Game 17 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Edmonton Oilers

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+(HD); Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (4-10-2) vs. the Edmonton Oilers (4-8-2)

The Food Drive: It's tonight! Bring non-perishable foodstuffs to the game and put it in the bins to feed people who need it.  Resist the temptation to throw it on the ice tonight given how both teams are this season.  More details here.

The Last Devils Game: The offense finally got some breaks and put up four goals on a goaltender.  One was even a power play goal.  Yet, the game required a shootout because the defense (as in the defensive effort) was horrid and exposed on multiple goals against. The Buffalo Sabres won in the shootout, the Devils lose 5-4, and the fans were livid at yet another home loss.  The key lesson from my recap: Almost is never enough.

The Last Oilers Game: The Oilers went into Detroit on Thursday night coming off a 7-1 beatdown by Carolina.  The Red Wings proceeded to show that they too can outclass the Oilers, and did so right from minute #1.  The Taylor Hall line got especially steamrolled in terms of scoring chances via Dennis at mc79hockeyDerek Zona at the Copper & Blue has a full recap of the 6-2 loss in Detroit.  Including sarcastic praise of Nikolai Khabibulin.

The Goal: Build on the positives from Wednesday.  Yes, it sucks to lose another game at home. It sucks that a lead was blown to get the game to extra time at all.  It sucks that this team finally has an offensive outing that wasn't frustrating and the defending part of the game totally undermines it.   If the Devils want to lose tonight, then they should get discouraged, get frustrated, and continue to make the same careless errors that we've witnessed all season long.  I don't think anyone on that team wants to do that.  Instead they should look at how the offense came mostly from the second and third lines (as well as the positive Corsi).  That the team got a rare power play goal. That the team crashed the net and it worked.  That they scored 4 goals on 32 shots.  The offense needs to feel somewhat confident going forward (especially Jason Arnott, who had a great game with 2 goals on 5 shots), and I think there's valid reason for some confidence coming out of Wednesday's game despite not winning.  With said confidence, they can look to improve further. That's what I want to see: building on the positives, particularly on offense.

As for the defense, they just have to play with a clue for 60 minutes.  Even if it's simple, just don't give up the most important parts of the ice so easily. If someone's committed in the wrong area, then someone needs to go help them out as to where they should be.  It's not just execution, it's also communication, and I shouldn't have to keep repeating it - but I will until it improves.

I've got a few more thoughts on tonight's game, please continue after the jump if you're interested.  For the Oilers' side, go to the Copper & Blue - where you will learn plenty about the game itself along with the team they follow.

I want to talk about the Edmonton Oilers first.   They are, well, not good to be honest.   Before their loss to Detroit, the Oilers got ran over repeatedly by the Carolina Hurricanes in just the first 8 minutes alone.  8 minutes, 4 goals allowed, and even in the 52-minute-long garbage time, the Canes put up 3 more goals.  Edmonton lost 7-1. The recaps in the aftermath spelled out clearly how and why this team is not good.  Here's a few: Ben Massey's recap at the Copper & Blue had a despondent sense to it.  Bruce McCurdy handed out a lot of low ratings at the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey. Tyler Dellow at mc79hockey only focused on the special teams play and found that Edmonton was second rate.  Jeffrey Chapman at Oil on Whyte needed not one, but two posts to discuss the rout.  I think you get the point.

 

The only positive I learned from that game was finding out Dustin Penner was present for more shooting attempts for than against per Copper & Blue. More on him in a bit. But that's just one game, right?  Just one blowout.  Well, from those recaps and a little more research, the issues with Edmonton have been ever present this season (that sounds familiar):

ITEM: The Oilers have this brilliant new penalty killing scheme that teams keep blowing up over and over.  It's no accident the Oilers have the worst penalty killing rate in the NHL by far as a consequence.  It's from earlier in the season, but Derek Zona gave it a full dressing down in this post at C&B. 

While the Devils' PP has been the stoppable force, the Oilers' PK is the movable object.  Who will triumph? I don't know, but the Devils should look to draw calls and take full advantage of the "diamond" when they get the chance.

ITEM: The top players on the Oilers this year aren't the young rookies named Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson. Sure, they've shown flashes here and there, but they are rookies literally thrown into the fire.  The dangerous players on Edmonton is Dustin PennerDerek Zona shows how he's driving the proverbial bus at C&B, and this post at by Jonathon Willis at OilersNation shows how Penner's an effective player on a team that has been anything but. 

If the Devils want to key on any one unit to try and stop, I hope John MacLean and the coaching staff makes it Penner's line.  Unless I'm mistaken, the slickly talented Ales Hemsky rolls with him along with young center Sam Gagner.   That line consisted of the few Oilers who weren't on the ice for more scoring chances against Edmonton than for them, per Dennis' report at mc79hockey.   All the more reason for NJ to make a point of it to contain that line.

ITEM:  This number comes from before their game against Detroit, but the Oilers have won 44.6% of all faceoffs as a team.  The Devils have done well in the last two games on draws, they should look to do well again tonight.  Perhaps setting up a few plays in the event of winning faceoffs would be a good idea?

ITEM: While not dead last, and again not including the Detroit game, the Oilers have allowed an average of 34.2 shots per game, 26th in the NHL.  While the Devils have put up a lot of shots in chasing games all season long, tonight could be a night where they can pound Edmonton's net with pucks.

