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Game Preview #4: New Jersey Devils at Boston Bruins

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The New Jersey Devils hit the road again to play another Atlantic Division opponent tonight: the Boston Bruins. This preview goes over how both teams look ahead of tonight’s game.

NHL: Boston Bruins at Winnipeg Jets
Get ready for a lot of Brad Marchand tonight.
Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

New Jersey hits the road again for another Atlantic Division opponent. This time, in Massachusetts.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (1-1-1) vs. the Boston Bruins (2-1-0, SBN Blog: Stanley Cup of Chowder)

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Last Devils Game: The Devils had their home opener on Tuesday and hosted Anaheim. The Devils preyed on the Ducks’ weak clearances from their zone and won plenty of pucks in the neutral zone. Hence, the Devils really did look fast, attacking, and even supportive. As good as the pace was for New Jersey, penalties would be the big story in this one. The Devils’ second penalty of the night resulted in a long shift in their end of the rink, only to be ended when Sami Vatanen scored off a wrister through traffic in the first period. The Devils tried to equalize and Yohann Auvitu appeared to do so with a long shot in the second period - only for it to be waved off due to a high sticking penalty on Reid Boucher (which was a poor call, but whatever). The Devils would get the benefit of five second period power plays, though, and would break through. After a 5-on-3 did not convert, a five-forward unit created the first goal when Mike Cammalleri’s shot yielded a rebound that Taylor Hall slammed into the net. Later, Hall deflected a long shot by Damon Severson to put the Devils up two. The Ducks put up more of a fight in the third period and John Moore gave them one late power play to find a second goal. But they could not and so the Devils held on 2-1 for their first win of the season. My recap of the game is here.

The Last Bruins Game: On Monday night, the Bruins visited Winnipeg. At the ten minute mark of the first period, Blake Wheeler put the home team up. Nineteen seconds later, Dominic Moore roofed a loose puck off a wraparound attempt by debuting Bruin Tim Schaller to make it 1-1. The Jets put up plenty of rubber on Tuukka Rask; 27 shots in the first two periods. Only Wheeler would beat him. David Pastrnak scored his fourth of the season with a minute left in the second for Boston to take the lead and to really take the wind out of the Jets’ engines. A more even third period resulted in Brandon Carlo going bar-down off a loose puck to make it 3-1 with about two minutes left in regulation. That’s a heck of a first career NHL goal to score. Zdeno Chara sailed in an empty netter to seal a 4-1 win for the B’s. Nolan Cardwell has this recap of the game at Stanley Cup of Chowder.

The Goal: Chill the Bruins’ top line. The Bruins’ top forward is Patrice Bergeron. He did not play in the first three games of the season due to an undisclosed injury. According to this article by Kevin Paul Dupont in the Boston Globe, Bergeron is expected to return tonight. While he may be a bit rusty, he’s one of the league’s best in both ends of the rink.

And his wingers are more immediate causes for concern. Bergeron skated in between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak in Wednesday’s practice. Both Marchand and Pastrnak have been hot to start the season. Marchand has two goals and five assists. Prior to Wednesday’s games, only Brent Burns had more points in the entire league than Marchand. Pastrnak has four goals on fifteen shots (he leads the team in both stats) already as well as two assists. Per Left Wing Lock’s lines from Boston’s last game, David Backes was with those two in Winnipeg. I would expect something similar if Bergeron is held out tonight. The point is that whether it’s Backes or Bergeron, the Devils will have to do their best to cool those two off. With this being a road game, I would expect head coach Claude Julien to try to get favorable matchups for that unit as much as possible. It’ll be imperative for whoever draws them to do their best to keep both skaters in front of them and be extra careful with the puck. If the Devils can succeed, the pathway for success becomes a little easier.

Another Home Opener: This game will be Boston’s home opener of the season. All the more reason for the Devils to be a little more mindful of how they perform.

Don’t Expect These Repeats from Tuesday Night: The Devils benefited from Anaheim’s lackluster zone exits, winning plenty of pucks in the neutral zone, and being awarded seven power plays - including an abbreviated 5-on-3 situation. While I want the Devils to do well in the NZ again, I can’t expect Boston to be so loose with the puck coming out of their own end or in the middle area of the rink. I definitely can’t expect so many penalties to be called such that New Jersey would get seven man advantages. To that end, this game stands to be more of a challenge.

The Questions I Have for Boston: Boston is an interesting kind of transition. A returning Bergeron allows Backes to strengthen the depth of forwards behind that line. It’s a crew that includes some young talent (e.g. Ryan Spooner, Danton Heinen) and some more veteran players (e.g. Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, David Krejci). It’s not a bad bunch, but it begs the question: is it enough to put the Bruins back in the playoffs?

