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New Jersey Devils at Columbus Blue Jackets: Game Preview #9

Back on the road, the New Jersey Devils will visit the Columbus Blue Jackets in the hopes of getting their first road win of the season. This preview notes the expected lack of changes for the Devils and highlights what makes Columbus dangerous (and Ottawa-like).

There may or may not be chaos around Bobrovsky's net.  I suggest that the Devils could make some more tonight.
There may or may not be chaos around Bobrovsky's net. I suggest that the Devils could make some more tonight.
Kirk Irwin

The Devils are back on the road and still looking for their first road win.

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (1-4-3) at the Columbus Blue Jackets (3-5-0; SBN Blog: The Cannon)

The Last Devils Game: It was great! The Devils hosted Our Hated Rivals, the New York Rangers, for the first time this season. The previously winless-in-seven home team went up early and never looked back in a stingy, low-event game. Andrei Loktionov scored his first goal of the season and first of the game; Adam Henrique scored his second goal of the season for the second of the game in the first period; Michael Ryder scored a rare-so-far power play goal in the second period; and Dainius Zubrus banged in a rebound to make it 4-0 within the first forty minutes. The Rangers were listless and only took a lead in shots and attempts in the third period. Whatever they did generate was calmly stopped by Cory Schneider. The Devils finally got their first win of the season: a decisive 4-0 win over a hated rival. My recap of that game is here.

The Last Blue Jackets Game: Columbus, who lost their last four games in a row, hosted Vancouver on Sunday in the hopes that returning home would be better for business. They did get the result. Sergei Bobrovsky was given the night off in favor of Curtis McElhinney. He was sensational in repelling the Canucks' attack. He stopped 37 out of 38 shots, including a near-certain equalizer from Chris Higgins near the end of the game. Columbus went up early when Marian Gaborik scored in the first period. Penalty killing woes continued when Henrik Sedin converted a second period power play. However, R.J. Umberger finished off a great pass by Ryan Johansen to provide a go-ahead score in the third period. The home team held on, Johansen sealed the game with an empty netter, and Columbus' losing streak was over. They won 3-1 and Mike MacLean recapped the game over at The Cannon.

The Goal: Get that power play going and make an impact. The Devils' power play has been pitiful this season, Ryder's recent conversion notwithstanding. It's been shot-deficient, possession-poor, and very-hard-to-view. But tonight's game may be an opportunity to get something going. Columbus hasn't been the worst penalty killing team in the league but they're not far from dead last. The Blue Jackets' success rate is the fifth lowest in the league at 76%. The underlying numbers are just as low. Columbus has the sixth highest shots allowed per 60 rate in 4-on-5 play at 64.3 according to Extra Skater. They're not punching back at all as they have only two attempts and one shots on net in 4-on-5 situations. The goaltenders haven't been able to be a saving grace. While Bobrovsky has a great even strength save percentage, his penalty killing save percentage has been in the ditch. The only good news is that the Blue Jackets are relatively disciplined. They've only been shorthanded 25 times, the seventh fewest in the league, in their seven games played. It's not that the Devils need some power play success to win tonight, but my point is that they should be able to at least threaten to score. Then again, the Devils' power play has been so horrid in that regard that it's not a guarantee. It would make this game a lot easier if they can get some success, though.

Look for One Change: The Devils have been practicing the last two days and Damien Brunner is back. Tom Gulitti reported on Monday at Fire & Ice that he's OK and will return tonight. However, he's the only Devil to do so. While he is now eligible to come off of injured reserve, Ryane Clowe did not practice. Patrik Elias is still ill and Gulitti reported that he did not travel to Columbus. I wish Elias was feeling better as the offense would be more threatening with him involved than not, but sickness is what it is. So there will be only one change up front. Based on the lines Gulitti reported at practice on Monday, Brunner will line up with Loktionov and Zubrus. The one man to drop will either be Jacob Josefson or Mattias Tedenby, who were sharing a left wing spot with Travis Zajac and Ryder. If it were up to me, I'd make it Tedenby. While he wasn't awful in his two appearances, he didn't really do a whole lot to justify a third appearance. I'd rather have Josefson as an additional two-way forward to get a bigger role. Especially since Columbus has more than just one or two attacking threats.

