Still waiting for that elusive win. Hopefully it can be found in a different part of Alberta tonight.
The Time: 9:00 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM/101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: The Devils wrapped up a back-to-back in Vancouver as part of the five-game road trip through Canada. The first period had it's ups and downs but the Devils held up against the Canucks and even went up 1-0 thanks to Patrik Elias splitting the D with a killer pass to Jaromir Jagr. Vancouver got their working skates on in the second and repeatedly pinned back the Devils. Even when the Devils' D got the puck in their own end, the forwards were out of sorts, making exiting the zone harder. On one of the few New Jersey forechecks in that period, Elias managed get a fortunate bounce through Roberto Luongo's pads to make it 2-0. The lead would not last long. Daniel Sedin took a long shot off a keep-in and Anton Volchenkov got enough of it to re-direct it past Cory Schneider. Later on, Ryane Clowe was stung on a shot and had to hobble to the bench. In the process, play continued and Alexander Edler scored a play similar to Jagr's goal to tie it up. The Canucks doubled-up the Devils in shots in the second, made the team look second-rate, and if it wasn't for Schneider, it would've been a blow out. The third period was closer with no decision. So the Devils went to overtime yet again. Unlike the last two games, the Devils weren't the better team and stole a point. Unlike the last two games, the Devils didn't get to the shootout. Jason Garrison dropped one of his hard slap shots from distance, it apparently got deflected by Mike Santorelli, and that sealed the win for the Canucks. Mike stayed up for this one and recapped it in more detail here.
The Last Flames Game: The Flames hosted the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night. The host team opened the game by getting out-played as they were out-shot 12-5 but came out of the first up 2-0. Perhaps score effects took place? Rookie Sean Monahan scored his third goal of the season to open up the game's scoring and before the first was over, Sven Baertschi doubled the team's score with a helper from Monahan. Calgary stepped up their shot game in the second period and made it 3-0 with a power play strike from Curtis Glencross. Montreal got on the board shortly thereafter with a power play goal from P.K. Subban. Montreal made it a game just after the 50 minute mark when Lars Eller scored his fourth of the season to make it 3-2. But Calgary held on to win 3-2.
The Goal: A complete effort - on defense. The third period meltdown in Edmonton and that awful second period featured one of the more glaring issues the team has had to start this season. It's the defense but not just the defenders, but the skaters as a whole. The Devils' defensemen, man by man, aren't particularly impressive. However, poor positioning and decisions by the forwards have only highlighted their issues. Be it a bad clearance on Andrew Ference's goal, puck watching on Hall's stunner, or not being in a position to help the defense get the puck out (the Vancouver game), the issues are exacerbated. Schneider was a star on Tuesday and was beaten on a own-goal-deflection and a make-shift 5-on-4. But Vancouver kept making him be a star. On another night, it's a recipe for disaster, two goal lead or no lead at all. And tonight is another night with someone different in net. The Flames as a whole may not be as talented, deep, or in sync like the Canucks currently are. The Oilers weren't, but given enough opportunities, they can pile up the goals. The Devils have to improve as a team in their own end.
Wherein I Complain About the Lineup Changes: Several fans have expressed unhappiness in head coach Peter DeBoer for not playing young players as much as they like regardless if they're good enough. The Devils being winless has only emphasized these frustrations. Even Tom Gulitti snarked about it on Thursday morning. I can't say I disagree with some of the criticisms.
Again, DeBoer usually uses the lines and pairings he puts in practice for the next game. Here's Gulitti's report from practice which includes that roster. If DeBoer does use them, this means Andrei Loktionov will sit for Ryan Carter (Rostislav Olesz moves up), Adam Larsson sits again, and Jacob Josefson waits another night for his season debut. On top of that, Martin Brodeur will start this game. I am disappointed with these developments. Simply, I don't think this is the best lineup DeBoer can ice.
Let's go through them bit by bit. On defense, Anton Volchenkov played a whopping 13:22 total and less than ten minutes at even strength. He's not such a superlative player on the PK to justify his continued inclusion. On paper, Mark Fayne (who remains in tonight so that complaint should be quelled) and Larsson are immediate upgrades. I don't think the fourth line really missed Carter in Vancouver, and having Loktionov on the third line gives that unit more skills that Olesz probably doesn't have. Josefson could draw in for Stephen Gionta to give the team some additional skill; he can probably kill penalties just as well as Gionta; and he can be moved up and down the lineup should the need arise during a game, whereas Gionta really can't handle much more than a fourth line spot. Moving Travis Zajac away from Adam Henrique and Michael Ryder, a trio that has done well at getting the puck forward, doesn't seem too bright to me. Lastly, Schneider was great in Vancouver. He kept that game a game. Brodeur was great until the third period in Edmonton. Given that the team had two days off and no wins so far, I would think putting in the better goaltender until at least that first win comes would be wise. I really hope this isn't a sign that the powers that be really do think Brodeur is still the guy. He's not and preseason alone proved that.
The Harsh Reality: Let's get real though. Even if DeBoer made those changes, that doesn't mean the Devils are on their way to Victory Town. Youth alone will not get them wins.