Then there’s the defense. Zdeno Chara is still a big-minute defender for the B’s. The 39-year old leads them in average ice time after three games. Torey Krug has become one and has plenty of offensive talent to be a threat from the blueline. There’s hope that Brandon Carlo can be a future regular. The 19-year old has made the team out of camp, he’s already picked up his first NHL goal and assist, and he’s averaged over 21 minutes in his first three games. That’s something to get excited for if you’re a Bruins fan and it’s someone the Devils should become quickly familiar with tonight. While he has not done as much or played as many minutes, Rob O’Gara has also made the team. The 23-year old has received minutes on par with John-Michael Liles and Colin Miller. Again, the hope is that he can establish himself to take minutes regularly. Provided both Carlo and O’Gara can, then the Bruins defense will look a bit better than just being Krug, an aging Chara, and four other guys. Can they? If so, does that push them back into the postseason?

As for goaltending, well, tonight’s probable starter Tuukka Rask can be as good as anyone in this league. Last season, his 91.5% overall save percentage and his 92.4% even strength save percentage weren’t as good as past seasons. In fact, his 92.4% EVSV% was his lowest since 2010-11 where he put up 92.5% in 29 games. But Rask has started off well this season and this could be a bounce back season for him. If he can, perhaps that can push the Bruins back into the playoffs.

I like Claude Julien as a coach. But does he remain as Boston’s coach if they’re not going back to the playoffs? (Answer: Probably not.)

A Win Usually Means the Same Lines & Pairings: And so it is based on Andrew Gross’ report from Wednesday’s practice at Fire & Ice. Gross noted that head coach John Hynes wasn’t happy with how practice went. I can appreciate that in the sense that a victory the night before does not excuse less-than-acceptable performances in practice. I’d like to think the Hynes knows that most future opponents won’t be giving possession away so cheaply like the Ducks. Given that Hynes said the team did pick it up later in practice in this post by Gross, Hynes’ displeasure led to the desired results.

If there could be a change in the lineup, then it might be to include Sergey Kalinin. Gross did report he’s going on the trip. I don’t think he would go on the trip if he wasn’t expected to play. Kalinin is still on injured reserve, so a roster move has to be made to make space to activate him for tonight. The easy moves would be to send Blake Speers back to juniors or send Miles Wood to Albany. We’ll see if that (or something else) is done. Now, if Kalinin does get activated, then I would think he’ll play - why activate him otherwise? - and so someone would have sit. He didn’t practice on one of the top four lines, but it could be in place for Reid Boucher or Jacob Josefson. Likely Boucher if only because Josefson has been used on special teams. We’ll see if it happens.

For what it’s worth, I would want the top three lines to stay the same. I think that’s right. Taylor Hall and Travis Zajac is a combination I could get used to watching a lot. Adam Henrique, Michael Cammalleri, and Kyle Palmieri worked well together. The unit of Pavel Zacha, Beau Bennett, and Devante Smith-Pelly had a great game against Anaheim. I’d love it if they could bring plenty of offensive pressure against the B’s as their pressure against Anaheim helped the team out as a whole.

Defensively, as much as I’d like to see Steve Santini get into a game, Kyle Quincey is in his way. And Quincey has been doing well enough next to Yohann Auvitu. Santini may have to wait; or hope someone else has a bad enough game to warrant a scratch. I hated John Moore’s delay of game penalty, but he’d have to be far worse than just making one potentially critical error to sit out - much less for a rookie.

One Last Thought: I want to see the Devils collectively shoot-first more in odd man rush situations. They had plenty of these against Anaheim go awry because the decision was made to make a pass across. Sure, if the pass was on target, then it would make for a great scoring opportunity. But there were a lot of good angles and lanes literally passed up for a chance to be great - and it rarely was. I’m not saying every 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 should end with a shot by the puck carrier. Rask is a better goalie than John Gibson, in my opinion, after all. That’s not always going to work. Neither is the opposite. Mixing it up such that there are more shots would be better. Besides, shooting for a rebound is always an option.

Your Take: The Devils are back on the road after winning their first at home. Boston will be a more difficult challenge. Will the Devils measure up to the challenge? Can they possibly cool off Marchand and Pastrnak, with or without Bergeron? Is Boston a playoff team? Do you like the Devils’ lines and pairings as they are? Do you want Kalinin to return to tonight, and if so, who should he replace? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s game in the comments. Thank you for reading.