The New Jersey Devils started off hot on a road trip, winning their first three games of the season. But they have yet to win their first game at home. Good thing the Stars are playing them in New Jersey, eh?
In preparation for that, and for those of you who forget sometimes that Eastern Conference teams exist (a wholly forgivable offence), we've called in John Fischer of New Jersey Devils' blog In Lou We Trust to get us up to speed on tonight's opponent.
My questions, his answers:
1. This year's version of the Dallas Stars has a potentially explosive offense, as evidenced by the 11 goals scored over the past two games. How will the Devils contain the multiple threats of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Jason Spezza?
Fantastic question. My gut feeling tells me their best bet is divine intervention.
More seriously, the Devils are home so Peter DeBoer will identify a good match up and adjust as needed. The pairing of Andy Greene & Damon Severson features one defenseman who has done well against tough competition and one rookie who has done well so far. I'm not sure what forward line will match them, but you can be sure they will clog the neutral zone. The Devils aren't a low-event team by accident. They regularly apply pressure in the neutral zone to force dump ins, making the defensive job easier. So that line of massive power is going to have to do a lot of chasing and/or prepare for counter-attacks.
2. This year's version of the Dallas Stars has a potentially disastrous defense, as evidenced by the 9 goals scored against over the past two games. How will the Devils exploit the multiple weaknesses of the Stars blueline?
The Devils have atypically broken the 30 shot mark in their last two home games. As those games were at home, that's impressive since the shot counter in NJ has been historically stingy. So I'm expecting NJ to put a lot of rubber on net.
The Devils tend to generate a lot of offense down low. The fourth line will chip and chase; the others tend to build off cycles. The defense can and will bomb shots from distance. Should they win a puck in the neutral zone and it's not the end of the shift, they'll push for an odd-man rush. So the Dallas defense and forwards will be seen in the corners and behind the net quite a bit. Their centers should make a point of it to mind the slot. [Ed. note: You hear that, Cody Eakin?]
3. A great start for the Devils this year, with road wins against the Flyers, Panthers, and Lightning, and scoring 13 goals in the process. But then the second week wasn't so great, with three straight losses. Let's hear it then, the knee-jerk reaction after two weeks worth of games. What do you now expect from the Devils this season?
The knee-jerk reaction is to fire everyone, namely Bryce Salvador out of a cannon, and start from ashes. Fortunately, such reactions don't drive how the Devils do business. My expectations really haven't changed. The goal is to make the playoffs and I think they'll do that. 3 wins followed by 3 non-wins can happen to any team. The latter hasn't been so bad to override the good in the wins. Provided the PK gets back to at least average and mistakes are cut out, I think the Devils will be fine.
4. What offseason event is going to have the biggest impact on this club? The departure of Martin Brodeur and Cory Schneider's ensuing time to shine? The arrival of Mike Cammalerri in free agency? Or something else entirely?
Easily Schneider taking over Brodeur. Cory Schneider's Sv% is only so low now because of the PK, but that'll rebound. Schneider was clearly better than Brodeur last season. I'd like to think that would be the case for this season, but the Devils made the wise move of cutting him loose. Given that the Devils will probably still be a low scoring team again for the umpteenth season, a reduction in goals against is massive. I think it'll be a key reason they'll make the playoffs this season.
5. Like the Stars, the New Jersey defense contains a lot of young players. Who's primed for a breakout? Any rookies or prospects, either defense or offense, that we should be keeping an eye on?
Damon Severson is the man to know. He made the team right out of camp. I wasn't that impressed with him in preseason but he has emerged. He's been paired with Greene and has received time on special teams. He's been defending against the other team's best - Stamkos, Ovechkin, Thornton, (I think) Giroux - and coming out ahead in possession. That's remarkable for anyone, much less a 20 year old in his first full pro season. He'll bomb the puck but not to a degree where that's all he does. He's resolute going backwards. He's been quite good now and the hope is that he's for real. Severson has made a big believer out of a lot of fans (myself almost included) and even an opposing coach like Larry Robinson. Severson wears #28. Look for him.
6. And lastly, honest answer. Stars v Devils, call it.
Devils 4 - Dallas 2 with an ENG. Homer pick but it's Chico Night, so it's totally appropriate. [Ed. note: I said honest answer!] [Ed. ed. note: Just kidding. Looking forward to Chico Night!]