Get ready for the latest games of the season. This is the first one.
The Time: 10:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: The Devils hosted Pittsburgh at the Rock on Saturday. The game had it all from low-event hockey to tense penalty killing to big saves to a Fleury Special. Marc-Andre Fleury had yet another gaffe in net as a slow, bouncing puck originally from Andy Greene's stick got through his legs near the end of the first period to open up the game's scoring. Definitely against the run of play as the Penguins had a healthy 10-2 shot lead prior to the goal. The Devils made it a more even game. The Pens tied up the score when a puck got past Marek Zidlicky at the blueline and Chris Kunitz took it all the way to the net for a breakaway goal. The Devils responded when Travis Zajac fed Adam Larsson across the slot for a nasty wrist shot to make it 2-1. The Penguins kept putting rubber on net, particularly on power plays, but Martin Brodeur rose to stop all of them since the Kunitz goal. Kris Letang is probably still talking to himself about one, actually. Anyway, the Devils escaped penalties and Jaromir Jagr froze Fleury to finish a Letang turnover in his own end to make it 3-1. A pretty empty netter from Jagr sealed a 4-1 victory. My recap of the winning effort is here.
The Last Ducks Game: On Monday night, the Ducks went into Pittsburgh to wrap up a four-game road trip. Anaheim seemingly did whatever they wanted in the first period as the Penguins took about 18 minutes to get their first shot on net. The Ducks outshot the Pens 12-3; alas, there were no goals. There were also no goals in the second, which was more in favor of the home team as Anaheim was out-shot 12-5. The scoring would come in the third period starting with Brian Gibbons of Pittsburgh. He finished off a lovely pass from Evgeni Malkin to beat Viktor Fasth. Roughly one minute later, Brandon Sutter got a piece of an Olli Maatta shot to make it 2-0. Ryan Getzlaf would respond less than a minute after that with a wrister that beat Fleury. But the Penguins squashed the comeback effort when Sidney Crosby made it 3-1 and Fleury denied everything else by the Ducks. The Ducks lost 3-1, ending their road trip at 0-3-1. Chris Kober has this recap over at Anaheim Calling.
The Goal: Shoot when you have a look, don't delay or force the shot. That seems like an obvious piece of advice. It's of particular importance for this game. According to Extra Skater, here are the Ducks rates of attempts and shots for-against in even strength situations: 53.9-53.3 Corsi per 60; 42.2-38.9 Fenwick per 60; 31.3-27.3 shots per 60. They're about even when all attempts are considered, but once blocks are taken out (Fenwick), Anaheim has a sharp advantage. This suggests that they block many shots. Adding to that suggestion is that NHL.com lists Anaheim as the second most prolific shot blockers on the road with 230 in 15 games (where scorer bias has less of an effect). So it seems to me that the Ducks' skaters use their bodies to get in the way on purpose. In the long run that may not mean much, but in this single game, it could certainly hamper the offense. While the Devils aren't entirely struggling to score, they'll need every opportunity available should they want to hand Anaheim their first home loss of the season. (Aside: Anaheim is 8-0-0 at home this season. I think Boudreau enjoys the last change.) The pucks have to be on target, not on shins, skates, or bodies of defending players.
Mighty at Evens: The Ducks have cooled off as of late but they still have one of the highest team even strength shooting percentages at 9.6% according to Extra Skater. Their goaltending hasn't been too bad either given a team even strength save percentage of 92.6%. But this Ducks team has not just rode percentages to the top of the Pacific Division. No, they're quite a good possession team as well per Extra Skater. While their Corsi percentage - that's a percentage of all shooting attempts for over against - is around league median and just above break-even at 50.3%, their Fenwick percentage - Corsi without blocks - is right behind New Jersey at 52%. They may not be the Kings but this suggests that they will put up a good fight at 5-on-5. It helps explain why the Ducks have been quite good at out-shooting opponents all season long. The Devils will have a challenge to establish the pace of the game as the road team against a good Ducks team. They may not be shooting above 9% at evens all season long, but they're not going to wither like a certain Canadian team when the percentages aren't so much in their favor.
