Right after a game at the World’s Most Overrated Arena, the New Jersey Devils will play a rather tough game tonight. They are taking on one of the best teams from the Western Conference this season, featuring one of the hottest young stars in the NHL in Jason Robertson: the Dallas Stars. The Stars will be coming in from Pittsburgh. This game could very well come down to who has more left in the tank.
By the way, since I am recapping the game against Our Hated Rivals, all facts and figures are from before Monday’s games. Short of something amazing/catastrophic happening last night, the data before Monday’s game still points to what we should expect from both teams.
The Time: 7:00 PM ET
The Broadcast: TV - MSG, BSSW; Audio - The Devils Hockey Network
The Last Devils Game: Last night, the Devils played Our Hated Rivals in the World’s Most Overrated Arena. The Devils got off to a quick start. A seeing-eye shot from Jonas Siegenthaler that hit off Nico Hischier surprised Igor Shesterkin and everyone else to open the scoring. A little later, Jack Hughes forced a turnover and that set up Dawson Mercer to bury the puck to make it 2-0. Our Hated Rivals would eventually respond with some pressure after taking over eleven minutes to put a shot on net. They would claw one back in a 2-on-1 effort from Vincent Trocheck to Chris Kreider. The Devils would come out on fire in the second period. Jack Hughes served Shesterkin the sauce on a backhander to make it 3-1. Yet, a soft call on Siegenthaler would end with a Trocheck tip off of an Adam Fox shot to make it 3-2. On the very next play, K’Andre Miller set up Kaapo Kakko across the slot just seven seconds after that PPGA to make it 3-3. After a scoreless third period, overtime was needed. The Devils had the possession but would lose it after a Mercer shot missed and a Severson shot was saved. Artemi Panarin was able to get up on offense, curl, find Filip Chytil, and Chytil ended the game with a perfect far-post shot. The Devils lost 3-4 in OT in a game I felt they let slip away despite their 5-on-5 dominance in my recap.
The Last Stars Game: While the Devils were in Manhattan, Dallas was in Pittsburgh against a hot Penguins squad, winners of their last five games. Dallas acted fast to get on the board. Roope Hintz scored 19 seconds into the game to give Dallas an early lead. Pittsburgh would answer this goal about thirteen minutes later when Pierre-Oliver Joseph put home a power play goal to tie it up. Then the game went into a deadlock. A grand total of 52 shots would be taken between both teams with just 29 in the final two periods. Both Tristan Jarry and Jake Oettinger were in form. Then Evgeni Malkin cleaned up a loose puck from a close attempt by Bryan Rust to break the tie. With 35 seconds left in regulation. Technically, 34.7. A heartbreaker of a goal allowed. Dallas left Pittsburgh with nothing but a ‘L’ in a 2-1 defeat. Taylor Baird has this recap of the loss at Defending Big D.
The Goal: The Devils need to win when Dallas’ stars are sitting. I am working on the notion that Robertson needs to be treated like the league’s best because he is one of them right now. It is a matter of limiting his damage, not trying to ensure he does none. Dallas’ top line of Robertson, Hintz, and Pavelski will be a really difficult matchup. Likewise, Miro Heiskanen is a very strong defender. He will make an impact on the game in all three zones. Not that the rest of Dallas are a bunch of scrubs, but the other lines and pairings are easier match-ups on paper. The Devils are at home and so I want head coach Lindy Ruff to try to exploit them to succeed. Dallas can (and will?) score plenty of goals. Making them catch-up is going to be the best way to handle them. This means taking advantage when their most productive and dangerous players in 5-on-5 sit for someone else. I would rather have Jack Hughes across from, say, Denis Gurianov than Hintz, Robertson, or Pavelski.
How’s Dallas Doing?: Dallas has been undergoing some changes since last season. They managed to take a wild card spot in the Western Conference and take Calgary to the limit. However, head coach Rick Bowness’ contract was expiring and so he stepped away. He would join Winnipeg. Peter DeBoer, who was Las Vegas’ head coach and a team the Stars sniped a playoff spot from, was hired to replace him. A new coaching staff was installed.
