Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Devils 11-19-5   Hawks 15-16-6

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

PARTS UNKNOWN ALWAYS MEANS DOWNTOWN NEWARK: In Lou We Trust

The Hawks will head into the Christmas break, with one more home game, and a chance to build something that looks like momentum with a three-game winning streak, against one of the league’s dumpster-dive-discoveries in the New Jersey Devils. You can’t really ask for much more, which is why it probably feels like the Hawks will fuck this one up with the bus already running. Still, even 75% of usual attention should be enough to get past this outfit at home. You’d think, but silly things have happened against New Jersey the past couple seasons.

Since the last time the Hawks saw them, the Devils have lost five of seven and traded Taylor Hall, so they’re even less interesting than they were before. None of the pieces they got for Hall are on display, and none of them are anywhere close to surefire pieces that will contribute down the line. This is why you don’t hold onto to valuable players when you suck and you know that there’s little chance of them re-signing for your sad sack organization. Hall would have gotten them at least one viable piece at the draft, or at least deadline, but here we are. Know what you are, know your role, people.

So the Devils will focus squarely on what it looking like another top five pick in June to add to Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, neither of which have really popped yet. The Devils will wait around to see if they can get more lottery tickets for Wayne Simmonds or Sami Vatanen at the deadline, and maybe see what’s out there for Kyle Palmieri too who has another year left on his deal. This team needs a lot of things, especially on the blue line and in the crease, and they’re going to need a lot of spins to get them through the draft and prospects.

For now, the Devils do their best to keep things tight to keep it in range of their very limited defense. You may remember these two teams playing a Geneva Convention violation a few weeks ago in Newark, because the Devils were determined to gum things up and the Hawks didn’t even have Boqvist or Keith to force their way through any trap. You can bet on the road it’ll be the same again, probably even more conservative. That’s if the Devils can locate a fuck to give in the last game on the road before three days off. One would think that’s hardly a gimme of a bet.

For the Hawks, it’ll be the same again as Saturday, with Corey Crawford replacing Robin Lehner in net. The win over the Avs was probably their best game of the season, and at least something to try and build off of. The spreading out of the scoring with DeBrincat pairing with Dach started to show some life, as it took a few games for those two to figure out things with each other. Hopefully it grows from here.

There will be a new addition, as John Quenneville is the latest to get a look ahead of Dylan Sikura and not Matthew Highmore for some reason. We can’t also discount that the Hawks might think this is somehow a “revenge” game for Quenneville, as this is his former team for which he barely played. We know that’s how they operate at times. Sikura went from getting a look with Toews and Kublaik–and not looking out of place–to this. Life is cruel. Look for Quenneville to operate with Strome and Nylander for a period and a half before Kelvin starts double-shifting Kane anyway.

No matter how boring the Devils try and keep it, the Hawks should get this one. The schedule the next month isn’t particularly daunting, so if the Hawks have a run in them it’ll be here. But that isn’t going to happen without a win over a team simply aching to give you one right now. So do that, and let’s head off into the holiday not bemoaning our lot in life.

Everything Else

@HellBlazerViace is yet another creature we pulled out of the bin marked, “Unmentionables.” We took him home and fed him and now we can’t get rid of him. We did this a month ago when the Hawks were in Newark, and really nothing has changed much with the black and red outfit since. 

It’s been quite a comedown for the Devils from last year. Is it just the goaltending that’s landed them here?
I’d say it’s mostly the goaltending- they’re virtually the same team as they were last year with regards to their possession and expected goal numbers, but they’re losing a lot because no one can make a stop. Their horrid goaltending combined with John Hynes trying to get the Devils to play a faster style like the Leafs has generally put them in a tough spot because most of the time they’re down 3-0 early and they stop playing aggressively because they’re too worried about putting themselves in a deeper hole. They’ve also had a really tough schedule to start the season- they’ve played a third of their games against legitimate cup contenders or elite teams in Toronto, Tampa, Nashville, Winnipeg, San Jose, Washington and Vegas so that’s not helping either. They’re doing surprisingly better without Hall this year mainly because in at least half of the games where Hall’s been hurt, they’ve gotten strong goaltending from their top goaltending prospect MacKenzie Blackwood, which has given them the confidence to play a bit more aggressive. Outside of Zacha, Butcher, and Wood most of the skaters have met or are exceeding expectations so it’s probably safe to say that the goaltending is the issue.
Is Cory Schneider permanently broken?
 
