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Game Preview #16: New Jersey Devils at Chicago Blackhawks

The New Jersey Devils will visit Illinois to take on a team they dispatched last week: the Chicago Blackhawks. This game preview highlight's Patrick Kane's hot streak, the return of Marian Hossa, and the importance of succeeding in the neutral zone.

Adam Henrique celebrated Mike Cammalleri's goal in this photo. Will he do it again tonight? It won't be easy what with it being in Chicago.
Adam Henrique celebrated Mike Cammalleri's goal in this photo. Will he do it again tonight? It won't be easy what with it being in Chicago.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Time for the runback.

The Time: 8:30 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (8-6-1) at the Chicago Blackhawks (8-6-1; SBN Blog: Second City Hockey)

The Last Devils Game: On Tuesday night, the Devils hosted St. Louis.  The first period went fairly well for New Jersey. Then the Blues took control as the Devils struggled to move the puck.  The Blues peppered Cory Schneider with shots and pinned back the Devils with possession.  It went that way for the better part of the second and third periods.  Schneider limited the damage to only two goals: a rising shot from Martin Havlat in the second period and a shot on his flank by Magnus Paajarvi in the third period. The Devils couldn't muster a consistent attack to take the pressure off until the final ninety seconds.  Damon Severson appeared to have scored at the buzzer to at least deny Jake Allen his shutout.  Alas, the puck did not cross the line before the clock struck zero.  So the Devils deservedly lost 0-2 to the Blues. Here's my recap of the game.

The Last Blackhawks Game: The Blackhawks returned home for a Sunday game against the Edmonton Oilers. The home team got off to a quick start when Patrick Kane set up Artemi Panarin for a sharp-angled one-timer that beat Cam Talbot.  The game was 1-0, Chicago before the first sixty seconds.  Much later in the first, Kane set up Panarin across the ice for a zone exit.  Panarin carried the puck out, carried the puck into Edmonton's end, moved to the middle, and slid a sweet wrist shot past Talbot to make it 2-0.  The Oilers were displeased and took their frustrations out on the home team in the second period. They out-shot the Blackhawks 22 to 6.  Yes, 22 to 6. Corey Crawford got them all.  However, Edmonton would make it a game early in the third period. Jordan Eberle converted Edmonton's first and only power play of the night to make it a one-shot game.  The game got tense until the 13:20 mark.  Then Artem Anisimov played Kane into Edmonton's end. The puck was bouncing, but Kane got onto it and flung a backhander to make it 3-1.  The Oilers looked to have a lifeline when Andrej Sekera scored just inside of two minutes. But the Oilers couldn't get anything more and Oscar Klefbom really put an end to it with a hold on Marian Hossa. Eight seconds into that power play, Kane set up Anisimov for an easy PPG to seal it as a 4-2 win.   Kane indeed have a four point night. Greg Bibeau highlighted that and more in his recap at Second City Hockey.

The Last Devils-Blackhawks Game: The Devils hosted Chicago just this past Friday night.  It turned out to be a good start with an even better finish to the first period.  Lee Stempniak took a puck away from Niklas Hjarlmasson and beat Crawford five-hole shortly thereafter to make it 1-0. The Devils kept attacking as they controlled the neutral zone. Their breakouts were on point. Chicago got a sniff of offense here and there and there was a lull from the Devils. But later in the period, the Devils roared back and made Chicago's visit to the Rock even worse.  Travis Zajac won a faceoff at 17:46 and Kyle Palmieri slammed the puck past Crawford at 17:48.  At 17:54, Adam Henrique and a very frustrated Jonathan Toews fought.  The fight did, well, nothing. The Devils went back on offense and Zajac put home his own blocked shot to make it 3-0 and get the fans ecstatic.  Would the Devils let up? Not really. Mike Cammalleri finished off a great feed from Damon Severson to make it 4-0. The Devils were close to making it 5-0, but Scott Darling and a waved off goal (challenge failed) denied the five-spot.  Chicago would get on the board late when Patrick Kane flung in a long wrister past a screen Cory Schneider.  With most of a power play to start in the third, would the Blackhawks get back into this one? No. Not until Chicago pulled their goalie with less than seven minutes left. At that point, the Devils were just pinned back trying to survive the 5-on-6 attack.  They didn't get much of a chance at a ENG.  Tanner Kero would get a puck down low and put it in to make it 4-2.  But it was too little, too late as the Devils prevailed in one of their best games this season.  Here's my recap of the win. For the opposition's perspective, here's a recap at Second City Hockey by Robert Zeglinski.

The Goal: Remember what made that last Devils-Blackhawks game work so well: possession through the neutral zone.  I cannot stress enough how effective the Devils were at winning pucks and making life difficult in the middle of the rink for Chicago.  They were not only able to stunt what Chicago was trying to do, but they were able to generate more opportunities to go on offense.  And those opportunities weren't just to dump the puck in and get a change. No, they were some prime chances to get the puck in and generate shots.  Likewise, the Devils' breakouts were on-point. They were able to successfully change the point of attack going forward, which opened up pockets of space for the Devils to get good zone entries.  If the Devils are able to perform to that level again, then they'll be able to give the Blackhawks a lot of problems.  However, if they struggle breaking out and Chicago is able to freely move the puck through the neutral zone, then tonight's game could end up kind of like Tuesday's game.