ITEM: Nikolai Khabibulin is continuing to put up sub-90% save percentages. The general consensus is that he gives up far too many rebounds, he's not mobile as he needs to be, and while the guys in front of him aren't that good, he just sucks.  Just look at the recap from the Detroit game, it's right there in the beginning.

That all said, the sad reality is that the New Jersey Devils could very well lose to this team.   Were the Devils playing to their potential or even just really, really lucky, then we may see tonight as the classic "trap game." Instead, the Oilers have plenty of reason to come out angry, to come out looking to show that they aren't total doormats, to come out like they are playing the Chicago Blackhawks (who their last two wins came against).

Since Nikolai Khabibulin "played" last night in Detroit, I don't expect the Oilers to start him on a second straight night.   So the Devils offense won't get a rebound-happy and slow keeper in net, but a younger and more capable Devan Dubnyk.  I have no idea why Khabibulin keeps getting starts since he's been bad, so Dubnyk is actually an upgrade for them.

Plus, if the Devils can't play with any brains in their own end, it doesn't matter whether Penner continues to do well despite his own teammates; whether Hall and Paajavri play like the rookies they are; whether Jordan Eberle has a quiet night, whether Shawn Horcoff is held to little; whether Gilbert Brule sees his Corsi drop to wind-chill degrees; or whatever else you can name.  They will capitalize regardless of who's in net for New Jersey.  If nothing else, I want to say the second goal for tonight's game should be to just take it fully seriously. I didn't make it the main goal since, hey, at 4-10-2 overall and 0-5-2 at home, I'm just assuming they will.

Who will be in net tonight for New Jersey? That's only a question that can be answered on gameday. Martin Brodeur did practice on Thursday per Tom Gulitti's report. But he's still feeling some pain in holding his stick in this follow up report by Gulitti.  Brodeur wants to play, and I understand that.   Given what has happened to Zach Parise, I really don't want more Devils playing through an injury if they can avoid it.  Yes, the Devils need a win, but a less-than-capable Brodeur isn't going to get them what they want/need.

From that same report, Jamie Langenbrunner had the day off. He took a nasty hit in the Buffalo game on Wednesday, and while he returned to play that night (and scored a goal), I can understand it.  He's questionable; but Brian Rolston is expected to return tonight.  The return of Brian Rolston should mean that one of Alexander Vasyunov and Mattias Tedenby will sit.  I felt both young wingers did pretty well on Wednesday, as did MacLean in his post-game remarks to the press (post by Gulitti).  With Langenbrunner out, both practiced, but I would guess Vasyunov would sit should Langenbrunner play tonight. The first clue is that Rolston played with the same players Vasyunov did on Wednesday in Thursday's practice. The second is that, again, while Vasyunov did well on Wednesday, his ideal role doesn't mesh with Dainius Zubrus or David Clarkson.  Rolston, on the other hand, is very familiar with being on a third line with physical players; he should fit in just fine. The third is that the team just called up Tedenby and saw him once; whereas they saw Vasyunov for 7 games.  There's more to learn with Tedenby getting a second game than Vasyunov getting an eighth.

While it has little to do with tonight's game, Anssi Salmela had his first practice in months on Thursday according to Gulitti. He's still quite a ways away from returning though.  At least there's some progress on the injury front with Rolston returning, Matt Corrente practicing, and Salmela even getting in some contact.

Anyway, here's a wild guess at the lineup.  As usual, it will be wrong as more info comes out on Friday:

Ilya Kovalchuk - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Patrik Elias - Jason Arnott - Mattias Tedenby
Brian Rolston - Dainius Zubrus - David Clarkson
Adam Mair - Rod Pelley - Stephen Gionta

Andy Greene - Anton Volchenkov
Colin White - Henrik Tallinder
Matt Taormina - Olivier Magnan-Grenier

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

By the by, does anyone have a clue on who Henrik Tallinder should be paired with?  Greene? White? Magnan on the third pairing?  Larry Robinson on the bench? I'll try to figure something out this weekend, but ideas would be welcomed in the meantime.

Two more things: First, I was glad to read on Gulitti's blog that Ilya Kovalchuk isn't shying away from the shootout blooper from last night and (more importantly) he doesn't seem bothered by it.  As I mentioned in the goal, the team can't afford any discouragement.  The best thing that Kovalchuk can do is to own the mistake and move on; and it sounds like he has.  Once he gets scoring (or helps someone else score), it will be just a memory.  

Second, the Devils play their next three games on the road after tonight, followed up by a home game with the Washington Capitals.  Can you say must win? I'm not joking either.  If the Devils don't win tonight, don't be surprised to hear a lot more boos, a lot more unhappy and discontented fans, more sympathetic articles like this one from Justin Borne at Puck Daddy, more reason to believe this season is already lost, more cries for drastic action to be taken, and see smaller crowds in the near future.  Some (or all) of this may be justifiable, I'm just preparing you, the reader, for the potential consequences. 

Anyway, if you're going to the game, I repeat: bring some non-perishable food for the Devils Food Drive.  Even if the Devils flop on the ice again, you can feel good that you've helped some people with more serious problems than being let down by their favorite ice hockey team.   I'll be in my usual seat in Section 1, Row 16, Seat 5; hoping with all might that the Devils win this game.  Feel free to drop by if you want. 

In the meantime, please feel free to discuss tonight's game in this post. Share your thoughts, hopes, fears, and everything else in between about tonight's game in the comments.  If you have any news to share, please link to the source.  Please, let's go, Devils.

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