On Saturday, the San Jose Sharks defeated the New Jersey Devils in an entertaining game by a score of 2-0. The Devils go to the Staples Center to take on the Los Angeles Kings tonight.
GAMETIME: 10:00 PM, EST
National TV: Versus
Local Radio: 660 AM, WFANNHL.com Preview
Tonight's game against the Kings will be the end of a tumultuous 5-game road trip. It will also be the last Devils game for the month of November. But first, I'd like to discuss to Sharks game.
While it was a loss, the Devils-Sharks game should be considered as one of the Devils' strongest games so far this season. Why? Look at the official score sheet
and super stats
from NHL.com. The Devils "hung" with the high-scoring Sharks team for 50 minutes, keeping Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Steve Bernier generally invisible. It took Joe Thornton to deke two Devils and a hard slapshot beat Martin Brodeur, who played excellent and earned the #2 star of the game, late in the third to win the game. The Devils had trouble generating a lot of scoring chances, but they did not get heavily outshot 27-24. The Devils looked strong on defense, especially Paul Martin who played a lot better than he did against Anaheim. The team did not come out flat except for perhaps the first few minutes. They kept pace with the Sharks in all stats save for faceoffs and the most important one, the score. Even after the Thornton goal, the Devils did not give up and come out flat against the Sharks. Ultimately what doomed the Devils was offense. Not a lack of effort, not a lack of hustle, not a lack of defense (close games like this magnify defensive lapses), and not boneheaded plays (yes, the 2nd goal was shorthanded but it was an empty net goal). Steve Pollak's postgame article in Inside Bay Area highlights the difficulty of playing Brodeur and the Devils' defense. An AP article at TSN.ca goes into more depth here.
This is definitely a marked improvement over the Phoenix game (which was horrible) and the Anaheim game (which wasn't as horrible and winnable). Only two things that annoyed me. First, the Sharks fans booing the Devils waiting to complete a line change behind the net before starting a breakout play. Why would you boo this? It's been a standard maneuver in hockey for decades and none of these instances took more than 15 seconds. I didn't understand that at all. Does this happen to other teams visiting San Jose? I've never heard this kind of booing.
The second thing leads me into tonight's game. While the Devils put 24 on Nabokov, most weren't quality scoring chances. The Sharks effectively stymied the Devils' offense by collapsing in their zone. Traditionally, NJ dumps it in, cycles a bit down low, and tries to make a play into the slot. Many times I saw the Devils pass the puck into the slot only to go to a Shark or no one. Many times I saw the Devils try to shoot the puck with more than one Shark right in front of them. This style of play does not yield goals. It's not a question of talent, we all know Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, and Brian Gionta can score and make plays. We have seen the second line of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Jamie Langenbrunner score this season. Julien has tried mixing them up and going back to the standard EGG and PZL set-ups. I don't think the problem is line combinations, it's the Devils' general approach on offense. It wasn't horrible against San Jose, just ineffective. I'd like to see the Devils move the puck around the perimeter more, be more patient with the puck, and then pounce into the slot when the collapsing defenders break up. The way they are going about it right now, all the defense needs to do is collapse into the zone and wait. I think NJ needs to beat that to be successful.
This is the biggest key for NJ to win tonight. A pre-game article at MSG (which looks a lot like the NHL preview actually. I think both are from the AP. In any case...) notes that the Devils are on a 3 game losing streak and that the Kings are looking to win consecutive games for the first time this season.
While they beat Calgary 3-1 on Saturday, the Kings are not doing so well so far this season. They are 8-13-4 in one of the toughest divisions in hockey. Top goaltender Dan Cloutier has struggled, and Matheiu Garon has been the better netminder. Regardless, the team has given up 84 goals, over 3 per game. The Kings have been winning with offense more than defense. Alexander Frolov has scored 11 goals in his last 12 games, leading the team in goals (14) and points (24). Anze Kopitar has been making a lot of noise for a rookie, with 6 goals and 16 assists. Michael Cammalleri (8 G, 13 A) will be another player for the NJ defense to watch out for, and the blueline can not forget about Lubomir Visnovsky (6 G, 11 A) and Rob Blake (3 G, 11 A) from the point or other forwards like Dustin Brown (6 G, 8 A) or goon Sean Avery (5 G, 10 A, 54 PIM). Stopping the Kings' offense will not be easy, but it definitely will not be enough to win. The Devils need to pound Garon (he has played better, I expect him to start) with shots and either beat the Kings' defense with speed before they can collapse or be patient and wait for them to crack. My expected lines are as follows:
Hopefully, the guys earning the big money start putting the puck in the net and the Devils can end this road trip on a high note. Go Devils.
Labels: Devils Game, Devils Postgame