The Detroit Red Wings have a trap game-and-a-half on their hands tomorrow at Little Caesars Arena as they host theNew Jersey Devils (8 PM EST start on Bally Sports Detroit/MSG+/97.1 FM).
The Red Wings, who stand at 14-13-and-3 after last night’s 5-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, are going to be facing a 10-13-and-5 Devils team that has lost 4 straight games and 8 of their past 10, including their most recent loss, a bitter 5-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.
As you and I know by now, the Wings have tended to rise to the occasion against their best opponents, and have fallen short against teams that are struggling, and New Jersey defines a “struggling team” right now.
Neither team practiced today, and both teams have players in COVID protocols, so we don’t know too much about the respective teams’ lineups for tomorrow, other than the fact that Jonathan Bernier (hip) will not be healthy enough to face his former employer.
NewJerseyDevils.com’s Catherine Bogart and Sam Kasan offer the following preview of tomorrow’s game:
New Jersey has dropped its last four contests including 5-3 on Thursday against the Golden Knights. New Jersey has a 10-13-5 record this season.
In addition, the team has played with a depleted roster, losing four players to the COVID protocol list: Nico Hischier, Ryan Graves, Christian Jaros, and Jesper Boqvist. Boqvist was added to the list before Thursday’s game after being held out of morning skate for precautionary reasons. Ahead of the game against Vegas, the Devils held out P.K. Subban for precautionary reasons.
Other players on the Devils roster have battled a non-COVID related illness, however the team made a turn for the better on Thursday.
Jesper Bratt leads the team with assists (16) and points (24), while Andreas Johnsson and Pavel Zacha are pacing the Devils with 9 goals each. Mackenzie Blackwood has a 3.14 goals against average and a .902 save percentage. He’s played in 16 games with 15 starts with a 5-6-3 record.
The Devils have a busy week before the NHL breaks for the holidays. Following the trip to Michigan Saturday, New Jersey returns home to play the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday for Star Wars Night. The team hits the road again to head to Pittsburgh for a Tuesday night matchup against the Penguins before rounding out the week with a home contest against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.
BOTTOM LINE: New Jersey heads into the matchup with Detroit as losers of four straight games.
The Red Wings are 8-7-2 in conference play. Detroit ranks 10th in the Eastern Conference with 29.2 shots per game and is averaging 2.7 goals.
The Devils are 4-3-2 against opponents from the Metropolitan. New Jersey is 10th in the Eastern Conference averaging 4.6 assists per game, led by Jesper Bratt with 0.6.
The matchup Saturday is the first meeting this season for the two teams.
Bratt leads the Devils with 16 total assists and has 24 points. Tomas Tatar has three goals and two assists over the last 10 games for New Jersey.
LAST 10 GAMES: Red Wings: 6-4-0, averaging 2.8 goals, 4.8 assists, 2.8 penalties and 6.5 penalty minutes while giving up 3.1 goals per game with a .904 save percentage.
Devils: 2-7-1, averaging 2.6 goals, 4.3 assists, 3.6 penalties and 8.9 penalty minutes while allowing 3.8 goals per game with an .872 save percentage.
Again, no practices for either team mean that there were no press conferences today, so we will look back to New Jersey’s loss to Vegas on Thursday, per the Associated Press’s recap…
”Everything’s tough right now, we’re not scoring, we’re giving up goals,” Devils defenseman Dougie Hamilton said. ”Everything’s tough so … we’re all working, working through it. Trying to stay positive.”
[Jack] Hughes opened the scoring 1:41 in with his fifth goal of the season. Hughes has three goals in his last seven games.
[Dylan] Coghlan, a last-minute addition to the starting lineup in place of late scratch Shea Theodore, tied it on the power play at 10:27 of the first with his second goal of the season.
[William] Carrier put Vegas ahead at 3:47 of the second with his fourth goal this season. Karlsson got his third of the season at 7:27 of the third, and Roy made it 4-1 just 33 seconds later with his fifth goal.
[Tomas] Tatar scored on the power play at 10:03 of the third, his sixth goal, before Vesey narrowed the deficit to 4-3 with a short-handed goal at 12:29. The goal was Vesey’s fifth this season and his second short-handed.
”We were definitely making a push in the third period,” Vesey said. ”We’ve lost more than we would have liked lately, but there are stretches of the games where we’re playing well, and I think we got to capitalize a little more, or bear down a little bit more defensively.”
The Devils were coming off a 6-1 road drubbing by the Flyers on Tuesday after a 4-2 road loss to the Islanders last Saturday.
”I thought for where we were at as a team, we gave it everything we had,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. ”We needed to play a tight game. We made a couple of mistakes that that hurt us but again, we battled hard to come back … I thought the effort gave us chance to win the game.”
New Jersey was without four players who are in the NHL COVID-19 protocol: defensemen Ryan Graves and Christian Jaros, and forwards Nico Hischier and Jesper Boqvist. Defenseman P.K. Subban did not play for precautionary reasons.
“Everything’s tough right now … we’re not scoring, we’re giving up goals,” Devils defenseman Dougie Hamilton said. “We’re all working, working through it, trying to stay positive. We got a lot of young guys, but there are no excuses, no reason to be negative. Obviously, we’re losing a lot and it [stinks], but we have to keep coming, keep working and keep getting better.”
“[The Hughes line] has more ability to put the puck in the back of the net, so they’re going to play more than other lines and they did tonight,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “But I thought they left a few plays out there. Those are the plays that are going to make a difference. As much as I talk about the compete plays that go against us when we’re trying to defend, those are the offensive plays that will make us a team that can score three or four a night. That’ll give us a better chance to win every game.”
Tatar’s power-play goal from the high slot pulled New Jersey within 4-2 at 10:03 of the third. Jimmy Vesey cut it to 4-3 with a shorthanded goal off a deflection at 12:29.
“We just got to find a way to put it all together,” Vesey said. “The youth of our team … some mistakes are to be expected. But we got to find a way to not make the glaring ones.”
We’ve heard the Red Wings issuing similar remarks regarding their own mistakes, as well as the theory that their play is trending upward, but not quite “there yet” away from Little Caesars Arena.
Here’s the Devils’ roster, too, per Amanda Stein, whose handwriting is famous around the league (really):
And I said “bitter loss” because Sportsnet’s highlights of the game…
Don’t focus on what happened at the end of the game, with New Jersey instigating a massive scrum:
The Devils are still a “send a message” kind of team, in addition to being dangerously explosive on offense, but they do make mistakes, and the Red Wings are going to have to capitalize upon them as Detroit plays on what will probably be bad ice at LCA (due to the noon Pistons game) on Saturday night.
New Jersey is plucky, and they’re going to be looking for a fight of a different kind against Detroit. We’ll see whether the Red Wings dictate the pace of said scrap tomorrow night at this time.