Shero is just as tight lipped as Lou so it’s hard to tell what Schneider’s status is, but I remember seeing a quote in 31 Thoughts which said that there was some concern about Schneider’s injury being career ending- and I think that might be the case. He just can’t move the way he used to and over the past few years he’s been dealing with a lot of core muscle injuries to go with the hip problems he’s had so that’s going to affect him. He turns 33 in March so the chances of him returning to form are minimal. They can’t give him game time to work out his issues because they’ve got to try and win games in order to have a better chance at keeping Taylor Hall around. His days as a Devil are numbered and he’s probably going to get an amnesty buyout after the inevitable lockout in 2020.
What are the Devils going to do with Taylor Hall? He has one year left on his contract…
The good news is that unlike the Sens or Isles with Karlsson and Tavares, the Devils don’t exactly have the same issues those teams have. Unlike Mean Gene Melnyk, Josh Harris isn’t a cheapskate and the Devils lack of spending has more to do with Shero showing a ton of restraint and not overpaying for mid-tier free agents. Not only do they have the cap space, but they’re probably more than willing to give Hall the money to stay in New Jersey. Unlike the Isles, the Devils have a good GM and aren’t going to replace him with a ghoul like Lou and so far there isn’t a can’t-miss free agent destination like the Leafs- Nashville would fit that bill but playing with Nico and Kyle Palmieri is probably more enticing than playing with Kyle Turris and Colton Sissons on a contender. Re-signing John Hynes should help their chances as he seems to like playing for Hynes. They’re also in a good spot to retool the current roster given that Shero’s trade record is excellent, they might be able to get one of the really good free agents in this year’s class (or alternatively, his good buddy Jordan Eberle) with the $30+ million in cap space they have going into next season and they’ve obviously got a lottery pick with a lottery ball specialist so maybe they end up with one of Hughes, Kakko or Cozens. My guess is that they’ll offer him a blank cheque on July 1st and either he takes the money or waits to see if a contender emerges while having the Devils massive offer in his back pocket as a contingency plan.
At least there appears to be a step forward from Nico Hischier?
The thing about Nico is that you have to watch him closely to appreciate what he brings like someone like Patrice Bergeron or Patrik Elias. He’s not going to be lighting the scoresheet up with four-point games or hat tricks but the Devils have been winning the possession battle when he’s been on the ice. Considering he doesn’t get power play time and Rick Kowalsky has no idea how to run a power play his numbers there aren’t great, but he’s scoring at a better rate than he did this year and that’s probably going to go up once Hall returns from injury and Kowalsky gets his head out of his ass.
The Devils were a rebuilding team last year that spasmed a playoff spot. Is it possible for them to be much worse in the standings but actually moving forward as a team?
If you ask me, moving forward means moving away from the chickenshit conservative style they had towards the end of Lou’s tenure and moving towards the kind of style that teams like Toronto and Tampa play. While they’re trying to do that and it’s not necessarily working, it’s better they do this than go back to playing the chickenshit style they played under DeBoer where the games would be much closer but they couldn’t win because they lacked the skill to win. The thing is with the way they’re playing, it’s going to be much easier to insert difference makers than it would be while playing a conservative style that relies on bad, risk averse players. This is important because they’ve done a better job drafting and most of the guys they’ve drafted are smaller, high skill guys. Someone like 2018 1st rounder Ty Smith- a 5’10”, 175-lb defenseman with great puck skills, is now much easier to play in a system where his puck skills matter rather than one where his puck skills have to be toned down to fit into the safer style. As long as they’re not going back to the ineffective conservative tactics that have failed them in recent years I’m fine with them losing while trying to play a more effective style.

