Carolina Hurricanes at New Jersey Devils
7:00 p.m, Prudential Center
TV: FS-Carolinas, MSG+
The Hurricanes have a chance to end this six-game road trip on a high note by winning four out of six games and taking home nine out of a possible 12 points with a win tonight over the New Jersey Devils. At the beginning of the year, I said that the Hurricanes need to make it out of this road trip with a winning record and they managed to clinch that last night with a win over the Islanders. A win over the Devils tonight will make it a much bigger success but it isn't going to come easy because much like the Islanders, the Canes had little to no success against New Jersey last season.
Carolina is also going to come out much stronger than they did last night, too. They might be able to get away with a bad first period and giving up four powerplay goals against the Islanders but that probably won't happen against the Devils, who are arguably the hottest team in the NHL right now. This being the second game of a back-to-back on the road likely means that the Devils will be the fresher team tonight, but hopefully the Canes can build off last night's game and do enough to at least earn a point in the standings.
The good news is that the schedule gets slightly easier after this game and the Hurricanes will be back at the PNC Arena very soon.
Know Your Opponent: New Jersey Devils
The Devils have been one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference this year as they are currently on a five-game win streak and have yet to lose at home in regulation. The run they are currently on is backed by solid play at even strength and superb goaltending from the tandem of Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg. I have my doubts that these two will be able to keep it up for the entire season but the Devils play at even strength has still been very good so I don't think these two regressing will be a huge problem. The Devils are also one of the best defensive teams in the NHL, as they are in the top-10 at preventing shots both at even strength and on the penalty kill. This should pose a very good challenge for the Hurricanes high powered offense.
On the flip-side, New Jersey hasn't been creating much offense this season but they are getting a hefty amount of production from David Clarkson, who has nine goals on the season. Part of me thinks that Clarkson and his 1031 PDO is due for a slump but he's been fantastic at driving the play at even strength and is firing a high volume of shots at the net, so he might be able to sustain some goal production. Clarkson along with Adam Henrique, Patrik Elias and the newly-signed Travis Zajac have been the Devils best forwards at driving the play.
Tlusty - E. Staal - Semin
Skinner - J. Staal - Dwyer
Bowman - Jokinen - LaRose
Nodl - Brent - Wallace
Gleason - Corvo
Pitkanen - McBain
Harrison - Faulk
Out: Westgarth, Sanguinetti
Kovalchuk - Zajac - Matteau
Elias - Henrique - Clarkson
Carter - Gionta - Bernier
Butler - Josefson - Barch
Salvador - Fayne
Greene - Larsson
Zidlicky - Volchenkov
Out: Zubrus, Tallinder, Harrold
Five Things to Watch For
- The Devils defense corps isn't in the best shape right now and they have been spreading the tough minutes around. One of the guys who they regularly trust with around 20 minutes a night is 37-year-old Bryce Salvador and I think the Hurricanes top-six is good enough to take advantage of that matchup. I always felt that the two-way play from the Devils forwards off-sets their mediocre defense corps so we'll see how this matchup turns out. I do think Andy Greene and Mark Fayne are pretty underrated, though.
- The penalty kill is obviously going to be a big factor in tonight's game no matter what and the Hurricanes can not have a performance similar to last night if they want to escape New Jersey with two points. The Devils are an above average team at producing shots on net with the man-advantage so this matchup can turn out poorly for the Hurricanes if they aren't careful. One of the few things I did like about the PK last night was the addition of Tim Wallace. He was able to disrupt the Islander forwards enough to produce a couple of clears and that's something this penalty kill needs a lot more of.
- I'm going to assume that Gleason and Faulk will be split up again so that the team's best shutdown options are always out against Clarkson & Kovalchuk. Faulk & Harrison are coming off a very bad game and had trouble containing the Islanders third liners, so I'm a little worried at how this matchup is going to turn out.
- Carolina's third line needs to do something positive after their performance last night. New Jersey has forward depth issues and they are magnified with the loss of Dainus Zubrus, so I think Carolina's third line should be able to do something against New Jersey's bottom-six. Then again, this is at least the fourth time this season I thought Carolina's third line had a favorable matchup only to have them either do nothing or give up a ton of chances against. If they continue to struggle, then I think Muller should mix things up a little.
- Zach Parise might be gone from New Jersey but they still have Ilya Kovalchuk, who has lit up the Hurricanes over his entire career. Going back to his Thrasher days, Kovalchuk has 36 goals and 70 points in 56 games against the Hurricanes including six points in three games against Carolina last season. I'm not sure if Jordan Staal will be matched up against him or Adam Henrique's line but containing him will probably be an issue at some point tonight.
This isn't a "must win" for the Hurricanes but defeating New Jersey will be a good way to help them keep pace with the rest of the Eastern Conference. It should also be a test to see just how good this team really is.