September 08, 2023

Bryce Salvador

Akira looks to get the first consecutive start of his career!

Well, tonight's matchup is one of those dangerous games that I don't like. It's a game where you're playing a team with nothing to lose, the Montréal Canadiens, whose primary focus is being a spoiler.
The Devils need to expect that MTL will bring a strong effort tonight. They have guys in the lineup fighting for ice time and roster spots, trying to impress head coach Marty St. Louis for next year. And more to my point, even though they are 0-3-2 in their last five games, each one of their losses was decided by one goal. Furthermore, MTL scored first in their previous two home games; they ultimately lost both in overtime but had 2-1 leads in each game going into the 2nd period. So they come ready to play at home. Lastly, when you dig deeper, you must respect the fact that four out of the five teams they lost to are top 10 in the NHL standings: Carolina Hurricanes (#2), Vegas Golden Knights (#5), Los Angeles Kings (#6), and New York Rangers (#9) - Anaheim was the fifth team they played. 

From the Devils' perspective, the last game vs. MTL was a game you don't want to remember, and it should remind everyone that you have respect for every team in the NHL, regardless of what the standings show.
In that 5-2 loss, the Devils were quite sloppy and gave Montreal a lot of free offense off their 17 turnovers, three of which directly led to transition goals. (That was the Devils' most turnovers since their 29 in their loss to CAR on 1/1/2023.) In tonight's game, I expect the Devils to bring a tighter checking game with much better puck management in all zones!

I love Coach Ruff's decision to give Akira this game tonight too. As I mentioned in the last pre-scout before the WSH game, Vitek Vanecek has looked mentally tired lately and needed rest to be sharp and focused for his assumed start tomorrow vs. Carolina.
Vitek is in the phase of learning to manage the expectations of becoming a number one goalie and everything associated with that role. Especially the tremendous pressure that comes along with being the goalie your team solely relies on most nights. With 17 games left after tonight's game, #41 needs as much strategic rest as possible as he might need to start 10-13 of those remaining games as the team is fighting for home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
Akira's performance against Washington was excellent, and he stood tall when it mattered in the shoutout. He made all the saves he should have during regulation and OT, stopping 20 of 22 shots, and then rose to the occasion by not conceding a shootout goal. And we're talking about having to make saves against some of the greatest shootout finishers in the game! Akira stopped TJ Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, and the Great 8, Alex Ovechkin. So, talk about a surreal moment for Akira, who told Erika Wachter and me after the game that he's had dreams about facing Ovi his whole life!

Dawson Mercer has officially arrived. Here's a 21-year-old kid who seized an opportunity to elevate his game by playing on the wing of Captain Nico. That line's last ten games have been dominant, with Mercer leading the way with his 11 goals. It is safe to say that his 19 points in 11 games is exceptional. During Dawson's 11-game point streak, he has scored the Devils' first goal of the game three times, has four game-time goals, one power-play goal, and two goals were game-winning goals.
On top of that, he has started to also shine on the PP, factoring in on five of the Devils' last six PP goals. More impressive is that four of those recent PP points have come while he's played on the 2nd PP unit, making that unit lethal. And three of his four PP assists have been primary assists. Talk about becoming an essential, versatile player for coach Ruff!

Due to flying back from Montreal, the quick turnaround, customs, and losing an hour to the daylight savings time change, there will be no pre-scout for the Carolina game tomorrow. The only two critical things about the game against Carolina are that the Devils get the W in regulation, and they keep the "Ghost" in check!

Carolina made an under-the-radar trade, acquiring Shayne Gostisbehere, which is already paying tremendous dividends on their PP. Since March 3, the Hurricane's power play has been ignited and firing at conversion rates typically unseen for them, converting at 53.3%, scoring 8 PPGs on 15 opportunities. Shayne has four points in four games, and they've all been on the PP, scoring two goals and adding two assists. It's been quite the trade so far, as we're talking about a team whose PP, before adding Shayne, was 23rd in the NHL, converting at 19.4%. GM Don Wadell specifically mentioned their PP as the area they needed help with the most and why they went out and got the GHOST.




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