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Game Preview #44: New Jersey Devils at St. Louis Blues

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The New Jersey Devils have been undercut by injuries as well as their next opponent on this road trip, the St. Louis Blues. This game preview goes into who's out, why St. Louis should be well respected as opponents anyway, and more.

Palmieri! Brodziak! Tonight!
Palmieri! Brodziak! Tonight!
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The road trip continues with the most talented opponent among the four.

The Time: 8:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (21-17-5) at the St. Louis Blues (24-14-7; SBN Blog: St. Louis Game Time)

The Last Devils Game: On Sunday night, all of Minnesota was tuned into the Devils-Wild game. OK, that may be an exaggeration.  Nonetheless, the Devils went out there on national TV and played an actually good game. The puck movement was more effective than what it was in recent games. The defensive effort was much stinger.  All that was missing for New Jersey were the shots on goalie Darcy Kuemper and the goals. Not that New Jersey wasn't trying; they just kept missing and getting blocked. Fortunately, Minnesota was similarly inaccurate when they went forward. It wasn't until the third period did someone get beat.  And that would be Kuemper.  After Joseph Blandisi gained the zone, Jonas Brodin knocked it away - right to Adam Henrique.  Henrique beat Kuemper with a sweet wrist shot to make it 1-0.  About a minute later, NBCSN had technical difficulties. So the television-watching audience missed Zach Parise tying it up off a feed from Mikko Koivu and Sergey Kalinin playing in Jon Merrill, who scored to make it 2-1.  The Wild figured out how to attack in the final five minutes, but it was too little, too late, and just too out of sync for there to be an equalizer.  The Devils snapped their losing streak and incurred a lot of salt from Minnesota and media members from how they did it.  It got the job done and I thought it was quite a pleasant win. My recap of the win is here.

The Last Blues Game: On that very same night, the Blues visited the kings of the Pacific Division, the, well, Kings. Los Angeles has been strong in possession for several seasons. They exerted that strength over the Blues. Not that the Kings went off on the shot count, but they really limited St. Louis' opportunities at the goal.  In the second period, the Kings out-shot the Blues 9-4 and scored the game's first goal. Anze Kopitar made it happen when Milan Lucic made a pass that allowed the center to just skate across the slot and beat Brian Elliott with a backhander.  Despite the low number of shots, the Blues would tie it up in the period.  Alex Pietrangelo torched Jonathan Quick from the right dot to make it 1-1.  The game held even through the third period and overtime.  A shootout was necessary. Alexander Steen scored first for St. Louis and Marian Gaborik scored third for Los Angeles to force extra rounds.  The deadlock continued into the seventh round when Troy Brouwer finished it for St. Louis to take the extra point. HullAndOates85 recapped the victory at St. Louis Game Time in this post.

The Last Devils-Blues Game: Way back on November 10, the Blues visited the Rock.  The first period went quite well for the Devils. However, they could not figure out Jake Allen.  In the second period, they could not figure out how St. Louis protected the neutral zone in addition to their own end of the rink.  Also, Martin Havlat scored from the slot on a feed from Scott Gomez. The two ex-Devils made it 0-1 as the Devils struggled to find anything resembling a response.  Early in the third, Magnus Paajarvi made it 0-2 thanks to a feed by Dmitrij Jaskin in the crease and a lot of hard work by Pietrangelo to keep the puck in New Jersey's end.  While the third period was more open from a shots perspective, the Devils could not beat Allen.  Well, it appeared they did at the very end but just after time expired so they really didn't. The Devils were shut down and shutout for the first time this season by the Blues with a 0-2 final score.  My recap of the defeat is here. For an opposition's perspective, Justin42 had this recap at St. Louis Game Time.

The Goal: Continue executing, but put more shots on target.  While one can point to 17 shots on net in a game as evidence of a lackluster effort, I never got that impression from watching it. Why? The Devils put up 48 attempts on net.  That's not high for most teams, but it's above the season's median for the Devils.  Considering the opponent (Minnesota) isn't weak on defense, the fact it was on the road, and the other fact that the team is at less than full strength, I'd call that a victory.  What could be better? Getting more of those attempts on net.  The Devils would do well to hesitate just a little less when shooting and try not to keep aiming for the far post relative to where they are shooting.  The former may help cut down on the blocks against.  The latter may help cut down on the misses. Yes, the net at the far post may be available, but it's often a hard spot to place a shot at - especially when there's another team that will do plenty to disrupt you from shooting much less shooting at a particular spot.  I think if they can execute their puck movement like they did on Sunday and get more shots on target, then they got a shot at spoiling St. Louis.

Give Me Your Banged Up, Your Bruised, Your IR Players: The Devils are certainly beaten up right now.  According to Tom Gulitti's report from Monday's practice at Fire & Ice, there doesn't appear to be much progress. Mike Cammalleri remains in New Jersey. Tuomo Ruutu did practice but he can't be activated off injured reserve until Thursday. John Moore skated at the end of it, but he will not play tonight per this post-practice post by Gulitti. From the same article, Andy Greene was given practice off, but he will play tonight.  The others, Patrik Elias and Jacob Josefson, remain on IR without any update.  Not that the Devils were loaded with talent before, but they have not been at full strength in recent games and it's shown.

