New Jersey Devils vs. Toronto Maple Leafs: Game 38 Preview

Will screens work? Anyway to get a goal man... - USA TODAY Sports

The New Jersey Devils, who have been strong in possession and weak in percentages, will host the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have been weak in possession and strong in percentages, tonight. This post previews what is a you-better-win game for NJ.

This is a big game. So are all of the rest of them.

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+, CBC; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (15-13-9) vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs (20-13-4; SBN Blog: Pension Plan Puppets)

The Ticket Link from TiqIQ: Why should you want to go to a Devils game? Because it is. Anyway, there may not be many left for tonight but if you go to TiqIQ now you might get luckier than the Devils' shooting: New Jersey Devils tickets.

The Last Devils Game: The Devils did everything right or better than the Boston Bruins but score a goal. The Bruins got one off an errant pass by Brad Marchand that went right off the skate of Jaromir Jagr and into the net. That happened. My recap of the game is here.

The Last Maple Leafs Game: While the Devils were trying to squeeze blood from the stone that has been their offense, the Leafs hosted the Philadelphia Flyers. The scoring came quickly when Simon Gagne re-directed a shot by Eric Gustafsson. Toronto answered back when Joffery Lupul found Nikolai Kulemin in front of the net for a score. Minutes later, Lupul got sandwiched between Adam Hall and Jay Rosehill, got inadvertently hit in the head by the latter, left the game, and never came back. While Toronto was down a top forward, they did go up 2-1 late in the first period when John-Michael Liles bombed one in from the right point. Alas, Philly responded to that quickly when Sean Couturier set up Jakub Voracek for an easy-one on James Reimer's left flank. Philadelphia ran away with the game in the second period. It became 3-2 when Brayden Schenn took a giveaway by Kulemin and knocked one through Reimer that trickled in. About fifteen minutes later, Rosehill intercepted a breakout pass and fired a long shot that found it's way to make it 4-2 and Reimer rather mad. In the third period, Toronto got a lifeline when James van Reimsdyk got some great not-defense to be open down low and skillfully roofed one over Ilya Bryzgalov. Alas, Toronto couldn't find the equalizer and Luke Schenn scored an empty-netter to end Toronto's three-game winning streak 5-3. PPP doesn't have a recap but Cam Charron does have one that SkinnyFish linked at LeafsNation.

The Last Devils-Maple Leafs Game: Back on March 4, the Devils went up to Toronto. New Jersey was in the midst of a winless streak and it didn't end at the Air Canada Center. The Devils played a good period but didn't score. The Leafs weren't so bad but they did when Nazem Kadri attempted a pass to Leo Komarov to the slot. The pass never got to Komarov because Hedberg tried to deny it with his stick and it ended up re-directing it through his legs. The Devils would bounce back in the second period. Moose didn't botch anything, the Devils attacked, and they got two goals from Marek Zidlicky of all players. Ryan Carter set up both goals; the first was a good wrist shot through a screen and the second was a give-and-go. Up 2-1 and the Devils were in at least a good spot. Then the third period happened and the team laid an egg. Patrik Elias coughs up the puck and Hedberg gave up a soft one to Jay McClement. Later, a Toronto power play ended in seconds when Clarke MacArthur was all alone at the top of the crease and beat a frozen Moose in close. Shortly after that, Zidlicky got caught on a pinch, and Phil Kessel finished a two-on-one for a goal against that didn't make fans want to yell expletives about Hedberg at their TV. It was an awful third frame, an awful goaltending performance, and it led to a then-fifth straight game without a win regardless of possession, shots, and two goals from Zidlicky. My recap of the 4-2 loss is here. Over at PPP, Bower Power correctly called out the goons in his recap.

The Goal: BAMN. By any means necessary. As in, the Devils must get points by any means necessary. That's the situation the team is in with just over three weeks left in the season.

Oh, sure, I could point out how awful of a possession team the Leafs have been this season. They've got a close-score Fenwick% of 45.25% which is only better than Columbus, Edmonton, and Buffalo. Their skaters' on-ice Corsi rates at Behind the Net are almost all negative (Nazem Kadri, you are the exception at 0.12!). That doesn't make them all bad players - and a number of them would come out positive if we adjust for zone starts - but this means that they get out-attempted at even strength more often than not. In 5-on-5 team stats at Behind the Net, the Leafs have a 27.3 SF/60 and a 33.3 SA/60. They regularly get out-shot and by quite a bit at evens. Given that the Devils are coming off a dominating possession game against one of the best possession teams in the league, I don't think it's unreasonable to state that the Devils could and should be able to out-shoot and out-attempt Toronto.

So why are the Leafs ahead of the Devils in the standings? Well, the Leafs have something at evens the Devils don't: luck. Toronto has been a mainstay near the top of NHL Numbers' weekly team PDO chart. PDO is the summation of on-ice shooting percentage and save percentage and Toronto has been riding those percentages like the Vikings have ridden Adrian Peterson. Toronto has gotten away with getting owned in the possession game on most nights because more of their pucks drop in due to an 11% shooting percentage. That's the second highest in the league. Their goaltending tandem of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens has been called upon to bail them out. Their respective even strength save percentages of 92.2% and 92.1% suggest strongly that they've been pretty good at it. The team's 5-on-5 save percentage is about average at 91.8% but that's not bad at all. As a result, Toronto is on pace to make the post season while the Devils' 6.9% shooting and 90.8% save percentage have undercut them again and again. And if you're not so sure about the shooting percentage, I demand that you watch all of the Devils-Boston game again.

