The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (21-32-5, 47 points) host the Anaheim Ducks (27-24-9, 63 points). SB Nation Blog: Anaheim Calling
The Time: 7:00 PM ET
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+, ESPN+. RADIO - Devils Hockey Network (Access through NHL.com or the SiriusXM app)
The last Devils game
The Devils got goalie’d against the Winnipeg Jets in a 2-1 home loss on Thursday evening. I noted in my recap of that game that the Devils did a lot of things well, but the lack of finish really stood out as Eric Comrie played well for the Jets. I don’t really have anything else to add other than that, so go back and read my very good and correct takes from that game if you missed it.
The last Ducks game
The Ducks fell to the Nashville Predators by a score of 4-1 on Thursday evening, with Adam Henrique scoring the lone goal for Anaheim in the contest. Henrique’s goal with 5:46 to go in the game pulled Anaheim within one, but that was as close as they’d get as Colton Sissions put the game out of reach with 2:30 to go and Matt Duchene added an empty netter for the cherry on top (and his second of the night). John Gibson got the start for the Ducks in net, stopping 26 of 29 shots.
The last Devils-Ducks game
The Devils last faced the Ducks way back on November 2nd in Southern California....a 4-0 shutout loss where the Devils didn’t do much of anything right. Jenna had the recap of that game and noted how special teams put the Devils behind the eight ball, as they gave up three power play goals to the Ducks. Fortunately for the Devils, the penalty kill has dramatically improved since then, although I’d still avoid taking unnecessary penalties like two (2) too many men calls. The other goal Anaheim scored was on a 2-on-1 the other way where Ty Smith was stuck in no-man’s land and Troy Terry beat Jonathan Bernier.....a situation we’ve seen countless times this year unfortunately with the Devils getting caught in an odd-man rush.
Dougie Hamilton was injured during the game and the ESPN Plus broadcast duo of Leah Hextall and Kevin Weekes didn’t seem to notice that he missed the entire second period until there was 2 minutes left. Lindy Ruff tried to blame jet lag for the loss in his postgame press conference, even though the Devils actually came out strong in the first period of the game, which would seemingly contradict that assessment. Overall though, it was just a night to forget for the Devils.
Lastly, PK Subban was fined $15,000 for tripping Trevor Zegras that game, and while he avoided suspension for that play in particular, that doesn’t seem like the type of thing the Ducks will forget so easily. That might be a subplot worth keeping an eye on if the Ducks decide they want to try to get their pound of flesh with Subban.
What Will the Devils Look Like?
The Devils got some players back at practice on Friday that we haven’t seen in awhile.
Tyce Thompson and Janne Kuokkanen have joined practice in no-contact jerseys.— Catherine Bogart (@CatherineBogart) March 11, 2022
Other players still coming on the ice. #NJDevils
Nico Hischier and Miles Wood just stepped on the ice for #NJDevils practice.— Sam Kasan (@samikasan) March 11, 2022
As Amanda Stein noted in a follow-up tweet, the four players wore non-contact jerseys during Friday’s practice. If I had to guess, Nico Hischier is probably the closest to playing since he actually has played recently, but I’d frankly be surprised if any of those players suited up tonight. Still, its nice to see that Miles Wood (who has missed the entire season), Tyce Thompson (out since November 11th), and Janne Kuokkanen (out since February 7) are on the mend and at least trending in the right direction.
I would expect the Devils to have a similar lineup to what they ran out there against the Jets on Thursday, which you can see below.
Here’s your #NJDevils lineup from warmups ahead of facing Winnipeg… no changes from Tuesday nights win against Colorado: pic.twitter.com/uxTtXuJsj8— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) March 10, 2022
Jack Hughes (18 G, 26 A in 38 GP) missed the matchup earlier this season against the Ducks as he was still out with the shoulder injury he sustained against the Kraken in the second game of the season. I’ll be curious to see how he looks against a team he hasn’t faced since his rookie season in which he struggled. Hughes is a much different player now than he was then. Aside from the fact he’s been a points machine, he’s playing with all sorts of confidence and swagger, is creating something offensively almost every time he is on the ice, and is clearly the most dangerous forward the Devils have at the moment. I look forward to seeing what he does next.
