New Jersey Devils vs. Dallas Stars: Game Preview #45

A while back, Michael Ryder was a Star. Now, he's playing for the Devils and will go against the Stars. - Bruce Bennett

Both the New Jersey Devils and Dallas Stars head into this game on three game winless streaks. This preview explains how well the Stars have been this season and their top players along with observations about what the Devils might do tonight.

Don't sleep on this opponent. Not that you can given the hue of green they have on their uniforms.

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (17-18-9) vs. the Dallas Stars (20-15-7; SBN Blog: Defending Big D)

The Last Devils Game: An actual rivalry game made it to national television on the NBC Sports Network. The Devils hosted the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night. The first period was fantastic. The Flyers struggled to move the puck forward, Adam Henrique put home a touched-off-by-Ryane-Clowe pass from Jaromir Jagr to open the game's scoring, and the Devils simply dominated the period . However, they would only score the one goal. The bounces, bad passes, and poor zone exits stopped happening to Philly and so they looked like an actual hockey team in the second. They came close to an equalizer but Martin Brodeur stood tall. However, the Devils started taking penalties - perhaps weak ones but penalties nonetheless. The third in what would be four calls in a row led to Philly getting on the board. Claude Giroux fired a shot from the right point and it travelled through bodies, possibly deflected by Travis Zajac's stick, and in the net either way. The Flyers managed to not botch a 3-on-2 rush later in the third and so Scott Hartnell scored a goal Brodeur wished he had back. When Zajac was tagged for high-sticking Giroux late in the game, a 2-1 loss seemed imminent. But the Devils rushed up with offensive players, pulled Brodeur, and a Marek Zidlicky pass - not a shot as I thought - found Michael Ryder for an easy lay-up. The dramatic game tying goal led to overtime. Stephen Gionta hit the inside of the post on a shot, an inch away from winning the game like so many Devils shots were just an inch or two from being in the net or stopped by Ray Emery. The Flyers rushed up, no Devil had Brayden Schenn coming down the left side, he got the puck, and finished the game. The Devils lose 3-2 in OT in a game they really needed to win. My recap of the game is here.

The Last Stars Game: The Dallas Stars went to Long Island on Monday night. After 6-4 and 5-1 losses to Montreal and Detroit, respectively, one would think the Stars could get their groove back against the New York Islanders. It looked that way in the first period. Jamie Benn scored early and Erik Cole scored a bit past the halfway mark to make it 2-0 Stars. Then the Islanders responded with a flurry. Ryan Strome converted a power play early in the second period; John Tavares provided an equalizer minutes later; and two minutes after that, the Isles went up 3-2 on the strength of Peter Regin's strike. Dallas would make it 3-3 when rookie Valeri Nichushkin converted a power play; but the Isles re-took the lead just before the end of the period when Brock Nelson lit the lamp. 4-3 isn't a disaster, but the third was certainly like one for Dallas. Kari Lehtonen was beaten early in the third by Brian Strait; and Tavares got himself a hat trick with two power play goals later in the third. Losing 7-3 to anyone is bad, losing 7-3 to the Isles is rather bad, and it's worse considering they were up 2-0 to start. Erin Bolen's recap at Defending Big D noted that this is the team's first three game losing streak among other points.

The Goal: Don't get mad, get calm. Jaromir Jagr was angry enough after the loss to the Flyers to provide a great quote to the press; such as this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. Given the number of fans who wished that Peter DeBoer would be something he's not or that the team should be more visibly irate or whatever, I'm sure they appreciated Jagr not being happy. To an extent, I understand. But emotion's not going to help them win this one. Especially against a Dallas team that has little to smile about after dropping three games and reflecting on a 7-3 loss to the Isles during a two day break. Cooler heads must prevail.

While I don't think they went out of their way to foul on Tuesday, the Devils have taken nine penalties in the last two games and the three power play goals were crucial in those 2-1 and 3-2 losses. Not getting worked up will help them not get caught doing something wrong in the eyes of the ref. As frustrating as it is to put up 33 shots on a goalie and come away with only two goals, they're not going to do any better by gnashing their teeth, being too reckless to miss opportunities, and throwing pucks away with force instead of purpose. While catching Dallas on a three game losing streak is advantageous, it won't be realized if they get salty instead of sticking to the plan against a better team than some may realize.

