Can they avoid seven winless games? Please?
The Time: 7:30 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: The Devils played the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets were better. Evander Kane got a fluke bounce, the Devils didn't put up much of a fight, and then Kane added a second goal on an empty net and Andrew Ladd put home a quick one for a 3-0 loss. That game, in a word, sucked. My recap of the dreck is here.
The Last Senators Game: The Senators finished up their road trip in Phoenix on Tuesday night. They've been looking for a win too, but they'd find one. It was a hard road, though. After a good first period, Phoenix put up two quick goals at the beginning of the second from Rob Klinkhammer and Radim Vrbata. However, Jason Spezza would provide the response. Near midway through the second, Spezza would score off a feed from Patrick Wiercioch. A mishap by Mike Smith yielded Colin Greening a puck that was fed to Spezza for an equalizer near the beginning of the third period. At 7:19, Spezza completed his hat trick with a power play goal to put Ottawa up. The Coyotes didn't just let that slide. With 4:30 left in regulation, Mike Ribiero tipped in a puck for a power play goal to make it 3-3. Overtime ensued and the Sens only got one shot. It was all that they needed as Cory Conacher got behind the defense on the right post, got a dime from Marc Methot, and cashed in the puck for a 4-3 win. The Sens broke a five game winless streak to end their six-game season-starting road trip. Darren M had this recap of the game over at Silver Seven.
The Goal: Aside from the obvious (score them, allow less than what was scored), the Devils need be more judicious with the puck in moving it out from their own end. Hockey is a flowing game and we're learning more and more about how important neutral zone play is. Maybe it shouldn't be a surprise; the tactic wasn't the Defensive Zone Snare or the Offensive Zone Press. But the Devils' offense has been undercut in the last few games due to their issues at keeping the puck on their sticks at moving it out. It's not necessarily the defensive zone exit but the pass or movement that comes shortly after. Opposing defenses have been able to get set-up, get in form, and get in the Devils' way. In an effort to keep things moving, the skaters in general have made some poor decisions in trying to move the puck through traffic or get it to someone not in a position (or any position) to make a play. If the Devils can improve here, then they will have fewer five-shots-or-less periods and possibly reduce some of the pressure put on the back end. It's fundamental but after that Jets game, it's worth stressing anyway.
Sens as We Knew Them Last: Last season, the Senators were hit hard by injuries and were forced to call up and utilize players that may or may not be ready for primetime. The Sens more than managed thanks to some ridiculous goaltending performances, a strong possession game, and hitting more often on their call ups than not. So in theory, the team should be just super since their top players - Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, plus the addition of Bobby Ryan - are 100%. The 2-2-2 record to start the season suggests otherwise. It's still early in the season so I wouldn't discount them just yet.
Opposition Home Opener: So far in this early season, the Sens are just above 50% in all shooting attempts in 5-on-5 play and below 50% when you take out blocks per Extra Skater. The fact that they've been on the road so far this season surely played some role as Paul MacLean hasn't had the last change in a game until this one. That's right, this is the Senators' home opener.
I expect MacLean to get something out of that advantage. Among them, it should be to better protect parts of the roster. According to Extra Skater, a little over half of the roster is below 50% in Corsi so far this season. Some have had more of a negative impact than others. Spezza and Milan Michalek are very dangerous going forward and will play a lot because of it. After his hat trick, Spezza leads the team in goals (4) and points (5) along with shots (20). Michalek only has one goal but his past shows that he'll be a productive player over a full season. However, they've given up many more attempts than they've been on-ice for so far. That suggests they could be beaten going the other way. That they've often started on offense makes that suggestion stronger. Jared Cowen and Weircioch have played a decent amount on defense and a good portion of it has been in their own end. Oppositions have teed off on lesser used players like Zack Smith, Erik Condra (he does get a lot defensive zone starts and, well, suffers), and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. MacLean getting the last change should be able to give these players better on-ice situations.
Alternatively, he could lean on those who have been very good in possession so far. Clarke MacArthur, Kyle Turris, and Bobby Ryan have been a line together in recent games and they've been doing well. Especially MacArthur and Turris, who are over 60% in 5-on-5 Corsi percentage while getting plenty of defensive zone starts. They only have one goal between them but that will get better. They're right behind Spezza and Ryan in terms of shots on net with 19 and 18 respectively. . Ryan's no slouch and prior to Spezza's hat trick, he was the team's leading scorer. His strength and shot alone makes him a threat; that he helps push the play forward makes him more threatening. Erik Karlsson has been possession dynamo in the past and now that he's healthy, he's been given heavy minutes with an average of over 27 per game. The Devils will see a lot of him, likely alongside Marc Methot at evens, who hasn't dragged him down too much. If MacLean can't get much going out of the guys who aren't pushing the play forward, then he's got guys who have played significant minutes who have definitely done so at both forward and defense.