The Leafs also have something else the Devils don't have: pretty good special teams play. Their penalty killing success rate is fourth in the league prior to Friday's games at 86.1%. That's driven mostly by Reimer and Scrivens stopping over 88% of all power play shots they've faced this season. On top of that, their 4-on-5 SA/60 rate is the fifth lowest in the league at 42.3 and almost as low as New Jersey's 41.6. The Devils actually have a lower rate but the main difference, of course, has been the shots that have come from it. The numbers suggest goaltending but the goals themselves suggest leaving guys wide open in dangerous spots will yield terrible save percentages for anyone. If you want evidence of that, this post from February should suit you nicely. In any case, don't get too excited about any Devils power play tonight. Well, no less than usual. Anyway, the Toronto power play sits at the league median at 18.6% in terms of success rate and their 5-on-4 SF/60 rate is above average at 48.7. While they haven't been as strong at scoring lots of goals, it's been good and that's enough to support an already-high shooting percentage at evens.

So I'm not going to sit here and type about how the Devils just need to keep chopping, pushing, pulling, slicing, dicing, and creaming their opposition in the possession department. They've done that. They'll likely do that tonight. What more can they do? Well, keeping the game at 5-on-5 is a good place to start. They did that for the most part in Boston. That would at least keep the Leafs from getting life on special teams.

Additionally, if the team's not scoring, the pressure is on the defense and goaltending to be as strong as possible. Tom Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice on Friday that Martin Brodeur will start tonight's game and while he's not the reason why they're scoring, he's got to be putting up near-shutout worthy nights to give this team a chance. I don't like asking that he's got to stand on his head because that's not really addressing the problem. But given the state of the standings, it's almost imperative that he does. As for the defense, whichever six guys are out there need to cut down on the errors. They didn't really make too many awful ones against Boston and holding a team that regularly shoots over 30 to 26 is pretty good. Yet, one bad pinch, one bad decision to move up instead of dropping back, or one bad communication to leave the slot open could be lethal. If it means making smaller mistakes and a couple of shots to avoid the big one, then so be it. That doesn't address the problem but again, here we are.

So let's look at the forwards. There should be at least two changes, one not-so-new face and one old new face. For the former, Jacob Josefson was called up from Albany on Friday per Gulitti. Josefson was sent down for having awful luck and not playing particularly well. Since then, he's picked up his points, missed a few games with a purported concussion, and apparently has got his groove back enough to get back to New Jersey. The old new face is former Devil Steve Sullivan. The Devils have acquired him from Phoenix for a seventh round pick at the NHL Trade Deadline. Like many Devils, he hasn't had the best of luck but he has been productive in an offensive role and can definitely chip in at both even strength and on the power play. At this point, chipping in would be huge.

Gulitti reported that Peter DeBoer intends to start him at right wing. With two forwards coming in, that means at least one has to sit. Remember, the Devils went with seven defensemen against Boston because Tom Kostopoulos was held out of the Boston game after getting knocked out in the Islanders game on Monday. He could be held out for one more game, or it could be Matt D`Agostini, who took a rough hit in the Boston game, remains to be seen. Both are right wingers so Sullivan could easily be swapped for either. As far as which defenseman will go out, my guess would be Anton Volchenkov since he only came in the Boston game with Kostospoulos out. He did only play 12:14 total, which is less than his usual limited minutes. The silver lining in this is that Krystofer Barch remains on the outside looking in. Nevertheless, the pressure won't be on Sullivan to make magic happen right away. It'll be on the top guys to keep pressing and to somehow find a way.

In terms of the Leafs' lineup, they will be without Lupul. Gulitti noted that he was not on the trip to Newark. The Leafs are not using the c-word, per James Mirtle at the Globe and Mail. It wouldn't surprise me if he has a concussion. Regardless, he's not going to be here. Mirtle's projected Leafs lineup as Reimer in net, Kessel with Tyler Bozak and van Reimsdyk, league-top-ten-scorer Kadri with Kulemin and MacArthur, and Dion Phaneuf leading the D with Carl Gunnarson. Those are the big names you need to know. Kessel and van Reimsdyk have fantastic shots and Kessel is particularly adept at firing away with 124 this season (tied for tenth most in the league). Kadri leads the team in scoring with 17 goals, 22 assists, and a whole lot of skill. That top six by Toronto may be shooting hot but they're going to cause the biggest headaches. Defensively, Phaneuf is seventh in the league in ATOI with 25:42 so the Devils' best will see a lot of him. While the Devils made Chara look un-studly, I wouldn't bet on it happening for a second straight game. Therefore, I'd be more in favor of the Devils trying to pick on the other two pairings, especially the one that includes Mr. Lucky Mark Fraser and Also Mr. Lucky Cody Franson.

But at this point, I'm not going to picky about that. This is BAMN time. If the Devils win 4-1 and get blown away in possession the process, then fine. If the Devils win 2-1 in a shootout that will make the Toronto media complain about the neutral zone trap for a few hours before finding some new controversy, then great. If the Devils win 6-5 in a game that goaltending forgot, then lovely. If the Devils win 1-0 with a puck bouncing off David Clarkson's skate to beat Reimer low and then getting outplayed all game, then that would be hilarious and welcomed. If the Devils win, then take it and move on. As much as I am a proponent of the "play well to win games" school of thought, good performances without results leave me cold at this point.

What about you? Do you think the Devils can get a badly-needed win tonight? How should they do it? Will they do what you want? How would you organize the lines and defense for tonight's game? Can the Devils keep the Toronto sticks cold for one night? Can they just score at least one dang goal? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.

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