Similar to the Devils: The Devils are a top-ten possession team. The Stars aren't shabby at all. According to Extra Skater, their 5-on-5 FenClose percentage is seventh in the league at 52.6%, only 0.6% behind the Devils. That's quite impressive. When you take away the close-score situation and look at all attempts (a.k.a. Corsi), Dallas rates only twelfth at 50.8% and well behind New Jersey's 54.2% rate. That's not as impressive But that still means they are a good possession team. They tend out-shoot their opposition at evens. Moreover, they've been shooting rather well. Their 8.7% shooting percentage in 5-on-5 play is the fifth highest in the league. Kari Lehtonen has been OK in net at evens given his 91.8% save percentage. Altogether, Dallas is a formidable team in the most common situation in hockey. They're currently fifth in the Central but it's because of their good play at 5-on-5 that I would not be surprised at all if they move up in the Central past Colorado and Minnesota in coming weeks. The Devils will have a real challenge tonight from a match-up perspective, much more than Philly.

Halfway Similar to the Devils: Based on the numbers, I think the Dallas Stars would prefer to keep their games at even strength as much as possible. They have not found a lot of success on either special team. Dallas has the second worst power play success rate in the league at 12.6%. They do have a top-ten shooting rate on power plays so they can threaten, but that rate is fairly high partially because the pucks aren't going into the net. Their 7.7% shooting percentage in man advantage situations is the worst in the league. If there's a night for the Devils' PK to "get their groove back," then this is it. I just hope it doesn't come with having to kill several consecutive calls.

While the Stars have power play issues that Devils fans may sympathize with, there's not much relation when it comes to the other side of special teams. Dallas' penalty kill has been vulnerable. Their success rate of 79.9% isn't among the worst, but it's in the lower third of the league. All three goalies that have suited up for the Stars this season have very good looking save percentages while shorthanded. The problem with that is that all three goalies have faced a lot of rubber while shorthanded. The Stars have the highest shots against rate when killing a penalty in the league according to Extra Skater. This may be a benefit for the low-shooting Devils' power play, even though I'm not exactly holding out a lot of hope about it.

Boston Dumped A Top-20 Scorer Who Now Leads a Team in Scoring: The big name to know on Dallas is Tyler Seguin. Actually, this is In Lou We Trust and I'll try to touch on more than just him. But if you must know and fear one man on Dallas tonight, then it should be Seguin. He's tied for 16th in the league in points prior to Wednesday's games with 21 goals and 20 assists. He's got 123 shots and averages 19:20 per game. He shoots a lot, he plays a lot, and he's produced a lot. If that wasn't enough, then consider that the play usually goes forward when he's on the ice at evens. His 53% Corsi rate is the second best among Dallas regulars in 5-on-5 play this season according to Extra Skater. Seguin may live like a slob and may be didn't get along with the right people in his last organization. Their loss has been Dallas' gain. Tonight, he will be the big threat for New Jersey.

But the Devils cannot focus on Seguin alone. No, they have to consider his regular linemate, who could rise up the NHL scoring ranks soon enough. It's the young veteran (age: 24, currently in fourth NHL season) winger Jamie Benn. Benn is second only to Seguin in terms of scoring this season. He's got 15 goals and 22 assists in 42 games, already surpassing last season's 33 points in 41 games. Benn leads the Stars with 137 shots and like Seguin, he plays quite a lot and helps get that puck forward at evens. If Seguin is somehow stopped, then Benn has the talent to make the Devils say "Uncle" if given a chance.

What Could Have Been, 2013 Draft Edition: You know who really liked the Cory Schneider trade? Dallas. They were able to draft Valeri Nichushkin last June due in part of it (and Vancouver taking Bo Horvat). The Stars decided to let him jump into the league right away and so far, it's worked out. He's tied for third on the team in scoring with nine goals and 13 assists, he's got 71 shots, he's only taken three minors, he skates so smoothly, and he's actually Dallas' leader among regulars in terms of Corsi%. He may average less than 16 minutes of ice time and surely playing with Benn and Seguin helps. But he's not getting only favorable zone starts either. He's appears to be for real and should be in the Calder discussion. It'll be fun watching him except for tonight as he could do some real damage tonight.

According to this post by Erin Bolen at Defending Big D, Nichushkin has been moved away from Seguin and Benn in the hopes of strengthening the team's defense. I don't know if Rich Peverley really does that or if Cole, Cody Eakin, and Nichushkin will work. The Devils will be able to find out, though. Still, Seguin-Benn remains a dangerous duo. If the big rookie meshes with Cole, then that could present additional problems.

