By Dave Turner
New Jersey Devils (11-9-5) vs. Winnipeg Jets (12-11-1) 7:00 pm Prudential Center, Newark, NJ
Well, so much for getting on a win streak. After the Devils got dismantled in Carolina last night, they were left searching for answers yet again.
After the spirited win against the Sabres, things were finally pointing up, but that sentiment disappeared quickly. As bad as last night was, the team MUST focus on tonight.
Some thoughts/questions going into tonight’s game:
1. Make no doubt about it, this is a must win. One win against the Sabres in a shootout means absolutely nothing if you follow it up with two consecutive losses. The Devils are on the verge of falling out of the playoff picture and if they don’t figure things out soon, they may free-fall towards the bottom of the conference.
2. The defense, which was horrid last night, must be better. A lot of people want to pin last night’s loss on Johan Hedberg, but I don’t think that’s right. Though he wasn’t very good, the first three goals against were due to major defensive lapses. If you leave your goalie out to dry, chances are teams will score goals on you. The defense has to be better tonight or else the Jets can easily put up four or five goals.
3. Ilya Kovalchuk stepped up last night, but how about David Clarkson? In my primer yesterday, I voiced my concern as to the recent lack of production from #17. He responded with two goals last night. David Clarkson has been as cold as anyone, not having scored in a staggering eleven games. Clarkson needs to start contributing if this team hopes to win some games.
4. For the 9th time in a row… can the Devils score first? Sure, surrendering the first goal isn’t exactly a death sentence, but the fact that the Devils have given up the first goal in now NINE straight games is troubling. When you’re a team lacking confidence like the Devils are right now, scoring first and having a chance to build on a lead is key. One of the biggest issues for the Devils over this streak has been that they’ve barely even had leads in any of these games. The Devils have led for a grand total of 23:35 over the course of the last nine games. That putrid number is going to result in a lot of losses.
5. Is it right to keep riding Hedberg? Though Moose was better against the Sabres, he wasn’t very good against the Canes. The defense left him down, but he still could have made a few big saves. Lets be honest, Jeff Frazee isn’t the answer. He should not be starting either, but wouldn’t it have made sense to at least call up Keith Kinkaid and give him a start? It’s not like he could do much worse.
Prediction: Jets 4 Devils 2
Can you really make the case for this team to win a game right now? The Jets have been playing well and with Cam Ward out in Carolina, the Jets have their eyes set at making a run towards the Southeast Division title. They’ve played the Devils well twice and they won’t come in to tonight with any trepidation. Factor in that the Jets have been in New Jersey since yesterday, while the Devils played last night and I think this will be a Jets win.
This is also a big game in terms of standings in the East. If the Jets win in regulation, they’ll tie the Devils for points at 27, but they’ll also hold the tiebreaker over New Jersey in regulation wins.
Today’s game is HUGE for the Devils. A win has them winning two of three and something positive to build on, but a loss has them reeling and out of the playoff picture.