Keep Rolling with Daws or Go Back to Gillies?
It’s safe to say that Nico Daws has seized control of the Devils net and made the most of his opportunity as the Devils starting goaltender. He has made six consecutive starts entering today’s game and has played well, posting a .910 save percentage in that stretch. Simply put, Daws has given the Devils a chance to win whenever he plays, which is a far cry from what we have seen in net throughout most of this season.
My concern is that its a little “too much, too soon” with Daws and because Daws is clearly the best option the Devils have at the moment, he’s at risk of being overworked. I also don’t entirely trust Devils management to not just keep running him out there for that very reason. I worry about management chasing short-term gains at the expense of the long-term, which at this point, is if Daws should be considered a long-term option in net going forward.
In fairness to Devils brass though, the Devils haven’t played any back-to-backs this week. It’s ‘only’ been six starts in a row and 7 of the last 8. The Devils have a couple days off before a back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week where I would expect the goaltenders to split the starts. There are enough back-to-backs remaining in the schedule (six in total, with most of them in the next couple weeks) where there should be opportunities to keep Daws fresh and not overdo it.
It’s not the end of the world if the Devils start Daws against the Ducks, but this is something I will be closely monitoring as the Devils play out the string. I won’t exactly be thrilled if Daws winds up starting. say, 24 of the final 32 games this season, as that’s a bit much for a 21 year old rookie who shouldn’t even be in the NHL right now.
What do the Ducks bring to the table?
The Ducks have hit a bit of a skid, going 10-14-2 since January 1st and falling down to sixth in the Pacific division. Trade rumors have circled the team as well with Rickard Rakell, Hampus Lindholm, and Josh Manson all scheduled to reach UFA this summer and all rumored to be available with the trade deadline now nine days away.
Why have the Ducks have struggled? They can’t keep the other team from putting the puck in the back of the net. The Ducks have given up 3.73 goals per game in that aforementioned stretch. By comparison, the Devils (with all of their goaltending issues) have surrendered 3.56 goals per game this season. John Gibson has really struggled with an .893 save percentage in that timeframe, and backup goaltender Anthony Stolarz (Edison, NJ native) hasn’t been much better with an .897 percentage. This needs to be a game where the Devils attack, attack, attack and get plenty of rubber on the net. And in the case of guys like Pavel Zacha, Tomas Tatar, Andreas Johnsson, and pretty much anyone else in the bottom six not carrying their weight, this needs to be a game where they finish. It can’t all be Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt carrying this team.
Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras continue to lead the way offensively for the Ducks. Terry, in particular, was a thorn in the Devils side the last time these teams met with two goals and with Trevor Zegras and Jack Hughes being as close as they are, I’d prefer the Devils to not be on the receiving end of a highlight-reel goal by Zegras with his buddy in the building. If I were Alain Nasreddine or Lindy Ruff, I’d try to focus on taking those two guys away and live with the results if the Ryan Getzlafs or Sam Steels of the world beat you instead.
Lastly, Anaheim is still 7th in the league on the power play, converting at a 24.6% clip. The Devils penalty kill has been much better since the last time these teams met (currently 10th in the league at 81.3%), but that doesn’t mean I want to see the Devils take a bunch of careless penalties. Be smart, play a disciplined game, and only take the penalties that are absolutely necessary. Having multiple too many men penalties against the Ducks wasn’t acceptable back in November and its not acceptable now.
What do you think about tonight’s matchup? Can the Devils finish the homestand with a win? Who would you start in net, Daws or Gillies? Are you excited about the Devils potentially getting some players back in the lineup in the near future? What are the keys to the game for you? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!