On the roster, the team was seemingly passing a torch in terms of who would be the top players. The defense was led by Miro Heiskanen, Ryan Suter, and John Klingberg. Klingberg hit free agency and left for Anaheim. The offense for many years was led by Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. But their production dropped and others emerged: Jason Roberson and Roope Hintz. Joe Pavelski is Jagr-like in his agelessness so he’s still the guy. Still, the forward depth took a hit as Vladislav Namestnikov went to Tampa Bay and Alexander Radulov went to the KHL. Goaltending underwent this change as Jake Oettinger would take over after being behind Anton Khudobin in 2021 and win the #1 job over Braden Holtby last season. It is a team that one could question ahead of the 2022-23 season as far as how they would perform. It did not appear that they improved. Or got significantly worse. Would they be about the same?
As we enter the middle of December, the answer was: how about being an offensive wagon? Dallas is battling Winnipeg for first in the Central Division, who both have healthy leads over Colorado, Minnesota, and Nashville. The Stars entered this week with 105 goals scored, second only to Buffalo. They are one of the four teams with more goals scored than the Devils. Jason Robertson has been the shiniest star in Texas with 23 goals and 42 points in 28 games. After Saturday’s game, only the two wonder forwards of Edmonton have more points than Robertson. While it was broken in Toronto recently, Robertson had an 18-game point streak. He leads a high-scoring team that already has three other 10+ goal scorers already in Hintz (11 goals, 32 points), Pavelski (10 goals, 29 points), and a resurgent Jamie Benn. Benn is back to being a point-ish per game player with 11 goals, 27 points in 28 games. Seguin has also rebounded with 21 points in 28 games so far. Klingberg’s absence meant more possible points for Heiskanen, who has 22 in 25 games from the blueline. 19-year old rookie Wyatt Johnson is a X-factor with 7 goals and 12 points; he adds to a strong depth up front along with Mason Marchment and Ty Dellandrea. Dallas can score and score a lot of goals.
What is more is that they are more than decent in the back end too with just 79 goals allowed. Sure, that is 16 more than the Devils, but it is still the tenth fewest in the NHL after Saturday’s games. Oettinger remains the main man in Dallas. Scott Wedgewood - you probably know him - has provided adequate service as a backup. Heiskanen leads this blueline that still has Suter and Esa Lindell while increasing minutes for veteran Jani Hakanpaa. The Stars are not just an offensive force; they can hang in close games as well.
Just as the Devils are playing this game after playing the night before, so are the Stars. Back-to-backs have not been kind to Dallas. They got one point out of four against Winnipeg and Colorado back on November 25 and 26. They got zero points in a road back-to-back at Ottawa and at Boston. Yes, the Stars have only played two of them. They still went poorly from a results perspective. However, the road as a whole has been better for Dallas given a 7-4-2 record away from Texas going into this week. This is driven by a 5-2-1 road record in November. Dallas can take care of business away from their home; the question is whether they can do it after playing in Pittsburgh - who won their last five games - on Monday night. Tonight’s game may come down to who has more fuel for their respective wagons.
Just know that tonight’s result will not change the fact that Dallas is A) quite good, B) can score a whole lot of goals, and, most importantly, C) Jason Robertson needs to be treated like he’s McDavid, Draisaitl, Matthews, Crosby, and so forth. He has been that important and that productive for a Dallas team showing that they have very much improved after last season. If the sixth best record in the NHL going into this week will not convince you of that, then let me know so I can explain things more carefully.