However, don't complain to any Blues fans. Their injury list is arguably worse.  According to this KMOV article by Elizabeth Eisele, five Blues got hurt within the last week.  Paajarvi, Allen, defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, and defenseman Carl Gunnarson are all week-to-week.  Eisele pointed out that Paul Stastny is day-to-day and could play tonight.  This is on top of Steve Ott and Jaden Schwartz, who have both been out for a significant length of time. Blues fans will probably be hoping Stastny comes back soon as the team is down a big-minute defender in Bouwmeester, a regular defender in Gunnarson, their usual starting goaltender, and two regular forwards.  St. Louis has the quality to handle it in the short term; but it can impact how they do business as the weeks go by.

The Remaining Blues: When I write they have the quality, they really do. Despite shooting at a low 6.5% at even strength according to War on Ice, the Blues have been productive at evens.  Their forwards are still led by Vladimir Tarasenko.  His fantastic shot has reached the target 158 times and yielded 24 goals for the Blues. His 20 assists means he's helping as well.  Alexander Steen is second only to Tarasenko in points (37) and shots (127). David Backes and Robby Fabbri are the only other two blues with at least ten goals this season, but both are active and will play tonight. Based on Left Wing Lock's latest update of their lines, those four are spread throughout the their top three lines.  A supporting cast of Scottie Upshall, Patrik Berglund, Brouwer, and Jori Lehtera hasn't been remarkably productive but they'll put in a good effort.  Keep in mind that the Blues are a positive possession team, so good efforts are more often than not.

On defense, the big guns of the Blues blueline remain.  Kevin Shattenkirk leads the 'D' in points with eight goals and seventeen assists.  His 95 shots on net are a good amount, but they pale to Alex Pietrangelo's 115. As Quick would tell you, it can be a very good shot, too.  Pietrangelo is very much a #1 defenseman in that he plays a ton of minutes in all situations.  With Bouwemeester and Gunnarsson out in recent games, he's played a Suter-like 30 minutes in his last two games. What's more, he's good enough to be good for that long.  The offense is not limited to those two. There's also Colton Parayko.  The rookie has six goals, ten assists, and 94 shots in 43 games.  What that means is that he's not at all shy about attacking.  He's seen a recent bump in ice time due to the injuries, too. So while one may savor the notion of the Devils taking on the likes of Chris Butler and Robert Bortuzzo - I hope New Jersey wins those matchups - the other half of St. Louis' defense will still be a big challenge for the Devils.

In net, while Allen is out, Brian Elliott has been filling in.  While Allen has started many more games, Elliott is not someone who just gets the rare start here and there.  He's made seventeen appearances and thirteen starts. He should be expected to start this one.  In those seventeen appearances, he's put up an even better even strength save percentage than Allen: 93.2% to 92.6%. Elliott has been leakier on the penalty kill in this season. That might give a team hope, though the Devils' power play, sadly, is what it is.  Maybe they'll put something together. In any case, Elliott has been and will more than capably fill in for Allen.

All told, this not at all a bad group of Blues remaining.  Should their top players have poor nights or the team plays kind of like Minnesota did in that pucks would bounce off themselves for fifty-five minutes of regulation, then it can get dicey since their depth isn't as impressive.  Yet, this is an offense that still features the terrifying Tarasenko and the slick Steen. Their defense is still led by Pietrangelo with plenty of offensive support by Shattenkirk and Parayko.  Elliott is a good goaltender in his own right.  I think they'll make it through provided those week-to-week injuries don't last too long.  And getting Stastny back would be a big plus too.

Back It Up: Based on Gulitti's report from practice, there doesn't appear to be any changes to the team's skaters.  While I know they won, I wouldn't have minded Stefan Matteau coming in for Paul Thompson.  I really wouldn't have minded Eric Gelinas in for Marc-Andre Gragnani, either.  Alas, it does not appear to be the case.

However, there will be at least one change to the New Jersey lineup tonight.  Gulitti reported that Keith Kinkaid will start this game. It's not a bad idea to give him this game.  It's been six games since his last start on December 29. While that's not a lot and there are no back-to-backs for New Jersey in January, the team has been playing every other day since January 2.  While Cory Schneider did not face a lot of shots on Sunday, giving him a night off on this road trip at some point isn't the worst idea in the world.

One Last Thought: I really liked how Blandisi and Kalinin played in Minnesota. I hope they can carry that level of performance through to tonight. Not only will it help out the team tonight, but it will also give John Hynes some confidence to keep using those players in larger roles. Possibly even when some players return.  Neither will usurp Mike Cammalleri's spot, but there will be a left wing spot for the taking alongside Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri.  The opportunities are there if they want it.

Your Take: The Devils will continue their road trip against an depleted-by-injury-but-still-very-talented Blues team tonight. Will they be able to get another good result? Can the Devils survive the potential onslaught that can come from the Blues' top players, who are still healthy and effective for the team?  Who on the Devils do you think needs to have a big game tonight aside from Kinkaid? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.