Yahweh has risen up against New Jersey,
he has cast judgment upon Assyria.
Their best men are aging or injured,
and their new rink is utterly desolate.
The Panthers and Thrashers will break slumps there,
and teams from the West circle them as a sure win.
The Islanders and Rangers will treat New Jersey like home,
and their hooting fans will echo over a silent throng.
Every weakness has already been exposed,
and God's judgment is only just beginning.
The fans are the fans of arrogance,
who lived in safety for so many years.
They said to themselves,
"In Lou We Trust! There is no other!"
What a ruin they have become,
a laughingstock around the league!
All who look at them scoff,
and smile wryly at their fall.
Edmonton Oilers (4-8-2) @4-10-2)
Prudential Center, 5:00 p.m. MST
Television: Sportsnet West
More analysis after the jump...
Visiting Team Scouting Report:
Is it too early to talk about "S'injurier pour Couturier"? Because this could be a swing game in that regard if the Devils (or Oilers, but... yeah) can't get things turned around right quick. With Zach Parise down and out for several months, things don't look good for the Devils. Before the season began, I picked the Devils to win their division and finish with a goal differential of about +35, but right now, they're dead last in the NHL and have a goal differential of -24. So what's changed from last season? Well, let's take a look down the rabbit hole.
Last season the Devils had a goal differential of +31, which would project to about +6 over the first sixteen games of the season, a difference of thirty goals from where they are now. Since most of the game is played at EV, we'll start there. Last season, the Devils outshot their opponents at EV, earning 51.7% of the total EV shots. They had a team EV save percentage of .927 and a team EV shooting percentage of 7.4%. This year? They've actually had a higher percentage of the total shots at 52.7% (although those numbers are being juiced by playing a lot from behind; they haven't been nearly that good with the score close), but they've been abandoned by the percentages. The team shooting percentage at EV is now only 5.5%, and the team save percentage at EV is a truly terrible .900. Even if the Devils returned to last season's shooting volume, the low shooting percentage has cost them an extra seven goals, and the massive drop in save percentage has cost them another nine. That's half the difference right there, and it's the kind of thing we probably can't blame on good old Ilya. The guy's one elite skill (that's universally acknowledged) is shooting the puck.
But that isn't where the EV problems end; the Devils also aren't drawing penalties the way they did last season. In 2009-10, the Devils averaged 5.4 power plays per game. This season, that's down to 3.0 power plays per game. And when they do get on the power play, they've been atrocious - they have the lowest power play goal differential in the league at only +0.041 per power play opportunity compared to +0.169 a year ago. Those changes have cost the Devils about fourteen goals so far this season. Finally, we have the penalty killing, which has been a pretty respectable unit so far this season in New Jersey. However, the Devils lead the league in 2009-10 by allowing only 2.9 power plays against per game; this year, they're up to 3.6. They've also been slightly less efficient killing penalties with a goal differential of -0.157 per time shorthanded compared to -0.142 a year ago. The difference is only two goals so far, but it projects to a 12-goal difference over 82 games, which is pretty significant considering that's a part of their game that looks like it's working pretty well.
Now, that actually adds up to 32 and not 30, but you get the idea. The Devils have regressed everywhere, and have done so to an extreme in most cases. Is this something they'll be able to overcome? I tend to think not if overcoming means making the playoffs, but I do think this team will stabilize and finish the year with about 80 points. The power play number is historically bad, so that's one area that's bound to improve (say what you will about Kovalchuk, but the Atlanta PP had much better results than this). The goaltending and shooting are both a lock to be better at EV too (although some of those gains will likely be offset somewhat by the shooting numbers trending closer to 50% as the Devils spend less time trailing). Zach Parise's injury (as some others on top of it) will make it very difficult for New Jersey to get back into the playoff hunt, but if I was picking between them and the Oilers, I'd be taking the Devils every time.
Edmonton Oilers (4-8-2):
Hall - Gagner - Hemsky
Penner - Cogliano - Eberle
Paajarvi - Brule - Jones
Fraser - Stortini
Whitney - Peckham
Smid - Foster
Strudwick - Gilbert - Vandermeer
New Jersey Devils (4-10-2)
Kovalchuk - Zajac - Langenbrunner
Elias - Arnott - Tedenby
Vasyunov - Zubrus - Clarkson
Mair - Pelley - Gionta
White - Tallinder
Greene - Volchenkov
Magnan - Taormina
By the Numbers:
- It feels like we've been making fun of Nikolai Khabibulin forever - his GAA as an Oiler is worse than Ty Conklin's, Jussi Markkannen's, and Mike Morrison's! - but did you know that he's won fewer games as an Oiler than Mikhail Shtalenkov?