The Dallas Offense: Wagon! 105 goals in 28 games for an average of 3.75 per game! That constitutes a wagon! The Stars are actually ahead of the Devils in terms of being one of the highest-scoring teams in the NHL. Do their on-ice rates at 5-on-5 play match up with that? Kind of! It is not at the level of New Jersey, Florida, or Carolina in some stats but it is much more than respectable. Here’s a quick breakdown prior to Sunday’s games from Natural Stat Trick:
- Corsi For per 60 minutes: 59.82 (7th, Devils are 3rd with 65.89)
- Shots For per 60 minutes: 30 (17th, Devils are 2nd with 35.71)
- Scoring Chances For per 60 minutes: 30.87 (8th, Devils are 1st with 35.85)
- High Danger Scoring Chances For per 60 minutes: 13.22 (8th, Devils are 3rd with 14.45)
- Expected Goals For per 60 minutes: 2.74 (9th, Devils are 1st with 3.21)
- Actual Goals For per 60 minutes: 3.05 (3rd, Devils are 1st with 3.35)
- Team Shooting Percentage: 10.18% (1st, Devils are 4th with 9.39%)
As a team, Dallas creates a lot of offense - not as much as the Devils - but absolutely fills the net. The team collectively has the warmest sticks in the league to go with mostly top-ten rankings save for shots on net (17th) and actual goals (3rd). This justifies a wagon vs. wagon match-up to me.
What worries me is that Dallas’ most talented and productive players have been killing it in 5-on-5 play per Natural Stat Trick Jason Robertson’s 5-on-5 on-ice rates are ridiculously good; a perfect pairing with his ridiculous 42 points so far this season. Joe Pavelski is not just putting points on the board but he is driving the play. Ditto for Roope Hintz. Benn and Seguin have not been bad in this regard. Johnson and Dellandrea have been excellent, a far cry better than players like Radek Faksa, Joel Kiviranta, Luke Glendening, and Denis Gurianov. If their 5-on-5 rates are anything to go by, then the Devils should try to exploit them in the run of play this evening. And hold on tight against their top players.
Not literally, though. The Dallas power play is also effective. Their success rate of 25.3%, or 22 for 87, is the eighth best rate in the NHL. When the Stars have a man advantage, they have outputted the highest xGF/60 rate in the NHL at 11.15. This is a group that knows how to threaten during power plays. With only one shorthanded goal allowed, it is not like they are too aggressive or can be exposed in the back either. It will not surprise you to learn that Jason Robertson has been the main man on their power plays with a team-leading six power play goals, 15 points, and 41 shots. It does behoove you to respect Pavelski and his five PPGs, Benn and his five PPGs and twelve power play points, Heiskanen and his eleven power play points, and Hintz’s eight power play assists. Their first unit appears to be doing the heavy lifting. It is definitely working for Dallas. The answer to this is simple to me. Do not take stupid, unnecessary penalties. I feel like I hit that point a lot in these previews. The Dallas power play is good enough to warrant the mention this time.
The equalizing factor for tonight will be based on Monday’s game. Did either team play well? Did they struggle? Did they expend a lot of energy? Normally, I would just state that Jonas Siegenthaler or John Marino need to do their best against Robertson’s line similar to what they did to McDavid and Draisaitl weeks ago. With the fatigue factor and a potential change in mentality, it is a wildcard that could make a difference for the Devils’ defensive efforts, Dallas’ offensive efforts, or both. Or maybe not at all! It is still wagon versus wagon.
