Something these two teams have learned in recent years is that getting off to bad starts can doom your playoff chances, especially in the Eastern Conference. Last year, the Devils had a miserable first half but found themselves fighting for the 8th seed in the latter half of the year where they had an incredible surge. Sounds a little familiar doesn't it. The Canes got off to an awful start in 2009-10 and while they weren't exactly in position to fight for a playoff spot, they really stepped it up after that terrible stretch. Both teams are in rebuild mode now and are searching for their first win in this very young season. Carolina managed to earn a point in Washington thanks to a strong powerplay, solid goaltending from Brian Boucher and a clutch goal from Jussi Jokinen while the Devils were shutout in their home opener by the Flyers in a game which a New Jersey fan described as "the worst game the Devils ever played." Yikes.
Anyway, this game has a pretty early start time and there's nothing better than matinee hockey so let's get things rolling.
Scouting and line combos after the jump.
Getting to know the Devils:
For as awful as the Devils start was last season, they actually did a decent job at controlling the pace of play. Their poor start was due to numerous injuries, terrible luck on special teams and at even strength (EV Shooting percentage was only 7.1%), Martin Brodeur having the worst season of his career and poor coaching. They also had virtually no offense from the blue line with Andy Greene's 23 points leading the way there. I see them taking a step forward this year because their percentages were so bad last year that there's little chance of it happening again. A team that actually does a good job at creating possession is not going to continuously shoot at 7.1% for consecutive years. That and I don't think we'll be seeing names like Olivier Magnan, Stephan Gionta, Jay Leach, Tim Sestito, Tyler Eckford and numerous other AHL-ers who they had to play last year due to injury. I also think they'll get a full season of Zach Parise or at least something close to it and that should definitely help them. I'm a Pete DeBoer fan, as well and was impressed with how he managed to keep Florida competitive in the many games they were in despite the lack of talent on their roster.
I still think the Devils are a bubble playoff team at best because they are going to be without Travis Zajac for awhile which is forcing Patrik Elias to play center and they have a lot of inexperienced guys in their forward corps. The fact they are playing Petr Sykora on their first line should tell you about their depth up front. The same goes for their blue-line but they did address a huge need in the NHL draft by acquring Adam Larsson, who is my pick to win the Calder.
Lines and Defense pairings:
Ruutu - Staal - Skinner
Tlustly - Jokinen - LaRose
Ponikarovsky - Sutter - Dwyer
Stewart - Brent - Dalpe
Pitkanen - Gleason
Kaberle - Faulk
Harrison - Allen
Parise - Elias - Sykora
Kovalchuk - Josefson - Palmieri
Tedenby - Zubrus - Clarkson
Henrique - Mills - Boulton
Greene - Larsson
Tallinder - Fayne
Volchenkov - Salvador
- My guess is that our big line will see a lot of Volchenkov and Salvador as they appear to be the Devils shutdown pair for the time being. Henrik Tallinder has played a lot of tough minutes in his career too, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him out there against Staal or playing a lot on the penalty kill either. They had Tallinder and Salvador against the Giroux line on Saturday so I'm guessing they'll switch things up a bit.
- Penalties got us into trouble the last two games (well 5-on-3's to be exact) and we simply can not get into that situation again if we want to get two points in this game. Yes, the Devils main puck-mover is a rookie so their powerplay doesn't look that threatening but we've already been burned enough times to know that we can't put ourselves in that situation. It doesn't help that we're going up against a powerplay that features Parise AND Kovalchuk.
- Johan Hedberg is getting the start today and he's faced the Hurricanes more than any other NHL team (25 GP). He's also put up a .907 save percentage with a 12-7-2 record against Carolina. Sounds like we give up against Hedberg.
- I'm hoping to see the lines a little more balanced this game because the fourth line has looked pretty good in the first two games but they've barely received any playing time. Our lower lines have a very good chance at drawing a favorable matchup against this team so balancing the ice-time between our forwards will be key.
- Kovalchuk has 32 goals and 64 points against Carolina, more than any other team in the league.
- I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Tomas Kaberle gets his first powerplay point tonight. You heard it here first.
That's all I've got to say about this one. Let's hope we can finally get the first win out of the way.