Believe It Or Not, These Guys Are On This Team: Wondering whatever happened to Rich Peverley, Erik Cole, Shawn Horcoff, Vernon Fiddler, and The Wizard Ray Whitney? You won't have to tonight as they all play for Dallas. They all have chipped in for the Stars. Cole has eleven goals and ten assists and Peverley has five goals and sixteen assists. They've played together with a big, young winger by the name of Alex Chiasson in recent games. Chiasson actually has as many points Nichushkin with eight goals and fourteen assists. But they'll be split up for this one, apparently. Instead, he'll get feeds from the Wizard, who has made contributions here and there along with Horcoff and Fiddler. None of those six are really dragging Dallas down that much in terms of possession. But it's imperative that the Devils can go on the attack against them if only because neither of them are good as the Seguin line.

There Should Be Shots: Dallas likes to play high-event games apparently. While they've out-shot their competition on average at evens, over all situations, they average around 32 shots per game in either direction. From a possession standpoint, no one really sticks out as being really bad, though. Perhaps that's why their forward lines have been jumbled. Over the season, it appears to me that their blueline has split up the pain, so to speak. Alex Goligoski and Brendan Dillon play the most and they'll likely be the pairing to see plenty of the Devils' top line. Beyond them are pairings of Trevor Daley and Jordie Benn as well as Sergei Gonchar and Kevin Connauton if the Isles game is to go by. As a general rule, going after the oldest defender who's known for offense (zero goals, 12 assists this season) and a rookie seems like a good idea as any. However, I don't think the Devils need to target a specific pairing if the team's giving up that much.

Goalies: With Dallas playing Our Hated Rivals on Friday, it's not certain whether the Devils will face Dan Ellis or Kari Lehtonen. Lehtonen did get lit up by the Isles, but he's been the deserving starting goalie with his 91.8% even strength save percentage. Cross your fingers that it's Ellis given that he's below 90% at evens this season.

As for the Devils - and as an unofficial segue into the Devils-focused part of this preview - Cory Schneider will start this one according to this Tweet by Gulitti on Wednesday. While I don't think his appearance would have necessarily meant a win on Tuesday, I wanted to see him start that one. He'll get this one, presumably because he's a bit more familiar with Dallas and it's a tougher opponent. I hope he does well. I think if he keeps taking steps forward towards an actually good save percentage, then he'll get more and more games.

3, 1, 2, 2, 3, 1, 2: That set of numbers is how many goals the Devils have scored in each game since winning 5-4 in OT against the Capitals. Don't give me #GoalsForCory. Just give me #Goals.

I do expect DeBoer to keep the same forward lines. He really should given that Jacob Josefson, who hasn't been playing, has been placed on injured reserve for illness, and Cam Janssen doesn't help. Travis Zajac didn't practice but he's resting per Gulitti. I found that news to be relieving because I don't want to think what this team would be like without Zajac and Patrik Elias at the same time. So provided Zajac's OK for today, I think he'll center Jagr and Dainius Zubrus as usual.

I would like to see DeBoer keep the same twelve because they did put in a good effort against Philly. Yes, they only scored twice and only once at evens. But the three young players - Reid Boucher, Andrei Loktionov, and Mike Sislo - continue to hustle in limited minutes. CBGB has enjoyed a good stretch. Adam Henrique's unit has bounced back, both Henrique and Michael Ryder have been productive (four goals each in the last seven games), and I do think Ryane Clowe will eventually score. I also think Jagr will do so given how much he's been shooting; he's got twelve shots in his last two games. If he keeps firing away, then he's bound to find the net. Still, it would be great if the pucks started dropping in more. I think they will if they shoot more like they did on Tuesday than they have all season.

So Who Sits for Eric?: Eric Gelinas was called up earlier in the week and didn't play against Philly. Teams usually don't call up players to just have around so I suspect he'll play tonight. If not, then it'll be really soon. DeBoer wouldn't come right out and say that Gelinas will be in according to this article by Gulitti. I think it's because it's not clear who should sit for Gelinas. (And the same question applies to Adam Larsson; and before you throw out names, remember, he hasn't played a game since mid-November. Also, roster limits becomes an issue) My first reaction would be Jon Merrill, who hasn't done a whole lot in the last two games. He hasn't done a whole lot wrong either, so it's not an easy decision. As an outside shot, both Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov were benched late in the third period against Philly. It's possible one of them gets a night off for a different look. Should it happen, I hope Gelinas realizes he's got to make the most of it. A healthier blueline does not guarantee him (or others) minutes. Not only to make sure The Truth gets on net, but also that he doesn't get caught flatfooted at his own blueline.

Your Take: The Devils will take on Dallas for the first time in a long time. Do you think the Devils will take this game? Can they limit Seguin and Benn? Will they be able to pierce the Stars' defensive approach while not giving up too much at the other end? How should the Devils attack the Stars? Who will leave this game with a four game winless streak? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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