 

Game #48 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

 

Game #58 Preview Suite

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Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

  vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 16-22-9   Devils 17-20-7

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

BADA BING ENTHUSIASTS: In Lou We Trust

Sky point, Bobby Heenan.

After taking two of the West’s best to overtime, and then losing in that gimmick when their slow defense wasn’t really prepared for 3-on-3, the Hawks venture for a week in New York to face some of the East’s sludge. There’s always sludge involved when you’re in New Jersey, but this time around it also applies to the team that resides there.

The Devils aren’t vying for a playoff spot this time around, like they somehow miracle’d their way to last year. One, Taylor Hall is hurt now, though he was over a point-per-game when he was fit. This time though, they aren’t getting goalie performance from out of a top hat, as Keith Kinkaid has returned to being Keith Kinkaid, Cory Schneider is now made out of boogers and adhesive, and they’re pinning their hopes on neophyte MacKenzie Blackwood. Somehow, the Devils only have the 12th-worst SV% at even-strength, even though both Kinkaid and Schneider can’t see .900 with a telescope.

It also doesn’t help that this isn’t a very good defensive team, with the fifth-worst xGA/60 in the league, and not much better in attempts against. It might have something to do with not having a d-man worth a damn on the roster. Andy Greene is a million years old and you’ve never heard of him anyway, so he’s the perfect Devils captain. Sami Vatanen has always been a power play weapon only, Will Butcher continues a long tradition of prized college free agents who end up being a fart in the wind, and Mirco Mueller has a really long neck. Damon Severson is probably worth holding onto, but that’s probably it. Look at this blue line and you’ll react like the business manager to Kramer. “I don’t know what this is supposed to be.”

Up front there’s some hope, even without the injured Hall. Nico Hischier is putting up some pretty impressive underlying numbers in a junior Bergeron act. Kyle Palmieri continues to score goals and also continues to make you wonder why you should give a shit. Miles Wood is a porn name. While this is a more dynamic and entertaining Devils team than the ones of yore, it still needs more talent than its got to be relevant…well, relevant maybe for the first time. I’m not sure they were relevant even when they were winning Cups. Certainly no one other than the highway-side strip club patrons bothered to notice.

For the Hawks, not too many changes one would think. Cam Ward will get the start to give Delia nearly a full week to reset after two tough losses his last two starts. Slater Koekkoek could make his debut tonight, and the Hawks might actually dress seven d-men to do so, but we won’t find out until gametime. The clear option is to scratch Seabrook and let Koekkoek run around on the third-pairing with either Carl Dahlstrom or Henri Jokiharju, but we all know Coach Cool Youth Pastor isn’t going to scratch Seabrook unless you dangled him off a cliff. Dahlstrom could face the axe as well.

The Devils murdered the Hawks twice last year, and basically killed Corey Crawford while they were at it. While not the most skilled, this is an extremely fast team and the Hawks couldn’t cope. The same rules as Saturday apply here, which the Hawks followed pretty well for the first 40. None of the complicated breakouts, just get the puck up to the forwards or ahead of them aw quickly as possible. Any missteps will be pounced on by the Devils’ quick forwards, so the simpler the better. Blackwood has looked very good in his brief foray, but put him under pressure and see what happens. The Hawks are slightly better equipped for these track meets than they were, though still not their strength.

There’s four games before the Hawks hit the bye. They probably need them all to not be buried by the time the bye is over and all those games in hand are made up. They can’t say their season is over, or act like it, even if we can. So if they’re intent on still a death rattle, it probably has to be now.

 

 

Game #48 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

@HellBlazerVice is yet another creature we pulled out of the bin marked, “Unmentionables.” We took him home and fed him and now we can’t get rid of him. 