What this all means for the Devils is that the Senators aren't this high-event squad that ends to lead with guys up and down the lineup. There are several skaters who will give the team trouble. MacArthur-Turris-Ryan will be a challenge all night long. The Devils forwards will see a lot of Karlsson and Methot at both ends and they'll have to do a better job defending against him than they did against Dennis Wideman or Dustin Byfuglien. With other skaters, the Devils should be able to find ways to get some offense going even when Spezza and Michalek are out there. Both can definitely provide some pain going forward, but other teams have been able to find success against them. It'll be against those players that the Devils should seek to strike against, presuming MacLean uses them as they are.
Ottawa Goaltending Not Entirely a Wall So Far: One of the big reasons for Ottawa's success last season was their goaltending. Seriously, look at those numbers from last season. Ben Bishop was their worst in overall save percentage and that's with a solid 92.2% number. The team sold high on Bishop and are now running with Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner. So far in 2013-14, they remain elite - at even strength. Anderson, the clear #1, has been sensational at evens with a 94% save percentage. The only reason why his overall save percentage isn't so sensational has been his face-smackingly awful shorthanded save percentage of 76.2%. If the Devils had a threatening power play, then this could be something to exploit. All indications so far this season show that they do not. Lehner, the backup, has better numbers but with only one start and one relief appearance, I wouldn't read too much into that. I suspect Anderson will likely be the starter tonight. It's a big question mark as to whether the Devils can crack Anderson just like it was a big question mark last season as to whether the Devils could crack any one in Ottawa's (or other teams') net.
Tedenby Will Not Save This: In Tuesday's practice, Mattias Tedenby was working with Travis Zajac and Michael Ryder according to this report by Tom Gulitti. Ryane Clowe was given the day off for "resting." Fine, just a guy filling in a spot. No big deal. Well, on Wednesday, Tedenby lined up with Zajac and Ryder again. Clowe was still missing. Given that Peter DeBoer usually uses the same roster he practices with on the day before a game, one could surmise that Tedenby would make his season debut tonight.
And he likely will. Tom Gulitti reported on Wednesday that Tedenby has been activated and Clowe has been placed on injured reserve retroactive to Sunday. Clowe took Jacob Trouba's elbow to the head in the Jets game on Sunday. While he's not suffering any pain now, the team isn't taking risks given his injury history. That's actually a reasonable thing to do. Good job, Devils, for not taking an unnecessary risk. This means Clowe will be out for the next two games - IR requires a seven days of being inactive - and Tedenby will be in for this one.
While Tedenby brings Not Being Old and Flashes of Skill to the table, I wouldn't expect a whole lot from him. The last time he played was in the beginning of preseason. He failed to stay on the team in each of the last two seasons. When he did play in New Jersey, he was consistent in his performances to not do much on offense and even less on defense. I have no issue with giving him a game or two to see if he can possibly contribute now. He has, at most, two games to show that out. He's not going to suddenly make the offense that much better. That's on the collective shoulders of the other eight guys in the top nine to make that happen. Tedenby's job is to show the coaches that this year he belongs in New Jersey and not Albany.
The Back End: It's not entirely certain what the defensive pairings will be at this moment. It is certain who is starting for the Devils in net. Per this tweet by Gulitti, it's Martin Brodeur. Truth be told, he did well in his last start in Calgary. OK, the second goal allowed wasn't good but no fault on the first or third. Not his fault the Devils flopped in that third period either. It is possible that the Devils could win with Brodeur in net. Yet, DeBoer's not going with his better option in Ottawa. Schneider had a very good game in Winnipeg. Arguably the only Devil who showed up for all three periods. I don't see how one concludes he's not the top man after these first few games, to be frank about it. I hope this means that the better goalie starts on Saturday.
Other Hopes: After the Jets game, I'm tempted to say I hope everyone does better. I do have a few specific ones that I'd like to share.
Damien Brunner. He started off the season well enough with shots and points and bravery and speed and appreciation from the fans. The Winnipeg game was clearly a low point with no shots on net and a needless offensive zone penalty. I'm sure he'll bounce back. The offense needs it. Now would be a great time as any to bounce.
Ryan Carter. He was back at practice as the left winger on the fourth line. I suspect he'll be back with his usual partners, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier, on the fourth line. My hope is that he does a decent job. With Rostislav Olesz and Jacob Josefson as extras, it's important for him and others in the bottom six to show they can perform night-in, night-out. It's not like Carter was missed in the last game or so.
Andrei Loktionov. With attempts but nothing on net last game, the step forward seems obvious. On net, young Andrei. On net. Also, as a tip, don't watch the puck on defense. You're a center, you're supposed to get involved.
Anton Volchenkov. You probably should be scratched. You probably won't be. I just hope you're average tonight. Just don't suck. Please.
What About the Power Play?: The 5-on-4 units are running at 18.1 shots per 60 according to Extra Skater. It doesn't need my hope. It needs a fresh new start. Or divine intervention. Probably both.
Your Take: The New Jersey Devils will certainly have their hands full with Ottawa's top players. But perhaps they make a game of it and, who knows, get a badly needed win? If the magic number for this month is ten, then they probably need to start now to get there. What do you think will happen tonight? What do you think the Devils need to do in order to get more goals than the Sens? Can the Devils pierce Ottawa's skaters for attempts and shots on net on the road? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.