Two winless teams come together tonight. One is beginning a five-game road trip and at least have a point from a shootout loss. One returns home for their second game in their building in 2013-14. Someone will get a 'W' tonight.
The Time: 9:30 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM / 101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: The Devils had their home opener against the New York Islanders on Friday night. The crowd was hot and the team started off well as Damien Brunner scored his first - and the team's first - of the season. However, the Isles were able to exploit the Devils at their blueline for their positioning and lack of speed for several plays off the rush. Michael Grabner got two breakaways and scored and Frans Nielsen essentially got one to score. The Devils matched each of the scores with Michael Ryder sniping a shot to the corner and Brunner putting home a puck at the crease. The Devils had the better of possession, the Isles had the better of odd-man rushes, and overtime was necessary. It did not decide anything and a long shootout ensued as Martin Brodeur and Evgeni Nabokov got their grooves back. However, Matt Moulson ended the affair six rounds in to make it a 4-3 shootout loss. My recap of the game is here.
The Last Oilers Game: The Oilers went to Vancouver to take on the Canucks for their first road game of the season on Saturday night. The game started off well for the visitors as Jeff Petry scored just before two minutes into the game. Then the game got out of hand. The Canucks rang up five straight goals. A shorthanded goal by Brad Richardson, two quick goals late in the first from Dan Hamhuis and Jannick Hansen, a power play goal from Henrik Sedin, and a Ryan Kesler tally all while the Canucks dominated the puck. Devan Dubnyk was replaced by Jason LaBarera, Boyd Gordon put in a consolation goal, Jason Garrison got an empty netter, and the final result was 6-2. Whenever Benjamin Massey writes a recap, it's usually because the Oilers played poorly and he's entertainingly disgusted by it. He wrote this one at C&B including the immortal line "I bet the people of Vancouver will approve the Northern Gateway pipeline now, because they just got proof oil is harmless."
The Goal: The New Jersey Devils will have to be smarter in their positioning along both bluelines. All six of the goals the Devils have given up in regulation in their first two games came from plays where the opposition came in with speed against defenders out of position. Half of them were created because the Devils couldn't keep a puck in the zone, two right at the blueline and one off a poor decision to shoot into traffic that resulted in a 3-on-2. The other half came with one or two defenders caught unaware, only realizing they were beat as the attacking player charged in for a score. While the Devils' defense isn't fast, they haven't been fast for years. When the positioning or puck control is off, then that lack of speed really shows up. The Oilers may not have a lot of talent but their young forwards are talented and definitely not slow. If the Devils aren't careful, they could find those spaces and make it a long night for the goalie.
Return of the Nuge: Over at the team's official website, head coach Dallas Eakins announced that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will return to the lineup against the Devils. That means he will play his first game since undergoing shoulder surgery back in April. It was thought he'd be back in November but he's apparently good enough to practice and play so he will. He's one of the young forwards that the Oilers can boast thanks to Steve Tambellini managing his teams to the draft lottery for so many years. He's very good at dishing the puck around and he's not at all a slouch in his own end. However, this is his first game back so it's unknown how rusty he will or will not be. I would bet on him being more of a factor than not from the start of the game, at least.
The Dangerous Youth: Nugent-Hopkins joins a crew of forwards that features Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Nail Yakupov. Hall is an aggressive player in that he'll skate hard, go hard to the net, go hard in the dirty areas, and shoot hard. He's a real handful when he gets going and Eakins leans on him to play a lot of minutes. He had a poor game in Vancouver but I wouldn't bet on him having another poor performance again. Jordan Eberle blew up in 2011-12 when he scored 38 goals and shooting at 18.9%. But he remained a top scorer for the Oilers in 2013. He's got a very good shot and awareness on offense. The Devils would be wise to keep him to the boards as much as they can. Nail Yakupov, the 2012 first round pick, had a solid rookie season displaying his own explosive talent and celebrations. He hasn't featured nearly as much in the top six so far this season but I suspect that will change. The Oilers even have a young defender with plenty of offensive skill in Justin Schultz, who did quite well in his first season in 2013. He's very good with the puck going forward but as one may expect from most young defenders, the defense part of the position still needs some work. With all due respect to the other Oilers on the roster, these are the most dangerous players on paper for the Devils to deal with. They can all move well with the puck and make the Devils pay for lax defending.
The Not So Dangerous Depth: The Oilers' big problem from my point of view is the same sort of problem the Islanders used to have not-so-long ago. They'd have talented players up front as a result of drafting high but not much in the way of support. Sure, they have Ales Hemsky, who has been an excellent forward for Edmonton since 2002-03. They picked up David Perron from St. Louis, who could help them out as a secondary scorer. Beyond them, it's a mish-mash of guys who didn't turn out as expected (e.g. Jesse Joenssu, Boyd Gordon - he's got two goals now and he's never had more than 8 in a season), guys they hope to turn out to be something (e.g. Mark Arcobello, Will Acton), guys who aren't good (e.g. Luke Gadzic, Mike Brown), and Ryan Smyth facing Father Time right in his grill. Not having Sam Gagner up front hurts buteven then, management's hoping the young guys stay on the ice and get better while carrying the load and everyone else chips in. That's a lot of dice to roll.