The Most Dangerous Man on the Ice: Patrick Kane is more than just hot right now.  He's absolutely dangerous. He was the one man constantly threatening New Jersey on Friday.  He had a hand in all four goals Chicago scored on Sunday. He has a point in each of his last ten games.  He's well rested as Chicago has been off since Sunday's 4-2 win against the Oilers. He's technically the leading scorer of the league (ten goals, thirteen assists) by virtue of playing one fewer game and having one more goal than Tyler Seguin.  The only way Kane can be more frightening is if he donned a mask, grew to be about 6'8", add a hundred pounds of muscle, and gained the ability to summon flames from metal posts.

Because Kane is hot, his line is absolutely a main concern for the Devils.  According to this Tweet by Mark Lazerus, Kane was lined up with Artem Anisimov (who's OK after leaving Friday's game early) and Artemi Panarin in Wednesday's practice.  That line was, well, clearly very productive on Sunday night.  The Devils will have their hands full with Kane alone. They won't have the last line change so getting a decent match up may be tricky for John Hynes.  The fact that Anisimov and Panarin are coming off big nights themselves only makes it a massive challenge.

The Difference One (Really Good) Player Can Make: Think back to Friday's game and recall how Jonathan Toews was largely anonymous.  Marian Hossa was out that night and in a way, it showed.  Hossa isn't getting any younger but like Patrik Elias two seasons ago, he most definitely has a lot left in the tank.  Hossa is a reliable producer of points, he's very good in both ends of the rink, and he's a smart winger - which only emboldened by his experience.  He returned to the lineup on Sunday. While he was pointless, that won't last for long.   Per Lazerus' Tweet, Hossa (and Andrew Shaw) was skating with Toews and that could be the spark to help him get going as well.  The prospect of an effective Toews line plus the crazy-hot Kane line could mean it's a long night for New Jersey's defense.  All with the return of one really good forward.

Meanwhile, Another Return Looms on Defense: Duncan Keith is cleared for contact! Yes, Chicago could be getting back their other definitive top pairing defenseman back after a torn meniscus. As Satchel Paige wrote at Second City Hockey, Keith was recently cleared for contact but he cannot be activated until Saturday.  Therefore, the Devils should see a similar blueline to what they saw on Friday.  Trevor Daley and Eric Gustafsson had great games on that night. Look for those two (and perhaps Trevor van Reimsdyk, who I think is still waiver ineligible) to compete hard again.  They may not just be playing a professional game, they may be competing for a regular spot after Keith returns.

Your Starting Goalies: Cory Schneider will start for the Devils, as reported by Tom Gulitti. That should surprise exactly no one.  For Chicago, Tracey Myers confirmed on Twitter that Corey Crawford will start this one. Crawford responded well after getting yanked after the first period on Friday.  I don't think he'll be that easy to beat tonight.  We'll see.

What Other Changes?: Tom Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice that head coach John Hynes is considering lineup changes.  There were certainly signs of it as Tuesday night's game went on.  Sergey Kalinin has appeared more often with Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri in recent games and that happened again two nights ago.  That meant Jiri Tlusty was with Jacob Josefson (good with him, perhaps) and Jordin Tootoo (less so).  John Moore started getting some shifts with Jon Merrill, with Damon Severson getting some shifts with David Schlemko.  I'm wondering if Hynes will prefer to start with those switches instead of going to them in-game?  Maybe he's thinking of a way to get Eric Gelinas or Stefan Matteau back into the lineup?  Or maybe he's considering something more like breaking apart Adam Henrique from Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak to get some different looks at forward.  Whatever it may be, hopefully the Devils do a better job moving the puck and completing passes than they did against St. Louis.  To that end, I'd keep the same combinations as they had against Chicago on Friday.  If they falter, then go try some stuff out for the Pittsburgh game on Saturday or save it for the long road trip following that home game.

One Last Thought: I don't think I made a big deal about it for Friday's game, but Chicago went into New Jersey with a rather poor road record. The Devils added another 'L' to it to make it 1-5-0. I'm afraid I've got some bad news for New Jersey. Chicago is 7-1-1 at home and their home CF% is 53.1 per War on Ice (only 49.1% on the road).  The Blackhawks know how to take care of business in their building. The Devils will need to be on point to try to disrupt that.

Self Promotion: I answered some questions about the Devils from Sam of The Committed Indian. Check that out when it's up today.

Your Take: By virtue of the schedule, the Devils get a relatively quick runback. Both teams should be familiar with each other, though the addition of Hossa, the continued hotness of Kane, and the imminent return of Keith should pump up Chicago a bit more.  Will the Devils be able to put out a better performance tonight than what they showed in St. Louis?  Can they put up something more like what they did last Friday, or will Chicago have their revenge? What lineup changes do you want to see from John Hynes, assuming there will be any?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.