The Dallas Defense: The Dallas defense will try its best to not make this a wagon versus wagon game on the ice. Their blueline is led by Miro Heiskanen with Ryan Suter, Esa Lindell, and Jani Hakanpaa playing most of their minutes on defense in that order. It appears Colin Miller and Nils Lundkvist make up a third pairing. Statistically, the Stars have been quite good at it in 5-on-5 play. Here is another breakdown from NST prior to Sunday’s games:
- Corsi Against per 60 minutes: 54.85 (10th, Devils are 2nd with 50.11)
- Shots Against per 60 minutes: 29.64 (11th, Devils are 2nd with 25.27)
- Scoring Chances Against per 60 minutes: 27.49 (11th, Devils are 2nd with 24.56)
- High Danger Scoring Chances Against per 60 minutes: 12.49 (25th, Devils are 1st with 9.07)
- Expected Goals Against per 60 minutes: 2.62 (9th, Devils are 2nd with 2.14)
- Actual Goals Against per 60 minutes: 2.51 (tied 17th, Devils are 3rd with 1.89)
I have a separate section for goaltending, so I will get to save percentages there. Still, Dallas’ defensive efforts in 5-on-5 hockey is pretty good. Not the greatest, but far from bad. It is also enough to be above 50% in all of these stats; which is proof that Dallas is at least solid in 5-on-5 hockey. That stated, their HDCA/60 rate sticks out like a sore, exploitable thumb. Like a weakspot on a boss in a video game. Given how the Devils look to generate those either with quick transition plays or more traditional “get to the net” options, the Devils can make that part of the Stars’ defense suffer. I suggest that they try. With players like Nico Hischier, Miles Wood, The Big Deal, Dawon Mercer, Erik Haula, Tomas Tatar, Yegor Sharangovich, Fabian Zetterlund, and Jesper Bratt, they certainly can. Fun fact: They all have at least 18 individual high danger scoring chances this season. Fun fact #2: They also play on differing lines so Dallas can have some real match-up problems.
In terms of the defensemen taking care of business at 5-on-5, Heiskanen is their top man. Which is going to be unfortunate for the Devils as he plays a ton. His on-ice rates are better than the other five regulars, some by a very wide amount. Heiskanen can be bodied up by someone smaller than him like, say, Zetterlund, but betting on that again is unlikely. The Devils would be better served to go hard against the likes of Lundkvist, Lindell, and Hakanpaa if only because they each have on-ice rates of SA/60 over 31. That suggests they can be beaten more often than Heiskanen or even Colin Miller. Lundkvist, Ryan Suter, and Hakanpaa also have HDCA/60 rates above 13. This furthers my thinking that Lundkvist should be targeted if possible whenever the Devils need to get their offense going.
They might also want to get a power play going as the Stars have been rather undisciplined compared to most teams in the NHL. Prior to Sunday’s games, Dallas has the sixth highest shorthanded situations per game rate in the whole NHL at 3.71 per game. A couple of calls and they can move right up to the top five no problem. There is a big gap between seventh and eighth, so I feel confident in stating that they could stand to take fewer calls (and New Jersey can draw them). I am not so confident in the Devils power play in part because Dallas has also been rather successful on kills. They have allowed just 16 power play goals out of 104 situations for a success rate of 84.6%. That is the third best success rate in the NHL. With an on-ice xGA/60 of 7.75 in shorthanded situations, the Stars are pretty good in shorthanded situations. Lindell and Hakanpaa play a ton of minutes on the PK for Dallas, well more than Heiskanen and Suter. They soak up a lot of pressure and get plenty of goaltending help. This makes it easier for Heiskanen and Suter to clean up any secondary power play units from the opposition. Given Dallas’ success rate, I would not bet a lot on the Devils’ power play getting things done. I would hope the Devils at least draw calls as to keep Dallas from attacking for two minutes if they do. It is a way to slow down a wagon.
The Dallas Goaltenders: As a team, Dallas goaltending has been more than acceptable this season. They have the second best team save percentage in penalty kill situations at 89.87%. That is a huge reason why their success rate is well above 80%. In 5-on-5 hockey, the Stars’ goaltenders are just a touch under the league median; 18th as of Sunday’s games with a 91.54%. Just .13% shy of the league median.
Dallas has had to use just two goaltenders this season: Jake Oettinger and Scott Wedgewood. Oettinger has been the starter with 20 games played, but Wedgewood is hardly just an occasional fill-in with 11 games played himself. Wedgewood has a superior 5-on-5 save percentage than Oettinger; a 91.7% compared with a 91.4%. However, Oettinger has been far superior in shorthanded situations. He has a Robertson-ridiculous 91.8% save percentage when down a man. Wedgewood is just at 85.4%, which is closer to “normal” for a goalie in the NHL. Both goalies have allowed as many goals as pretty much they expected in 5-on-5 with Oettinger allowing a mere nine when he was expected to allow sixteen in shorthanded situations. Given that Dallas has a high rate of shorthanded situations compared to most NHL teams, Oettinger has been more crucial to Dallas’ success this season.