It’s been quite a comedown for the Devils from last year. Is it just the goaltending that’s landed them here?
I’d say it’s mostly the goaltending- they’re virtually the same team as they were last year with regards to their possession and expected goal numbers, but they’re losing a lot because no one can make a stop. Their horrid goaltending combined with John Hynes trying to get the Devils to play a faster style like the Leafs has generally put them in a tough spot because most of the time they’re down 3-0 early and they stop playing aggressively because they’re too worried about putting themselves in a deeper hole. They’ve also had a really tough schedule to start the season- they’ve played a third of their games against legitimate cup contenders or elite teams in Toronto, Tampa, Nashville, Winnipeg, San Jose, Washington and Vegas so that’s not helping either. They’re doing surprisingly better without Hall this year mainly because in at least half of the games where Hall’s been hurt, they’ve gotten strong goaltending from their top goaltending prospect MacKenzie Blackwood, which has given them the confidence to play a bit more aggressive. Outside of Zacha, Butcher, and Wood most of the skaters have met or are exceeding expectations so it’s probably safe to say that the goaltending is the issue.
Is Cory Schneider permanently broken?
 
Shero is just as tight lipped as Lou so it’s hard to tell what Schneider’s status is, but I remember seeing a quote in 31 Thoughts which said that there was some concern about Schneider’s injury being career ending- and I think that might be the case. He just can’t move the way he used to and over the past few years he’s been dealing with a lot of core muscle injuries to go with the hip problems he’s had so that’s going to affect him. He turns 33 in March so the chances of him returning to form are minimal. They can’t give him game time to work out his issues because they’ve got to try and win games in order to have a better chance at keeping Taylor Hall around. His days as a Devil are numbered and he’s probably going to get an amnesty buyout after the inevitable lockout in 2020.
What are the Devils going to do with Taylor Hall? He has one year left on his contract…
The good news is that unlike the Sens or Isles with Karlsson and Tavares, the Devils don’t exactly have the same issues those teams have. Unlike Mean Gene Melnyk, Josh Harris isn’t a cheapskate and the Devils lack of spending has more to do with Shero showing a ton of restraint and not overpaying for mid-tier free agents. Not only do they have the cap space, but they’re probably more than willing to give Hall the money to stay in New Jersey. Unlike the Isles, the Devils have a good GM and aren’t going to replace him with a ghoul like Lou and so far there isn’t a can’t-miss free agent destination like the Leafs- Nashville would fit that bill but playing with Nico and Kyle Palmieri is probably more enticing than playing with Kyle Turris and Colton Sissons on a contender. Re-signing John Hynes should help their chances as he seems to like playing for Hynes. They’re also in a good spot to retool the current roster given that Shero’s trade record is excellent, they might be able to get one of the really good free agents in this year’s class (or alternatively, his good buddy Jordan Eberle) with the $30+ million in cap space they have going into next season and they’ve obviously got a lottery pick with a lottery ball specialist so maybe they end up with one of Hughes, Kakko or Cozens. My guess is that they’ll offer him a blank cheque on July 1st and either he takes the money or waits to see if a contender emerges while having the Devils massive offer in his back pocket as a contingency plan.
At least there appears to be a step forward from Nico Hischier?
The thing about Nico is that you have to watch him closely to appreciate what he brings like someone like Patrice Bergeron or Patrik Elias. He’s not going to be lighting the scoresheet up with four-point games or hat tricks but the Devils have been winning the possession battle when he’s been on the ice. Considering he doesn’t get power play time and Rick Kowalsky has no idea how to run a power play his numbers there aren’t great, but he’s scoring at a better rate than he did this year and that’s probably going to go up once Hall returns from injury and Kowalsky gets his head out of his ass.
The Devils were a rebuilding team last year that spasmed a playoff spot. Is it possible for them to be much worse in the standings but actually moving forward as a team?
If you ask me, moving forward means moving away from the chickenshit conservative style they had towards the end of Lou’s tenure and moving towards the kind of style that teams like Toronto and Tampa play. While they’re trying to do that and it’s not necessarily working, it’s better they do this than go back to playing the chickenshit style they played under DeBoer where the games would be much closer but they couldn’t win because they lacked the skill to win. The thing is with the way they’re playing, it’s going to be much easier to insert difference makers than it would be while playing a conservative style that relies on bad, risk averse players. This is important because they’ve done a better job drafting and most of the guys they’ve drafted are smaller, high skill guys. Someone like 2018 1st rounder Ty Smith- a 5’10”, 175-lb defenseman with great puck skills, is now much easier to play in a system where his puck skills matter rather than one where his puck skills have to be toned down to fit into the safer style. As long as they’re not going back to the ineffective conservative tactics that have failed them in recent years I’m fine with them losing while trying to play a more effective style.

