New Jersey Devils at San Jose Sharks - 10:30 pm
"The Shark Tank" at the SAP Center - San Jose, California
TV: MSG+ Radio: WFAN 101.9 fm, 660 am
The New Jersey Devils have pulled themselves out of the through the dark times and have emerged as one of the more intimidating teams in the East. This recent stretch of gritty 6-1-1 hockey has revealed a stalwart defense and tenacious offense that, while not high scoring, is capable of pulling goals out of thin air, no matter how late in the game. Combine these two factors with an out-of-this-world rotation of Jennings Trophy winning goalies, and it becomes pretty apparent why the Devils and their fans have been holding their heads pretty high.
Tonight, Jersey's team continues their road trip along the Pacific coast with another California game as they matchup against the San Jose Sharks. At 76 goals for (good for 2nd in the NHL) and only 47 against (4th in the NHL), this is the toughest challenge the Devils have faced since their hot streak began over 2 weeks ago at Philadelphia. 4 Sharks forwards have registered more than 20 points and another 2 are closing in at 18 and 16. And, the Sharks also have 2 big blue-line threats in Danny Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic who have managed 9 and 11 points respectively in spite of limitations from injuries. With San Jose's offense putting up points left and right, and Antti Niemi and his defense keeping the opposition stumped, New Jersey is going to have to work all night long and keep their opponents' shot totals much lower than the 32 they allowed to LA in regulation on Thursday to take this one home.
Some thoughts on tonight's game:
1. Keep San Jose's forwards in check. It's one of the oldest adages in competition, the unstoppable force against the immovable object. Lead by the superstars between the pipes, the New Jersey Devils have put up some defensive numbers that would make the 3 men in the Newark rafters proud. Only twice this month have opponents managed 3 or more goals against New Jersey. On the other hand, San Jose's 76 goals this year is good for a 3.5 goals-per-game average. If the Devils want this game, it's imperative that they keep them below that number.
2. Have the better penalty kill. The 2 teams locking horns tonight have 2 of the best PK's in the game today, with the Devils at 6 and the Sharks at 10. Conversely, while each team has shown that they have the ability to put up goals on the power play, their percentages are not overwhelming. The winning team will have to maintain the winning tradition they've set-up on the Kill
3. Who will win the duel; Niemi or Brodeur? Tonight the fans will see a battle between two of the best goalies in the game right now. Both former Stanley Cup winners have GAA's in the low 2's (Brodeur has a strong edge, but in only 2/3 of the games), outstanding win loss records, and nearly identical save percentages with Brodeur at .915 and Niemi at .916. The best show tonight for either team is probably going to come from the two men guarding the crease.
Prediction - Sharks 4, Devils 2
Both teams are coming off of big wins on Thursday night. The Sharks owned Tampa Bay 5-1 and the Devils got a small slice of revenge against Ben Scrivens and the Kings for the shutout 6 days before. Under ideal conditions, with both teams playing the way they are, this could be one of the best matchups of the year, maybe even too close to call. But unfortunately for the Jersey faithful, the team has played more games recently, and all of them against stiff competition. I can't see them having the legs to make the impact that they need on the scoreboard, or to keep the Sharks off the board. Not a bad game from the Devs, but not enough for another W out in Cali.
Enjoy the game, everyone.