The New Jersey Devils (18-18-9) close out their four-game road trip against the Western Conference at the Xcel Energy Center when they face the Minnesota Wild (28-9-5) tonight in their second and final meeting of the season. In their previous meeting, back on October 22nd, New Jersey beat Minnesota, 2-1, and outshot them 32-29. Joel Erikson Ek (who now plays in the Swedish Hockey League, on loan from Minnesota) and P.A. Parenteau scored the regulation goals, and Taylor Hall scored in overtime on an unreal pass from Adam Henrique (I’m starting to sense a pattern here). They failed to score on their three power plays but killed all three of Minnesota’s.
Minnesota now leads the Western Conference with 61 points after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks, 3-2, Sunday night. New Jersey is five points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the final wild card spot in the East with three teams in front of them; they’ve also played 45 games, which is more than most of the teams in the East. They defeated the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night in overtime, 2-1. Kyle Quincey scored the regulation goal and Taylor Hall scored in OT after a terrific back check by Travis Zajac to initiate the odd man rush.
Cory Schneider (13-14-7) will be in net tonight, which comes as no surprise after his last few outings. Schneider started six straight games until Keith Kinkaid (5-4-2) took over in net for Friday night’s game against Calgary but Schneider was in net against Vancouver and made 21 saves on 22 shots. He has played significantly better recently; his save % has slowly crept back up to .910 and has made many, many highlight reel saves.
The team, as a whole, has played much better as of late, especially on this four-game road trip. They won their games against Calgary (in regulation) and Vancouver (in overtime), and lost in overtime to Edmonton to start the trip (because of a bench mishap). The Devils won’t see these teams again until next season. They have accumulated five out of a possible six points. The team is taking more shots on goal, looking for more rebounds, and trying to keep the puck out of their zone as much as possible.
New Jersey also gets to see both Zach Parise and Scott Stevens one last time this season. Assistant Coach Stevens was already received warmly at The Rock. Parise is an alternate captain for the Wild and is having a ho-hum season; he has eight goals and 12 assists in 33 games played. Minnesota’s Eric Staal (15-24-39) and Mikael Granlund (10-25-35) are both having great seasons, and Minnesota has six forwards with more than 10 goals.
(As a Devils fan, I’m no longer bitter that Parise left [he left for the right reasons] but whenever I do get into a frenzy about the team, I wonder where they would be today if both Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk had decided to stay after the 2011-12 season.)
Hall called this trip a “make or break” for the Devils and if they continue playing the way they have against a team that is not going to give them anything, they could have seven points by the end of tonight. Their playoff hopes are still alive on paper but they have a long way to go in a very tough division and conference. There’s still plenty of hockey left and if you’re still standing by this team, just as I am, puck drops at 8PM tonight.