training camp injuries that held them back, but they need to be better.

I’m not particularly worried about any of these players, but you don’t want to see a rough start turn into an extended slump a la Kyle Palmieri last year. The Devils next three games are against teams that they should theoretically match up well against in the Ducks, Kings, and Sharks. This road trip is a good opportunity for some guys to get right.

No MSG coverage

The Devils game this evening, as well as the game against the Los Angeles Kings on Friday, will be exclusive to ESPN+/Hulu subscribers, and will not be on the MSG family of networks. Hence, you will need to subscribe to ESPN+ or Hulu, either individually or through the bundle with Disney+, to watch the game. Please do not ask for links for illegal streams in the comments section. You can legally subscribe at the link here.

Leah Hextall will be on the call with Kevin Weekes as the analyst and Linda Cohn as the reporter. Arda Ocal and Ryan Callahan will handle the intermission reports. Admittedly, I have not seen as much of the ESPN exclusive broadcasts since the Opening Night contests, so I’ll be curious to see if they’re a little more polished from a TV production standpoint. As much as I enjoy the MSG Devils broadcasts and there is a comfort food feeling to see Steve Cangialosi, Ken Daneyko, Erika Wachter, and Bryce Salvador on TV, sometimes, you want to go to a new restaurant every once in a while.

Your Thoughts

If the Devils play their game, they should be able to control the pace, win the possession battle, and put the puck in the back of the net. If they make mistakes or take too many dumb penalties, they run the risk of allowing a Ducks team to be opportunistic on special teams and beat them.

How do you think tonight’s game will play out? Do you expect the Devils to continue playing well and beat the Ducks, or is this the proverbial trap game? Are you excited to see a little bit of a different TV presentation to the game? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts on tonight’s game and thank you for reading!