It's even worse on the back end. In addition to Schultz, the team's been utilizing rookie Anton Belov on a third pairing, which teams have picked on. The other four in their group of six were Petry, Andrew Ference, Ladislav Smid, and Nick Schultz. Petry's not too bad but the others are unimpressive at best, physical as they may be. Making matters worse is their goaltending. Devan Dubnyk has had a very poor start to this season, giving up five to the Jets on 26 shots and then five on 31 shots to Vancouver before getting pulled for Jason LaBarbera. Dubnyk has had decent save percentages in the past so he should bounce back in time. But that's exactly part of the issue: he's been decent and looks better in comparison to a certain Bulin Wall that Oilers fans had to suffer in past years. LaBarbera has been a career backup his whole career; the Oilers picked him up from Phoenix. He got his first taste of action in relief of Dubnyk on Saturday night. It won't be long before he takes to the ice again.
The Oilers Who Will Play: The Edmonton Oilers announced a number of lineup changes on Sunday through their website. LaBarbera will start the game, presumably because Dubnyk has started off the season so poorly. The Devils shouldn't be put off by him, though. Nugent-Hopkins will center a line with Hall and Eberle. Clearly, that's the one line the Devils should focus the most attention on. Hall and Eberle are Edmonton's most talented forwards and they can surely benefit from Nugent-Hopkins once he gets going. I don't know why Yakpuov is stuck on a third line but apparently Eakins has some strategy in mind.
The Familiar Lineup of the Devils: Peter DeBoer usually uses the lines and pairings in the practice before a game when he's able to do that. Unfortunately, it appears it'll be the same group from the last two games. Tom Gulitti reported the following roster from Sunday's practice. If it holds, it'll mean Rostislav Olesz, Jacob Josefson, and Mark Fayne will be scratched again. It'll also mean Jaromir Jagr may start with Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus, CBGB starts together, and Damien Brunner begins with Andrei Loktionov and Ryane Clowe. There is the silver lining for Larsson supporters as Adam Larsson was paired with Andy Greene. But those who wanted to see some change will be disappointed.
Given how much better the Devils forwards performed at driving the play from the second period onward, I would have liked to have seen those lines start this game. Jaromir Jagr looked slow and may need to be protected on a fourth line. I thought Steve Bernier was active enough to get a bump in minutes for another game. And if there's a game to get Olesz and Josefson back on the ice after being idle for a week, this would have been a good one to rotate Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter out. At least the Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, and Michael Ryder trio stays together. On defense, I don't think I'll get much argument that Mark Fayne should be in the lineup and playing against the toughs. Alas, DeBoer doesn't want to take out either Anton Volchenkov, Adam Larsson, or Peter Harrold to do it. DeBoer will likely switch things up in-game should the performances draw his hand, so at least these lines and pairings won't be set in stone for too long. And if they are, well, it may be because they may be doing well.
Martin Brodeur will start this game for the Devils and that's a decision I support. Vancouver is a stronger team in terms of possession, talent, and depth. Cory Schneider should get the tougher match-up in this back-to-back set. Whatever media hype that comes from that is just that: hype.
Four Devils Who Could Do Better Tonight: Brodeur is definitely one of a few Devils who would do well to have a bounce back performance. While he made some good saves on Friday, the three goals he allowed were stoppable. Tonight would be a good night as any to show that he isn't so beatable.
Likewise, Larsson being paired with Greene in practice signifies that the coaches feel his bad game against the Isles was just that: a bad game. Larsson definitely does well when he has time with the puck to make passes and keeping it in play. But he's got to be swifter on the ice both in terms of his stride and decision making. He would do well to not just force shots through traffic if he doesn't have a good view of the net. Larsson is still a work in progress but this is his third season in the NHL. The expectations for him should demand better and I think he knows it. If he starts of well, then I suspect he'll stay with Greene. If not, or if someone else is getting destroyed, then changes may come.
It would also be a sight if Marek Zidlicky can actually get his head on straight. He tends to turn the puck over a lot because has the puck a lot. But the turnovers make one wonder if he should have it that much. And his positioning has left a lot to be desired at times. One shift, he'll stay in form with Bryce Salvador and be in a good place to make a play. Another shift, he'll be lost in the neutral zone and suddenly a forward has to dash back to bail him out or the opposition gets an odd man rush. I know he's not going to be a defensive stalwart but if he can settle down with the puck and get his mind right off the puck, then the Devils are a lot better off on the back end.
Lastly, it would be really good to see Jaromir Jagr make a positive impact tonight. He was hurt in training camp, he didn't play a preseason game, and the rust definitely showed in his first two games. It was good to see Jagr demoted to the fourth line during the Isles game. He wasn't playing well. The Isles out-attempted the Devils when he was on the ice, his passes missed their mark if not went to the other team, and he hasn't shot the puck much. DeBoer recognized the poor performance and moved him down, which was the right call in retrospect. For his own sake, I hope the rust gets off soon because another attacking forward, especially on the power play, would make the Devils more dangerous up front.
Your Take: What changes would you make on the Devils if you were Peter DeBoer? Who on the Oilers concerns you the most? Which Devils do you think needs to have a good (or better) game tonight for the team to succeed? Will the Devils win this one? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.