Even getting Larsson and Fayne in the same doesn't preclude the defense will be so much better. Larsson and Fayne have started only with Andy Greene and there's probably something to that. We know Fayne's solid enough. Larsson is still a work-in-progress and away from Greene, those flaws with respect to his reactions, coverage, and speed may come out more. That certainly showed in the second game when he was moved to play with Volchenkov in the second period. Yes, Volchenkov can be an anchor but Larsson did himself no favors in that game. That's simply not good enough in this league, especially for a team that has a defined goal this season. You don't just give up on the season and just let the kids do as they wish in October. Either Larsson can help out now and if he can, then he plays. If not, then he gets a shorter leash. At least with the vets, DeBoer and the coaches know what they're getting.
As for Loktionov, I'm surprised he's been so stubborn on playing center because he doesn't necessarily do much in his own end. Being a center means that he's got to be more aware of the defenders, protect the slot as needed, and pick up players as they rotate. Yes, I get that he's learning, but I don't want him to get knowledge at the cost of goals against or forcing the goalie to make bailout saves. Yes, he's very good with the puck on offense and moves real well - but he's not so special at both that one can look away from his not-so-impressive defensive play. I thought, like Fayne, that Josefson would come in for him if he struggled but apparently not.
And even in Brodeur's case, the only really bad goal he allowed was David Perron's off the faceoff equalizer in the third. I don't think he saw Ference's, Nugent-Hopkins' power play goal was amid a scrum, and while he got posterized by Hall, he was hung out on that play. He made strong saves on the Oilers in the second when their apparent Team Speed actually showed up and threatened. Should the Devils not get exposed and exploited for shifts at a time tonight, it's not impossible to think he might actually be decent. Schneider is better but in net, you only have to be good enough to get the result.
But overall, even if you put all of the youngsters and their flaws on the ice, you still have a team that has had trouble understanding where they need to be without the puck. The first two games saw them killed on the counter, the last two games saw errors turn into offense for the opposition that made up leads. Damien Brunner, Michael Ryder, Jagr, Olesz, and Clowe will all play and will still have to figure this out. Adam Henrique, Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, and Patrik Elias can't do it all themselves and they could be a bit better in their own right. There's plenty to be encouraged by the Devils. The errors made are fixable. The communication and understanding of where players need to go when getting back will improve. The team has scored goals and even got some breaks while doing it. Jaromir Jagr now looks like an actual NHL player. Bryce Salvador hasn't been eye-gougingly bad; Greene's been good for the most part; and Fayne played like he didn't skip a beat in Vancouver.
Yet, the answers to get them to that next level aren't found in only playing the young players and whether or not they turn out to have a good game or not. That comes from everyone. I'm not saying they can't help, just that they don't hold the truth.
Of Course: Gulitti did tweet out on Thursday that DeBoer said not to read too much into the lines in practice. But reading too much into things is what we do here. It's what fans do. And history shows that's what happens. In any case, if there are changes we will (over)react accordingly.
About the Opposition: OK, that was a bit of a rant there. Let's look at the opposition. Calgary has yet to lose in regulation this season. They have fifteen goals scored in four games and the production has been spread out. They have a young man named Sean Monahan with three goals and two assists to lead the team in scoring. Very good production and maybe enough for management to not return him to junior league hockey. Jiri Hudler is tied in points with him with two goals and three assists and has a much larger role given that he's averaged twenty minutes per game so far this season. Mikael Backlund, Glencross, Baertschi, Lee Stempniak, and David Jones have all contributed at least two points this season. This kind of production is very good early on in the season. It's even better when you consider that point-machine Mike Cammalleri and Matt Stajan are out with significant injuries
Defense, however, has been a different story. Their goaltenders this season are Joey MacDonald and Karri Ramo. That's a duo that would make Flyers fans feel good about their own goalies on paper. The Flames have allowed fifteen goals in these same four games and MacDonald, tonight's starter per Kristin Odland's Thursday report in the Calgary Herald, boasts a save percentage of 89.5% and just under 91% at even strength. It's early but that's not at all good. In terms of shots against, the Flames have allowed an average of 33.5 shots per game. Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman have taken plenty of shots (13 each) and play plenty of minutes (24+ in both cases), but they've seen a lot come the other way given their sub-50% Corsi percentages per Extra Skater. Maybe it's a case of playing with a lead, but no Flame has been positive in attempts differential. It's early in the season but it suggests that the Devils should be able to find success going forward against them.
Odland's Thursday report at the Herald also notes a change in their lineup. David Jones was placed on IR due to the dreaded upper-body injury. The team did call up Blair Jones but he will not play tonight. Tim Jackman will be put into the lineup. The report includes their lines in practice, though I wouldn't read too much into how they're listed. For example, I doubt Hudler sees a lot fewer minutes than what he's had so far. For another, I doubt that Ben Street is their top center.
Your Take: I wouldn't expect the Devils to do well in a scoring race with the Flames as they are from my perspective. But I do think that if they can shore up their off-the-puck movement, if the forwards can better support the defenders on defense, and the team in general does not needlessly give away possession on offense, then they could do well tonight. What do you think? Can the Devils quell the Flames' offense? Can they pierce their defense and goaltenders for goals? Who would you have in your lineup and why? Will the Devils win their first game of the season tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.