The Cardiff Devils come into this weekends matchups against the Manchester Storm and Fife Flyers in top spot of the EIHL, just one point above the Belfast Giants who have title ambitions of their own, in what could be one of the tighest races to the finish line in league history.
Cardiff took over the top spot following their 4 – 3 victory over the Guildford Flames on New Years Day, and with a game still in hand over the Giants, they could really push on with their charge this weekend.
Joey Haddad could make a return after missing the previous game to rest an apparent lower body injury, but after the month he’s had (earning a chance at being named EIHL Player of the Month for December), his return could be vital to the teams success this weekend and going forward. Tom Murdy isn’t expected back for a little bit so we could see Jordan Lawday return as back up after 16-year-old Ben Scanlan took that role midweek. Other than that, the Devils are expected to have a clean bill of health.
With Haddad potentially returning, we could see similar line combinations as to recent weeks both forwards and defensively.
In the Devils 6 – 2 victory over the Coventry Blaze on December 27th, they utilised a very similar lineup with the only question mark being Evan Mosey, but it’s a good question mark in the teams lineup.
Mosey is the only question around where he plays, as you can see he’s previously played on the Devils fourth line with Sam Duggan and Matthew Myers, but he’s moved around a lot during the game spending time on defence to give guys a rest after a lengthy penalty kill for example.
So with a preview of what the line combinations could be, let’s check out the opponents.
POSITION – 10th
RECORD – 13-17-3 (29 pts)
PREVIOUS GAMES V DEVILS
06.10.18 – 4 – 1 Loss
24.11.18 – 5 – 4 OT Loss
15.12.18 – 5 – 2 Loss
A different side to the team that finished second last season, the Storm have had well documented struggles this season, playing a crash and bang style of game that often toes the line of legality in terms of hits, they come into Saturdays matchup with five wins in their last 10 games, but searching for their first win over Cardiff in the current campaign, earning just one point out of a possible six so far after a 5 – 4 overtime loss in November.
Last season, the Storm were a rare trump card for the Devils, winning three out of four meetings between the two sides, now the Storm are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff push.
Between the pipes, Matt Ginn has been solid for the Storm, backstopping them as best he can and putting up a respectable .904 save percentage in league action, but a league worst 3.43 goals against average among starting goalies.
While Ginn does his best between the sticks, defensively is where the question lies. As a unit, they’ve allowed the second most goals, with 121 but as an average of 3.66 goals against each game they are behind the Milton Keynes Lightning who just edge them with 3.58.
They do have some big imposing defensemen to get past like Harrison Ruopp, Declan Balmer Dallas Ehrhardt, and especially a tough character in Linden Springer, there’s a reason why the Storm are the most penalised team in the league, and their defence is a big part of that.
While intimidation can work as a deterrent that could throw the opposition off their game slightly, with a penalty kill percentage of 83.8% it does punish them slightly but as a unit that’s a decent percentage to have, and actually higher than the Devils at 81.1%.
However, coming into a game against the league’s best powerplay, the Storm will really need to focus on continuing to play their physically dominant style of game but pick their moments carefully to not give the Devils any chance at a quick strike on the man advantage.
While questions are raised from the blueline backwards with the Storm, going forward they do have some guys who could walk into any locker room in the EIHL and be a first line guy. Mike Hammond for example is once again having a great season with 37 points in 26 games, while British forward Ciaran Long is making himself a household name on their first line wing.
The line combinations above were used in the Storms last outing, and could be relatively similar on Saturday night.
While they do have some great offensive numbers from Moffat, Long and Luke Moffatt among others, depth scoring is where this game could be decided. Manchester are one of three teams left in the league yet to reach 100 goals on the season, but if Ryan Finnerty can get all his lines going it’ll really open this game up and could be another close call for the Devils.
POSITION – 4th
RECORD – 17-11-4 (38pts)
PREVIOUS GAMES V DEVILS
21.10.18 – 7 – 2 Loss
07.11.18 – 5 – 4 OT Win
21.11.18 – 3 – 2 Loss
01.12.18 – 8 – 3 Loss
From a team fighting for at least a playoff spot to a team who are on the fringes of a title challenge, the Fife Flyers have finished their visits to South Wales for the year (barring any potential playoff matchups) so the Devils will travel to Scotland for this meeting, the fifth meeting between the sides, before the sixth and final meeting takes place later in the month.
Both teams have some high flying forwards like Charles Linglet in Cardiff and the likes of former Devil Paul Crowder in Fife.
The Flyers have been bolstered by the return of both Evan Bloodoff and Chase Schaber who have both missed time through injury, while Carlo Finucci is also back after his two-game suspension.
It’s been an interesting series between the two sides so far in the 2018/19 season, with Cardiff taking three out of the four wins, two in convincing style (a 7 – 2 home win in October and an 8 – 3 road win in December), with the other two contests being decided by a single goal, with the first being a Fife win in overtime so the Devils have only dropped a single point against the Flyers so far.
Defensively is where this game will be decided, and that’s where it’ll be advantage to the Devils with the way they’ve performed not just recently but for most of the season. Over the course of the season they’ve average 2.5 goals against compared to the 3.25 allowed by Fife.
Shane Owen has been fantastic for Fife in his return to Kirkcaldy so if he can be on top form once more he’ll really give the Flyers a chance, with the team coming into the game following a core from behind 4 – 3 win over the Milton Keynes Lightning midweek.
With Owen impressing so much, the guys in front of him need to play just as well. Defensively the team as some great talent both home grown and imports. Evan Stoflet is having a solid year with the Flyers, while young defenseman Reece Cochrane is getting a good shot at ice time to develop into a great talent in the future.
While defensively you could argue the Flyers aren’t as well rounded as the Devils, they still have a great ability in their ranks to cause headaches for opposing forwards, something they haven’t been able to do too much against the Devils however, allowing an average of 5.75 goals against in their four previous meetings with Cardiff.
Up front they have no issue. They don’t have a guy in the top 10 for league scoring because it’s more of a team effort up front. Former Devil Paul Crowder still leads the side with 38-points with the centreman enjoying an elevated roll, no longer stuck behind the likes of Joey Martin and Layne Ulmer which forced him into a third line role last year, now as the teams number one centre, he’s come up big for Todd Dutiaume’s side.
With key forwards returning, in particular Evan Bloodoff, it gives the Flyers an extra edge to their game. Bloodoff is one of the quickest guys in the league and most importantly his hands can keep up with his speed, add in that he’s also not shy of the rough stuff and he’s a key component of the Flyers success this year. Chase Schaber as well may be lacking match fitness but once his legs are going underneath him again, he’s a proven game changing talent.
Fife will need to ensure they play a good shut down game and solid counter attacking hockey to defeat the Devils. In their trips to South Wales they’ve played a lot of dump and chase hockey which hasn’t amounted to too much, but if they can get the fundamentals right, they could grab the two points, however the confidence flowing through Cardiff right now means that for Manchester and Fife, they’ll face a very formidable opponent this weekend in the Cardiff Devils.