That said, Wedgewood’s numbers have been good enough this season to make him a viable choice to get games outside of necessity. As Dallas has had only a couple of back-to-back sets, he has started in games just to give Oettinger a break. This suggests that Peter DeBoer and the Dallas staff trusts Wedgewood. The question is similar to what the Devils will face: Who starts in which game? The Stars played in Pittsburgh on Monday night, a team who has been hot and also scores plenty of goals. The Devils, well, they are a wagon. Dallas can go either way. You probably know the answer by the time you are reading this; I would expect whoever did not start last night to start this game for Dallas. Update: After Monday night, that would be Wedgewood.
The same applies for New Jersey, which means there is a chance Akira Schmid is going to be tested against Our Hated Rivals or Dallas. Statistically, Ottawa and Buffalo also have high-powered offenses this season so I can trust Schmid doing well in either game.
Any Devils-Specific Notes: Again, whatever happened last night may have a bearing on this game. I would expect the non-starting goaltender from Monday to start this one. Anyone hurt would likely be replaced; first with scratched players then with call-ups from Utica. Hopefully that does not happen.
Allow me to make a more general point. One of the complaints I see about the Devils this season is that if they are struggling, then it must mean the other team is being more physical. The Devils are not heavy. The opposition is heavy. This is a problem. I do not quite agree. The Devils have plenty of wins over “heavy” teams (two over Calgary, two over Ottawa, one each over Philly, Washington, and the Islanders. Hopefully two over Our Hated Rivals by the time you read this) and won in so many various ideal and non-ideal ways that I am not really concerned about it. Even if it is happening in a game, it is not necessarily why the Devils lost or struggled in said game. In the 4-6 loss to the Isles, the Devils were done in by weak coverage, getting rolled from the final ten minutes into the second period, a stupid penalty, and a bad turnover in the defensive zone. They managed to play seven minutes and change with an extra skater and the Isles’ supposed physicality did little to keep the Devils from scoring (Jack Hughes scored), come close to scoring (Dougie Hamilton hitting crossbars), keep the Devils from the Islanders’ end (so many icings by New York helped), and even ice the game with an empty netter (something Hughes blocked twice). If we go back further to the Nashville game at the start of this month, the Devils conceded an equalizer with eight seconds to go because no one picked up the scorer behind the defensemen and the overtime was played in an utterly stupid fashion. Maybe Nashville and the Isles did out-hit the Devils, but it had as much as to how those games took place as whether or not you wore your lucky pair of underwear. It is an easy thing to point out because the Devils are not big up front; but that does not make it true.
If Dallas takes this game, then it is likely going to be in the way they have won 16 out of 28 going into Monday night: scoring heaps of goals, leading periods, and trusting Oettinger and Wedgewood in situations where the defense may get overwhelmed. Whether or not they body up the Devils would be beside the point. Jason Robertson, Joe Pavelski, Roope Hintz, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin really do not need to do it. Giving them too much time, space, and a lack of attention will instead make the Devils suffer.
One Last Thought: It may be from last season. It may not matter for this game. I still want to invite you to remember when Nico Hischier styled and profiled on Dallas for a game winning goal back on April 9, 2022.
Your Take: The Devils will have to gear up for a potential wagon fight. As will the Stars since both are coming off games for this one. How do you like the Devils’ chances? Can they slow down Robertson, Pavelski, Hintz, Benn, and Seguin? Can the Devils get their power play going against a team that can kill the relatively many calls they take? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this match-up in the comments, such as changes in lineups and other news. Thank you for reading.