The back end of the roster will likely remain the same. Gulitti reported that Cory Schneider will start this game and the defense isn't likely to change. Adam Larsson was rotating with Peter Harrold on the third pairing. As much as most would prefer Larsson playing in place of Harrold, I can understand the lack of change on the blueline. The Devils just got a shutout win while holding an opposition team who was losing for nearly for the entire game to less than 25 shots on net. You can't ask for a much better performance from a defensive perspective. So why change it?

Expect Shots: While the Devils got four goals on Saturday, I will ask that they get more shots on net. OK, getting four out of first twelve in the net is fantastic but that's not going to happen every night. The good news is that Columbus has been rather leaky when it comes to shots allowed. They have allowed an average of 33.5 shots per game, the seventh highest in the league. The lowest amount of shots they've allowed this season was 27, their other six games have been 30+. The Devils offense should be able to attack.

However, Columbus aren't a team to just let it happen. Like Ottawa, they punch back. They play a lot of high-event games. They have the eighth highest shots per game average at 32.2. Their power play success rate is a solid 20%. In 5-on-5 play, their Corsi percentage rate is just below 50% at 49.2% according to Extra Skater. Some of the player's possession rates at Extra Skater will surprise you. Jack Johnson hasn't been a black hole on the ice this season, he's just under 50%. The three former Rangers - Gaborik, Artem Anisimov, and Brandon Dubinsky - have been quite good at driving the play. Cam Atkinson, the team leader in shots with 30, and Nick Foligno - great news to read that his daughter will be OK - have both been fantastic. This is a team that may give up plenty of shots but they'll put them back. Good thing Peter DeBoer has Schneider in tonight. Hopefully the Devils defense can slow them down.

Active Cannons: From a production standpoint, Columbus can definitely do some damage. Based on the lines reported by Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch in Tuesday's practice, the team's spreading out their weapons. The top line features Atikinson, the team's leading shooter; Dubinsky, who has 21; and rookie Boone Jenner. Their second line has leading scorer Gaborik (three goals, five assists), Anisimov and Foligno will help set him up and keep things moving ahead. I'd almost wager that would be the most dangerous line in the same way that MacArthur-Turris-Ryan was in the Ottawa game. The third unit of Blake Comeau, Johansen, and Umberger isn't to be ignored. Johansen is behind only Gaborik in points with five, Umberger has four now, and the two hooked up for a great goal on Sunday. They could provide problems if given space. Their top nine isn't shabby at all. Just ask Vancouver, who saw these lines.

Among defensemen, there are two players the Devils should be aware of: Johnson and James Wisniewski. Both are tied on the team in shots on net and their shots are quite good. Wisniewski leads the D with four points and Johnson has the only goals (2) scored by a Blue Jackets' defender. Each may come out the wrong end of possession (Wisniewski is being protected a bit on a third pairing; David Savard has been good in possession) but if they're making killer passes or bombing shots on target, then they can still hurt New Jersey. Again, the Devils should be able to get rubber on net in response but slowing this team down is going to be a trick. They shouldn't expect anything like Saturday's game where the Devils held their opponents to little.

Bob: Portzline reported that Todd Richards will make a change in net; Sergei Bobrovsky will start tonight's game. He won the Vezina last season with a fantastic performance that nearly helped Columbus break into the playoffs. While I'm skeptical that he'll post a 93.2% overall save percentage again, he's been posting that percentage at even strength so far this season. He's only allowed thirteen goals out of 191 shots, which is fantastic at evens. That's not too dissimilar to Craig Anderson, another goalie who's made a lot of stops on a team that doesn't prevent a lot of shots. Again, Bobrovsky has been most vulnerable on the penalty kill. Here's hoping that the Devils can take advantage of that and that Bobrovsky doesn't stand on his head.

Your Take: Will this be the night where the Devils get their first road win? Can the Devils quell the top nine of Columbus, namely Gaborik's line? Who on the Devils will step up to score as needed? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.