After what I can only describe as the most annoying loss in this young season for the New Jersey Devils, they enter tonight’s matchup with a 4-3-1 record through the month of November. Two of those three losses came on the road, which puts their season road record at 5-3-0. Their only November road win came against the Chicago Blackhawks (3-2 regulation victory). Stats like these are concerning as the Devils get ready to face off against the Edmonton Oilers in their second stop of their Western Canada road trip. New Jersey’s lost two games against two of the currently five-worst teams in the league (Calgary and Columbus), and will face a team in this bracket for the third time this season. While the Devils have lost to some formidable opponents this year, it’s the points they lose out on against beatable opponents like the ones aforementioned that could become a detrimental factor when separating the playoff contenders from the rest of the pack. Tonight’s game is in more ways than mentioned, a must win.
Second-year forward Leon Draisaitl, the second overall pick in the 2014 NHL draft, has been on an upswing since he joined the team in late October. He has three goals and seven points in his last four games, during which however, his team just went 1-2-1. Nonetheless, he’s one of two Oilers currently averaging over a point per game, and his offensive surge has been highly welcomed by an Oilers team that just lost their rookie prodigy for the next few months. Taylor Hall has also maintained better than a point per game over that span, but has been very streaky this season, with patches of two or more games in between each stretch where he’s accumulated points. The Oilers also have seven players with eight or more points, while the Devils have five. Although Zajac is fifth on that list with 11, there’s a huge drop-off point-wise. Simply put, New Jersey’s top-heavy offensive lineup is slowly becoming more apparent, and may have trouble keeping up with a more balanced squad of forwards the Oilers have at their disposal tonight.
Like the Devils, Edmonton hasn’t gotten too many goals from their blue line (seven). The Oilers have given up the fourth-most goals in the league and are only behind Calgary, Columbus, and Winnipeg. Similarly to New Jersey’s previous opponent (Calgary), the Oilers face an onslaught of shots on a nightly basis and surrender an average of 3+ goals a night. Oscar Klefbom leads Edmonton’s defensemen with ten points and has a goal and three assists in his last five games. The Devils will play against a familiar face in Mark Fayne, who only has one assist on the year, and has yet to register a point in two games played against his former team.
Anders Nilson appears to be starting for the Oilers tonight. He’s gone 3-4-1 in eight starts this season and has a 3.31 GAA with a .897 SV%. Former Rangers backup Cam Talbot has struggled mightily this year, going 3-8 in 11 starts. He posts no better numbers with a 3.09 GAA and .890 SV%. The Devils have already faced subpar goaltending this season and haven’t been able to capitalize on what should be a lopsided advantage in their favor. If they fail to register too many shots on net like they did against Calgary, it could be another game where the Devils make a struggling goaltender look like a perennial all-star. Goalies like the ones in Edmonton and Calgary need to be barraged with shots, regardless of how or where on the ice they’re taken from. The pucks will go in.
Who to watch
Keith Kinkaid…He gets his fourth start of the season tonight and against an uncharacteristic type of opponent: a beatable one. Kinkaid had played against some very tough competition during his first two seasons in the NHL and has had to work for every win he has under his belt. If he plays the way he does against the tougher opponents he’s faced, he can prevent the Oilers from building an early lead like the Flames did on Tuesday and give the Devils offense time to start finding the net without facing the pressure of being in a deficit.
Nail Yakupov…Although he’s responded relatively positively to new head coach Todd Mclellan, he has just one assist in his last eight games and hasn’t scored in thirteen. Having said, six of Yakupov’s 11 points came at home this season but all of them were assists. He could just be an interesting player to watch tonight as he is essentially due to come out of the current slump he’s in. If he starts a point streak tonight over the next couple of games like most of Edmonton’s forwards have done, he could very much be a deciding factor in tonight’s outcome.
Where to watch
When to watch