 

Game #48 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

There was probably no bigger surprise last year than the New Jersey Devils making the playoffs. Or it would have been if anyone outside of Newark and maybe Hoboken remembered the Devils existed for more than eight consecutive minutes. And looking it over, the Devils might be the most unlikely team to make the playoffs in years. They basically had a guy and a half scoring. But one of those guys was Taylor Hall, who put up 93 points with the half-guy, Nico Hischier. They only had two other players break 40 points. The top line of Hall-Hischier-Palmieri accounted for a full third of all the goals the Devils scored. Which seems sub-optimal.

So you’d probably think that Cory Schneider freaked the fuck off in net and that’s how they goofed their way into the last wild card spot. Well tough noogies, shithead, because that’s not what happened at all. The Ginger was awful last year, and was replaced by Keith Kinkaid who wasn’t even league-average over the whole season. Kinky went off in March to the tune of an 8-2-1 record with a .923 SV% and then basically spotless in three April starts that locked it down for the Devils.

But yeah, needless to say this was a really weird team that probably can’t be weird in a good way again. They have fully transferred from the aggressive interrogation method era under Nosferatu Lamiorello to an up-tempo, exciting team under John Hynes. But there are still many steps for this team to take.

Let’s get into it.

Goalies: Well, this would have been a murkier question, given that Schneider has struggled for two seasons now, matching a .907 SV% last year with a .908 from the year before. But The Ginger had hip surgery in May, and it’s unclear if he’s going to make an appearance in camp or preseason. He may not be ready for the season. The Devils have to hope that hip’s health was the reason that Schneider’s peak was lost to the abyss. On the other side, “hip surgery” is to goalies what “shoulder surgery” is to pitchers. Sure, you can come back from them but the likelihood of being the same is not all that high, especially when you’re 32 as Schneider is. This is dicey, dicey stuff for the Swampside Hockey Club.

The contingency plan again is Kinkaid, who spasmed something of a career season at 28. And even that overall was a .913, and without that incredible March it’s a lot worse. A hot month-plus is not something you’d call a foundation, so the Devils can only have more questions than answers about their goalie situation. And in case it all goes to pot, Eddie Lack is next in line. That’s a sentence you’d see scrawled on the wall of a rubber room.

The best case for the Devils is that Schneider is back early. But even that could be anything. This is not a good start.

Defense: This is a more intriguing unit than it appears at first glance. It’s led by longtime-servant and oh-that-dude Andy Greene, and including him the rest of the likely group is pretty nimble. That doesn’t mean that they’re any good, but they can get around the ice and given how the Devils want to play now, that fits perfectly. John Moore has departed just before he was egged and TP’d by Devils fans, which should see Will Butcher slide up the lineup. I still contend Sami Vatanen only helps you on the power play and gets utterly mullered at even-strength, but he looks to be serving out the top pairing with Greene.

Butcher is the one to watch, as last year he was able to dominate as a third-pairing bum-slayer while bum-dragging Ben Lovejoy over the ice every night. Damon Severson, while not making really doing anything that you’ll remember, is a huge upgrade in partner. Mirco Mueller and his hilariously long neck will now be on the third-pairing with Steven Santini, who are both pretty mobile themselves. Santini was thrown into the deep end at the beginning of last year with Greene, and the results were so horrific he was exiled to Binghamton, truly a hellish fate, in January and never heard from again. He’s much better suited for the third pairing, and this unit could actually be more dynamic than you’d think, and is clearly the big hope the Devils can surprise again.

