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Game Preview #9: New Jersey Devils vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

The New Jersey Devils are riding a four-game winning streak and they'll look to make it five when they face the Columbus Blue Jackets. Learn more about Columbus' issues, their roster, and New Jersey's non-changes in this game preview.

Tootoo! Atkinson! Tonight! (This photo is from last season, hence Tootoo is wearing #20.)
Tootoo! Atkinson! Tonight! (This photo is from last season, hence Tootoo is wearing #20.)
Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

Who's that standing in the way of five in a row? Torts!

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (4-3-1) vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets (1-8-0; SBN Blog: The Cannon)

The Last Devils Game: On Saturday night, the Devils went into Buffalo take on a newish-looking Sabres squad. The scoring began after Adam Henrique took a bad slashing call.  Tyler Ennis punished the Devils for that call twelve seconds later. Henrique would redeem himself late in the first period when he knocked in a rebound in the crease from a Mike Cammalleri shot. Ryan O'Reilly scored early in the second period to restore the lead for Buffalo.  Cammalleri would respond after putting home a rebound before the nine-minute mark. The rebound was created off a power move by Sergey Kalinin for his first NHL point. Speaking of firsts, David Schlemko would make it a 3-2 lead late in the second period, finishing off a nice move.  Henrique would extend the lead just past the nine-minute mark with a shorthanded goal that started with a steal.  Very nice. Late in the game, Jack Eichel scored on a power play with the extra skater to make it 4-3, but that would be it. The Devils won their first game of the season in regulation as they extended their winning streak to four. Shane had the recap of that game here at AATJ.

The Last Blue Jackets Game: While the Devils were in Buffalo, Columbus was in Denver hoping to end their eight-game losing streak against the Avalanche. It looked grim when Jack Skille scored a few minutes into the game. But hope sprang for a bit when Boone Jenner took advantage of a turnover and scored on Seymon Varlamov at an angle.  About five minutes later, Jenner would convert a power play to make it 2-1 for the visitors.  In the second period, Colorado re-took the lead on goals by Jarome Iginla and a power play goal by Nathan MacKinnon.  With Colorado pouring on the offense, the deficit sure looked familiar after two.  However, the third period was a revelation. Not only did Columbus out-shot Colorado 16-11, not only did Sergei Bobrovsky not concede another goal, but Columbus scored twice. Ryan Murray jumped up on a broken play to put home a loose puck.  About three minutes later, Brandon Dubinsky smacked a close rebound from a David Savard shot in between Varlamov's pads for a 4-3 lead. The Blue Jackets held on and finally, finally, finally won their first game of the season.  Mike MacLean has this recap of the team's first victory of 2015-16 at The Cannon.

The Goal: Bomb the net. While Columbus must have felt absolute relief after that first win, one of their main causes of their abysmal start remained true: goaltending. Bobrovsky did have his best game in Colorado; his only game so far with a save percentage above 90%. Still, he allowed three goals and it was partially a function of how many shots he faced that the percentage was higher than most.  I will be the first to say that he'll definitely get much better in time. He's been a career 91.7% goalie; he's way better than the 85.2% he's sporting.  However, that time may not necessarily be tonight.  Bobrovsky is vulnerable and so the Devils should challenge him whenever they get the chance.  If they have a clear shot at an angle, take the shot and pounce on a rebound. If there's a lane from distance, challenge him with a blast from the point.  And if it's not even Bobrovsky in net, then it'll be Curtis McElhinney, who has a dubious set of career numbers. He should be challenged. The Devils shooters have nothing to fear but missed opportunities, so I want them to make a special point of it of firing away tonight.  If they can do that, then I think there will be goals and perhaps a fifth straight win.

More Than You Think: Columbus' 1-8-0 start is the definition of falling flat on one's face.  At even strength alone, they have a goal differential of -12 and a team save percentage of 86.9%, both the lowest marks in the NHL per War on Ice. This is a real surprise given the level of talent Columbus does have.  As noted in The Goal, Bobrovsky is better than a 85.2% goalie. He'll eventually bounce back, the team will get more wins, and John Tortorella will get more credit than he deserves for it.  It's everyone else that I would worry about if I were John Hynes tonight.

Per Left Wing Lock, the Blue Jackets have used Brandon Dubinsky, Brandon Saad, and Nick Foligno as a line. Foligno was a top scorer last season, Dubinsky is a pretty-good-in-all-aspects player, and Saad is a burgeoning scoring winger.  This is a strong line on paper.  On the ice, the points aren't all there yet but it's not for a lack of trying. Foligno leads the team in shots in 30, Saad is tied for second with 24, and Dubinsky has 21.  They play quite a bit and the unit led to the team's first game winning goal.  I'd look out for that line and how they're used tonight.

