So far, the California trip has been nothing short of a very pleasant surprise for the New Jersey Devils and their fans. After settling the score with the San Jose Sharks in the tough building to play in that was the shark tank, New Jersey completed their season sweep against the Los Angeles Kings. Tonight’s matchup versus the Anaheim Ducks is perhaps be their toughest opponent of their west coast trip. The Ducks were triumphant when these two teams first met back in December, besting the Devils in a 2-1 regulation victory. Since then, the direction of both teams have shifted towards opposite ends of the playoff spectrum, essentially switching places compared to where each team was in the standings three months ago.
While the momentum accumulated from a third consecutive win tonight would be great for the team’s morale going into Thursday’s game against Minnesota, it distracts fans from the bigger picture…that gaping hole the team’s play over the last few weeks got themselves into, which has made the playoffs more of a pipe dream instead of a conceivable scenario. Anaheim is in the midst of a three-game winless streak (0-2-1), with tonight’s contest being the first of three consecutive home games for them. In addition to their respective streaks, both teams have their fair share of injuries. As we all know, the Devils are without Cory Schneider (MCL), Mike Cammalleri (upper), and Patrik Elias, among notable players sidelined. Anaheim’s defense is riddled with its own set of injuries to Kevin Bieska (lower) and Sami Vatanen (upper). The Devils are clearly more affected by their lineup absences, but have recently gotten more out of their plugins like Keith Kinkaid, Mike Sislo, and Seth Helgeson.
Who to watch
Brandon Pirri…After being acquired by Anaheim at the trade deadline, he’s expected to make his Ducks debut tonight after being sidelined for the past month. The Devils haven’t fared too well against opponents with players making some kind of debut (team, season, career, etc.), and you know the 24-year old forward is looking to make a strong first impression on his new team.
Keith Kinkaid…I personally don’t mention goaltenders much in this section of my pregames (and really should start to), but it’s certainly warranted this time around. He’s been stellar for the Devils this road trip, surrendering one goal against 53 shots. Consistency has been an early concern in the sophomore goaltender’s play, so how he makes out tonight should testify to his degree of reliability moving forward.
What to watch
Debuts versus Returners…As previously mentioned, Brandon Pirri is my player to watch for the Anaheim Ducks tonight, mainly because he’s making his Ducks debut tonight. With two former Anaheim players on their roster (Kyle Palmieri and DSP), I’d like to see if one or both of these Devils players can match that same motivation and drive Pirri should have tonight. Considering how low-scoring the Devils generally are, any output from the aforementioned players could have a profound impact on tonight’s final score.
Late road momentum…? Earlier this season, the Devils were a very successful road team. While the gap between their away wins and losses has shrunken, they’ve had a slight spurt of road wins this month (3-1-0), which has given New Jersey’s record away from home (18-14-3) a slightly better winning percentage than their overall record (33-29-7). A win tonight could help reignite the Devils’ confidence playing in other arenas, which comes at a key time with an upcoming home-and-home against Columbus (who the Devils are 0-3-0 against this season).
Where to watch
When to watch