Mighty Duo: The Ducks are led up front by the dangerous duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Both are tied for the team lead in points with 24, both have been the best at driving the play at even strength, and both are currently top ten scorers in the league. They don't always play together so it's not a case where Peter DeBoer can focus solely on defending one line. Besides, given Anaheim's relatively strong team shooting percentage, the other guys can beat them too. I'll touch on them in a little bit. Let's get back to Anaheim's #10 (Perry) and #15 (Getzlaf).
Perry is the winger who loves to shoot. He leads Anaheim with 83 shots on net, which is also the fifth most in the league for any one player prior to Tuesday's games. Perry has not been held shotless all season long and he's got twelve goals for his efforts. Clearly, the Devils' skaters need to be aware of where he is at all times. Getzlaf plays in all situations - Perry does too, but Getzlaf gets a little more PK time - and he's been very productive. He's got 52 shots on net, eleven goals, and thirteen assists. He's recently back from a minor injury but that didn't stop his own personal four-game point streak with a goal and an assist in his two games back. Only Cam Fowler and Francois Beauchemin play more than Getzlaf on average; the Devils will see a lot of the big pivot tonight. While the Ducks are far from a two-man operation, this duo has been fantastic for Anaheim. All I can say is good luck to the Devils who get matched with either of them.
Mighty Support: The Ducks have nine players with at least eight points this season. By contrast, the Devils have seven players tied for third in scoring with seven points. It's not just Perry and Getzlaf filling up the boxscore. Mathieu Perreault has had a lovely start to his season with five goals and nine assists for fourteen points, good for third on the team in scoring. Big body and pancake enthusiast Dustin Penner has four goals and nine assists. Andrew Cogliano has six goals and four assists. Nick Bonino has five goals and seven assists. Young forward Emerson Etem has five goals and four assists. Defenseman Cam Fowler, who has two goals and nine assists while leading the Ducks in average ice time per game. The only really odd one of the bunch is Devante Smith-Pelly, who managed to pick up a goal and seven assists and is the only one of the nine with fewer than 30 shots on net (he has 14). Everyone else is between 30-50 shots. There's plenty of players who can do damage even if #10 and #15 are somehow kept quiet.
What's remarkable is that head coach Bruce Boudreau has kept their ice time relatively even. After Perry and Getzlaf, no other forward averages more than 16 minutes per game. Their defensemen are led by Fowler and Beauchemin (usually on separate pairings), but while they average over 22 minutes the others not named Mark Fristic have averaged at least 17 minutes. It's not that there are no other all-situation players, just that Boudreau doesn't lean on any one in particular beyond his ace forwards. Even his best defenseman isn't given excessive minutes night after night. It's been a group effort for both squads and given their results at evens, I'd say it's working out just fine. That should keep them fresh and allow him flexibility in his match-ups. Depending how they come out tonight, this could add a degree of difficulty for DeBoer and the players to deal with.
Not So Mighty Offensive Defensemen: The Ducks' blueline has not been a source for offense this season. Even the Devils have received more lamp-lighters from their blueline. OK, it's only one more but Anaheim's D hasn't brought a lot of offense to the table. Fowler and Hampus Lindholm have been their most active with two goals each, along with 40 shots on net. The only other defender to score for the Ducks is Sami Vatanen, who isn't an offensive defenseman, and the third most prolific shooter on the Ducks is Ben Lovejoy, who isn't that impressive of a defender. It wouldn't be such a bad idea for the Devils to put most of the Ducks defensemen into offensive situations. I'd rather see, for example, Beauchemin try to make something happen if that means additional coverage against the forwards, especially Perry and Getzlaf. Basically, I want them to do what some teams have done to the Devils in recent seasons. Let them have a few more looks at the point for low percentage shots while denying space down low. It might be worth trying.