Outside of that unit, the Blue Jackets do have Boone Jenner.  All five of his points this season have been goals, and he's coming off a two-goal night in Denver.  He'll be one to watch for as well, even if his most common linemates from Saturday's game are pointless (Matt Calvert, William Karlsson).   Scott Hartnell and Cam Atkinson have chipped in four points each and a good number of shots for being non-first line players.  They can provide some issues if the Devils let them do as their wish.  This isn't necessarily a crew that will blow anyone away, but it's a decent group up front.  They're certainly not shy about taking shots, as they have averaged 32.1 per game - a top-ten average - in this young season.

On defense, the team still thinks Jack Johnson and David Savard should get big minutes.  They're certainly players that can step up and do some big things. Savard has been somewhat productive with four points and he did create that game winning goal on Saturday. Still, they haven't been so strong in terms of possession - something one could come to expect with Jack Johnson. In contrast, the pairing of Fedor Tyutin and Dalton Prout appears to be somewhat effective. Ryan Murray is looking to get his young career going again and there are signs of that happening as well. Again, it's not a group that will necessarily be impressive but so far they've held opponents to under thirty shots on average.

Between the skaters, the goaltending issues really stick out like a sore thumb.  They're not scoring a lot and they're not getting totally wrecked in possession, but they're just giving up way too many goals.  Their penalty kill has been miserable with a success rate of 69% due in part of that.  Even a pretty good power play success rate cannot make up for that. Again, once Bobrovsky gets out of whatever slump he is in, the Blue Jackets will prove to be better than their 1-8-0 start will indicate. And John Tortorella will get that benefit, most likely.  As for tonight, the Devils will be hoping the goaltending remains poor and the skaters can't make up the difference. We'll see if that happens.

An Ill Ace: There's one big name on Columbus I did not mention: Ryan Johansen.  He's one of the best centers in the Metropolitan Division, if not in the entire Eastern Conference.  He has played a big role in whatever success the Blue Jackets' offense has had in past seasons.  Foligno's monster 73-point season last season speaks to how Johansen can make others better.  Unfortunately, he was not available for that win in Colorado and he will not be available tonight.

As Dan P. summarized at The Cannon, this is all very weird.  He's ill and apparently there is assurance that Johansen's issue is not a heart problem.  I didn't know he had one.  I don't think many Blue Jackets fans knew he did have one before.  Whatever he does have, I hope he makes a full recovery.  His team needs him and he probably wants to be out there with the team as they try to salvage this awful start.  It won't be tonight, though.

Winning? Then Change NOTHING: According to Tom Gulitti's report from Monday's practice at Fire & Ice, it appears that the Devils will have the same line up as they have had for the past few nights.  They've been winning, so why make changes?  I can agree that some parts of the roster shouldn't change.  Cory Schneider should start and he will per this post. Mike Cammalleri and Adam Henrique have been hot.  Henrique has five goals and three assists in the last five games; Cammalleri has two goals and six assists in the same time frame. They absolutely should be together. Most of the roster is what it is, so I wouldn't change much of it.  The only change I would make is to switch out Eric Gelinas with Jon Merrill.

Gelinas was awful in Ottawa and his minutes were very limited in Buffalo.  He played just less than ten minutes. Despite possessing the most dangerous slap shot on the team, he got no power play time against the Sabres.  He wasn't even practicing on the power play on Monday.  I don't see how this helps Gelinas as he's not being put into positions where he can succeed.  I really don't see how this helps Merrill, assuming he's healthy by now, to sit and watch Gelinas do very little.  Alas, it is what it is.

Outside of the Roster: The big news came from those who weren't playing on the team in their last game.  Tuomo Ruutu has been out with a bone bruise.  Yesterday, Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice that Ruutu will be out four to six weeks with a fracture in his foot. The fracture did not initially appear when he was first held out; it did recently, and so he's on the shelf along with Patrik Elias.  Not that Ruutu has been particularly great in the last season or so, but he would've strengthened the bottom six as it is.

The Devils added Bobby Farnham to the roster on Monday.  He was picked up off waivers from, where else, Pittsburgh.  Chris had a post on the news yesterday and the reaction says it all. This is a fourth-line energy guy at best.  With only fourteen games in the NHL, it's impressive he drew five calls and took only one at even strength per War on Ice. Everything else about his game has been not at all impressive what with only seven shots on net and no points.  Could we see him tonight? Maybe.  Who would come out for him if he does? I don't know, maybe Stefan Matteau?  Would anyone miss Matteau's presence of being on the ice for a night? Do I want to see him tonight? Not really. Will I probably see him in the Philly game? Sigh...probably.

One Last Thought: Tomorrow's game is Hockey Fights Cancer night at The Rock.  According to the team's official website, there are mystery pucks to sign, lavender warm-up jerseys that will auctioned off, merchandise, a 50/50 raffle for the cause, and more.

Your Take: The New Jersey Devils will put their streak on the line against a team that will need every point that they can get.  It should make for an interesting game.  What do you think will happen on the ice? Who on the Blue Jackets concerns you the most?  Can Henrique and Cammalleri stay hot? Who will support them?  Will the Devils make it five in a row or will the streak end tonight? Please leave your answers and thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.