Forwards: It starts and ends with Hall. When you beat out that season from Nathan MacKinnon (which he shouldn’t have but it’s hardly scandalous) to win the Hart, you’ve really done something. Hall dragged this team by the dick into relevance, even though he was the only threat anyone had to pay attention to. It mattered not. It’ll take that season again for the Devils to come anywhere near the playoffs again.

Hischier could improve in his second season, though that’s a mark that has seen some stumble. There won’t be any hiding this time, as he’s the #1 center from jump street. He’ll be flanked by Palmieri again, who I’m fairly sure I can’t identify what he does and yet he keeps ending up with 25 goals, so what do I know? Also, a guy named “Palmieri” playing in New Jersey is just about as perfect as it gets. HEY! GABBA-GOUL!

You could look for a breakout year from Marcus Johansson, as it just so happens to be his walk year. The Devils are going to need it, because it gets awfully thin awfully quick. Pavel Zacha is the #2 center, and his name has been a definition of flattering to deceive since he walked into the league. Jesper Bratt flashed at times last year but found consistency hard to come by. You can throw Blake Coleman, Stefan Noesen, Miles Wood, and Joseph Anderson in a bag, toss them around, and empty it in any order and none of you would be able to tell which is which.

Whatever the skill-level here, the Devils have packed this lineup with speed everywhere. So they could overwhelm some teams simply by putting cayenne pepper on their balls and turning up the volume to a point where the opponent couldn’t live with it (they did it to the Hawks twice). More teams are trending this way and the Devils won’t be able to catch as many by surprise. They’ll have to hope they catch enough napping in the doldrums of January and February to rack up the points they’ll need.

Outlook: Well, the Devils are kind of in between the different strata of the Metro. They’re not really all that close to the Penguins, Caps, or Jackets (as long as Bob is interested). They’re far better than the Rangers, Islanders, and almost certainly the Hurricanes if they continue to try and turn themselves into rock people.

That leaves them with the Flyers in the middle, possibly the Canes if they find goaltending. With the Panthers expected to compete hard for a wild card spot as well, there might be only one wild card spot for the Metro. A lot went right for the Devils, but given their youth and that growth is not always linear, along with the questions in net, it could be a lot rockier trip for them this time around. Likely they miss out while still taking steps forward in their development. Which could make things ultra-tricky, as Hall enters the last year of his deal next year, and he’s going to want proof that it’s worth sticking around New Jersey. Otherwise, next summer could be filled with Hall trade rumors, which would definitely set the Devils back a ton.

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Everything Else

 at 

Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: WGN Ch. 9, WGN-AM 720
Bullying The Jukebox: All About The Jersey

One of the odd offshoots of there being no more Circus Trip for the Hawks (because there is no more circus for anyone) is the Hawks are now taking one of their longest road trips of the year over the Christmas and New Year holidays, depriving all of us of the traditional Boxing Day (or thereabouts) game at the UC. Stop two of said trip brings them to Newark tonight after Dallas to face a surprisingly competent Devils team that’s still managing fight for the lead of the Metro.

Everything Else

I’ll name it that because A) It’s true and B) I don’t know what the hell else we would talk about when it comes to New Jersey. Certainly not their hockey team, and certainly not the ambience. But I guess that’s our lot in life, so we’ll address Nico Hishier, Taylor Hall (for the 50 games he’s actually upright for), and whatever the hell else isn’t wearing green and red like they should be.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

’16-’17 Record: 28-40-14  70 points (dead-ass last in the Metro)

Team Stats 5vs: 47.8 CF% (27th)  47.4 SF% (26th)  47.7 SCF% (26th)  6.2 SH% (28th)  .924 SV% (14th)

Special Teams: 17.5 PP% (22nd)  79.6 SV% (23rd)