Not So Mighty Special Teams: Whereas the Ducks are a fine team at evens, they aren't at all fine on either side of special teams. Their power play has seemingly been snakebit this season. They're one of the top teams in the league in generating shots as Extra Skater lists their power play shots for per 60 minute rate at 60.5. But they're going in at a rate of 7.6%, the third lowest shooting percentage in the league. No wonder their team conversion rate is a woeful 11.5%. This doesn't mean the Devils' penalty killers should relax. Again, the Ducks shoot a lot, the Devils will still have to be wary if/when they take a call. Just that the Ducks haven't made the most of those opportunities.
Their penalty killing has the opposite problem. In terms of shots, it's not so bad. They're at the league median with a shorthanded shots against per 60 minute rate at 51.3 according to Extra Skater. Maybe one would expect more from a team that allows around 27 shots per sixty minutes at evens but it's OK. The save percentage, on the other hand, has stunk. It's at a miserable 81.9% and that's why their success rate of 76.4% is in the bottom-five of the NHL. Again, it's another case of something good at evens but bad on special teams. Jonas Hiller has a good even strength save percentage of 92.6% but an atrocious penalty kill save percentage of 70%. Yes, 70%. I can't even comprehend that level of ineptitude. Backup Viktor Fasth doesn't have a very good even strength save percentage of 90.8%, but it's a far sight better than his terrible 81% save percentage on penalty kills. Their best guy on PKs (and even strength) is Frederick Andersen, the third string goalie who's not on the roster right now. The Devils will see either Hiller or Fasth tonight and both have been very vulnerable when their team is down a man or two. If the Devils weren't so horrible at gaining the offensive zone on power plays, much less getting set up for shots, then this could be something they could really exploit. Maybe the PP units will surprise us all and have a good night but I'm not holding my breath.
Not So Mighty Veteran Presence: I didn't even include Teemu Selanne, who is arguably the lesser of the three 40+ year old men playing tonight's game. He's sitting at seven points with none in his last eight appearances. It's increasingly likely that Selanne will indeed meet his match with Father Time.
Heat Check Pt. 3: One of those 40+ year old men is martin Brodeur and he will be on the ice tonight. According to Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice on Tuesday, Peter DeBoer named him the starter for this game, which will likely mean Cory Schneider gets the Kings again on Thursday. Brodeur has been playing some of his best hockey in recent memory. The Ducks are another team that averages over 30 shots per game so this could be another test to see whether he's still hot. If he is, then the Devils' chances should improve. If not, well, it was fine while it lasted.
Winning Changes Little: Tom Gulitti's report from Tuesday's practice showed the same roster from the past few games. The only real change was Adam Henrique taking the center spot instead of Patrik Elias alongside Michael Ryder. The defense remains the same as does the other three lines. I suppose that's to be expected since the team did just come off their best week of the season.
I don't really mind the lack of change. I wouldn't change a thing about Dainius Zubrus (one goal, three assists in last four games) and Jaromir Jagr (three goals, two assists in last four games) given their recent play. I think Elias and Henrique can more than cover for Ryder's flaws. Since this will be his third game back after being out with back spasms, I'd like to see Elias take more initiative tonight. I do hope the Andrei Loktionov, Steve Bernier, and Damien Bunner line is ready for some tough match-ups and not do silly things like ice the puck after long shifts. If I'm Boudreau, then I'm probably going to target that line whenever possible. Loktionov has been more active in backchecking but that's not a trio known for defending.
One bit of news did come out of Tuesday's practices. Per Gulitti, Stephen Gionta fell down and rolled his right ankle again. The fourth liner says he thinks it will be fine, but I have my doubts. While he did return to the Toronto game where he initially rolled it, he was out for a couple of games afterwards. I'd put his status as questionable. If he doesn't suit up, then I would expect Jacob Josefson to be inserted into the lineup. It may not be a choice position, but it would be another opportunity for Josefson to make his case that he's more than an extra forward.
Your Take: The Devils will certainly have a tough task tonight. Will they rise to the challenge and get a result? If so, how do you see them doing it? Just as importantly, are you staying up for this game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments.