The Devils start their Western Canada road trip tonight in a 9pm matchup against the struggling Calgary Flames. To a slight extent, both teams have seemingly switched positions in the standings at this point in the season, compared to where they stood one year ago today. Regardless of the fact, the Devils hope tonight’s matchup isn’t anywhere close to a repeat of the last time they visited the Saddledome. New Jersey blew a 4-2 lead over the final three and a half minutes, and lost 5-4 in the shootout. The Devils have won four of their last five, and have gone 10-3-0 since they went winless in their first four games. Although Calgary has lost three of their last four, four of their six wins this year have been against Eastern Conference teams. For a team like the Devils that is battling for a playoff spot with the quarter-mark of the season fast approaching, this is a game they can’t afford to give away if they want to legitimize their early season play.
Calgary is neck-in-neck with New Jersey in goals scored. Despite not showing any signs of a sophomore slump in his play, Johnny Gaudreau currently leads the Flames with 17 points, but only has four goals on the year after scoring 24 in his rookie campaign. He’s been pointless over his last four games, during which the Flames have won just once, not that it seems Gaudreau’s contributions have much of an effect on the team’s performance. Prior to Calgary’s last four games, he had 12 points in his last ten, over which the Flames just went 4-5-1. Jiri Hudler, Calgary’s leading scorer in 2014-2015, hasn’t scored in eight games, while free agent signee Michael Frolik has just one goal in his last seven games since he scored three on Halloween night (four goals total this year). Sean Monahan and David Jones, who lead the team with six goals apiece, just recently attained those totals. Both players have combined for eight goals in Calgary’s last five games, which accounts for over half of the 14 the team scored over that span. Simply put, Calgary’s offense is shady and very containable. If the Devils want to make a statement in tonight’s game however, this is something they shouldn’t take for granted.
The Flames have faced an average of 30.9 shots per game, and surrendered an average of 3.74 goals per game. This gives Calgary’s opponents around a .12 shooting percentage through the Flames’ 19 games this season. While the Devils have done many good things this year, shots per game is not one of them, where they currently rank 29th (26.1). Even with the second-lowest shots per game average, the Devils are mathematically projected to score at least three times against the Flames. Mark Giordano accounts for four of the eight goals Calgary’s blue line has scored this season, and is one of four defenders that head coach Bob Hartley is playing more than 23 minutes a game (24:00), along with TJ Brodie (24:56, Kris Russell (24:01), and Dennis Wideman (23:20). There is a slight drop-off in ice time amongst Calgary’s defensemen when it comes to offseason acquisition Dougie Hamilton (18:41). He has just two goals and five points in 19 games this year, a sluggish start after signing a six-year, $34.5 million contract extension with the organization.
As previously indicated, the Flames have given up the most goals of any team in the league (72). You can argue that this grueling shortcoming can’t be entirely put on goaltenders Kari Rammo, Jonas Hiller, and Joni Ortio, but it woud certainly be an easy scapegoat. Since Hiller was sidelined, Ramo has appeared in eight games, over which he’s gone 4-4-0, accumulating a 3.00 GAA and .903 SV%. Ramo’s play is indicative of his team’s qualitative performance, and how their play has had a hindering effect on his stats. There is some considerable disparity however, in Ramo’s stats during games he’s won and lost. He’s registered a 2.25 GAA and .913 SV% over his last four victories, while putting up a 3.75 GAA and .892 SV% in his last four losses. It’s somewhat of an indication that Ramo’s play is potentially polarizing on a night-to-night basis. New Jersey’s best bet is to just keep putting pucks on the net against Ramo, and early on.
Who to watch
Mike Cammalleri…Not only does he lead the Devils with 17 points and have six in his last five games, but he always seems to do well when he plays against his former teams. Cammalleri scored in both contests the Devils had against Calgary last year, and had four goals and give points in seven games against his three former teams altogether. With former fellow Flame Lee Stempniak as his line mate, Cammalleri is undoubtedly looking to keep that personal trend alive going into tonight’s game, and could be extra motivated with Stempniak playing his line’s opposite wing.
Sean Monahan…Not only is a third-year forward on currently one of Calgary’s best players over the recent stretch, but he’s been dominant against Eastern Conference teams. Five of Monahan’s six goals and ten of his 13 points have come against Eastern Conference teams this season. Him and Gaudreau would undoubtedly lead any kind of surge the Flames might undergo to propel them back in the playoff race. Having said that, this statistical trend Monahan has had this year is one the Devils have hopefully picked up on already. Like I said before, Calgary’s offense is containable and one of New Jersey’s primary objectives they need to complete to achieve this is to shut down Monahan the entire game.
What to watch
Road record in jeopardy…Tonight is the start of a three-game road trip for the Devils, in which they’ll also be making stops in Edmonton and Vancouver. In theory, all three games should be winnable for the Devils. The Flames are 3-5-0 at home this year. Although they’ve won their last two home matches, they occurred between the 5th and 7th of November. This is definitely a much-needed homecoming for the Flames as it provides them with an ideal environment to turn the tables on their recent fortunes. If they come out strong tonight, it could put a damper on the Devils’ road success so far this season, and potentially set the tone of for the rest of this road trip.
Where to watch
When to watch