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Game Preview #62: New Jersey Devils at Columbus Blue Jackets

The New Jersey Devils will begin to close the month of February with a back-to-back set starting with a visit to Ohio. This game preview between the Devils and the Columbus Blue Jackets goes into what's going on with both teams lately.

Let's hope this game goes better than the last Devils-Blue Jackets game.
Let's hope this game goes better than the last Devils-Blue Jackets game.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

These guys. Again.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (30-24-7) at the Columbus Blue Jackets (24-29-8; SBN Blog: The Cannon)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils hosted Our Hated Rivals on Tuesday.  After a rough start, the Devils got on the board first when Tyler Kennedy re-directed a puck shot by Damon Severson.  However, the Rangers hit back quickly. An open Kevin Hayes put home a rebound to make it 1-1.  Forty-five seconds later, a shot by Keith Yandle hit off Dominic Moore's skates and went past Cory Schneider.  The Devils started playing a bit better late in the period, but the 1-2 score held through the first intermission.  In the second period, the Devils just took the game over. They out-attacked the Rangers, they out-possessed the Rangers, and they out-played the Rangers.  Joseph Blandisi made a sweet pass past two defenders to Kyle Palmieri during a power play. Palmieri buried the feed to tie the game up.  Late in the period, Blandisi found Lee Stempniak open across the slot.  Pass, shot, score.  J.T. Miller was agonizingly close to tying it up on the shift afterwards, but Schneider made a brilliant post-to-post save with his stick to deny him.  At the end of the period, Miller decided fighting Sergey Kalinin would be a good idea.  Miller (and Kalinin) both had taped hands and since Miller cut Kalinin during the fight, he was issued a match major penalty.  So Miller was out of the game and the Devils started the third with a five minute power play. The Devils wasted it.  They got another power play and did a bit better, but it was seven minutes of 5-on-4 play that added nothing to the score. The Devils did manage to tighten up defensively and start giving the Rangers fits in the neutral zone.  The home team would get some relief late. Dan Boyle failed to keep a puck in and this allowed Kalinin to charge forward on a breakaway. He roofed it past Lundqvist in his grill, sending the right people at the Rock into ecstasy over the then two-goal lead and sending the wrong people at the Rock into agony.  The Rangers decided to pull Lundqvist late in the hopes of making up the difference.  Not only did they not get a shot on goal, Adam Larsson sailed a puck from New Jersey's end right into the empty net for the fifth goal. The Devils beat their hated rivals and won the season series with the 5-2 victory. My recap of the win is here.

The Last Blue Jackets Game: The Blue Jackets visited Detroit on Tuesday.  The Blue Jackets were able to get on the board first. Late in the first period, Boone Jenner beats a defender to a loose puck and fires one at an angle to beat Petr Mrazek.  Good times.  In the second period, Columbus got out-shot 5-11 and the Red Wings managed to tie it up.  During a Columbus power play, Alexey Marchenko knocked a puck away into space and Riley Sheahan was the first to pick it up.  He beat Curtis McElhinney one-on-one to tie up the game with a shorty.  The Blue Jackets responded with thirteen shots in the third period and had generated plenty of scoring chances to get that second goal.  However, between Mrazek and puck luck, it was not to be.  Overtime had plenty of pucks fired but nothing that decided the game. In the shootout, Detroit prevailed with Sheahan and Andreas Athanasiou scoring and nobody scoring for Columbus. The Blue Jackets took the 1-2 SO L away from Detroit.  Over at The Cannon, Eric St. John lamented the missed opportunities in his recap.

The Last Devils-Blue Jackets Game: Way back on November 26, the Devils hosted Columbus.  In the first period, the Devils were secondary to Columbus as they got out-shot 4-14.  Fortunately, only William Karlsson did any damage when he scored off the rush to make it 0-1. The second period went much better for the Devils as Adam Henrique provided an early equalizer. Alas, Matt Calvert potted in a loose puck amid chaos in front of the net to make it 1-2 late in the second.  Still, the Devils were controlling play and could surely find a second goal. They thought they did in the third period during a long delayed penalty call.  However, a linesman identified that a Blue Jacket player did touch the puck that both referees missed. That meant the goal was wiped out and the Devils got a power play.  They did not score on said power play.  They did not score a second goal at all on Sergey Bobrovsky.  So the Devils were foiled what was then a second time this season by Columbus in a 1-2 loss. My recap of the defeat is here. Over at The Cannon, Matt Wagner has this recap of the win for Columbus.

The Goal: Keep up the good things from Tuesday, keep up with the attack.  While it was a close game for most of it than not, the Devils prevailed 5-2 over the Rangers in large part to how they attacked in the second and third periods. The passing was on point. The decision making was solid.  There were more movements with the puck to find players going into space instead of going into defenders.  There wasn't as much of a need to dump the puck in the second period, some lines (fourth) excepted.  Those are some of the good things that the Devils demonstrated in their win. While I'm not saying they can score four plus an ENG in Columbus if they do the same things. I am saying that if they can continue executing as they did for most of that Rangers game tonight, then they may find plenty of success in this game in Ohio.

A Split: As most of the Devils didn't practice yesterday, the real news from Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice is that Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid will split the back-to-back the Devils will begin tonight.  This makes sense.  There's no need to burn Schneider on two straight games, especially with another busy month coming up. Kinkaid played a very good game against Los Angeles in his last appearance.  I believe the Devils can afford to give him another start.  Personally, I'd start Kinkaid tonight so Schneider can see Stamkos on Friday.  We'll see if that happens.

A Confirmation: Also from Gulitti, Mike Cammalleri is definitely not playing tonight or tomorrow.  His status is "day to day/week to week" as Gulitti quoted from head coach, John Hynes.  That's certainly not confidence inspiring for fans like me who want him back soon.  Unfortunately, it looks like the Devils' offense will have to continue to make do without him in the near future.

A Request: Joseph Blandisi over-sold a call again and got tagged for embellishment.  He knows he needs to change that reputation he now carries per this post by Gulitti at Fire & Ice. I'm more concerned with another issue he has: defense.  He completely lost Hayes prior to his goal on Tuesday.  In recent games, he's had struggles with and without the puck in his own end of the rink.  Hynes has punished him here and there with line demotions and short benchings as a result.  I'd like to see him make more of a commitment to at least staying with his man when he does backcheck.  Blandisi does plenty of nice things on the ice, but getting better in this regard is what will help him secure a NHL role that isn't limited in minutes.

A Hope: Don't look now, but Kyle Palmieri has three goals and an assist in his last four games.  He's become the team's leading goal scorer and shooter. As Cammalleri remains out, the pressure is on him to produce.  It appears that his slump is a thing of the past, so I hope he's able to keep the good production rolling.

The Basement Dwellers: Columbus has taken full control of eighth place in the Metropolitan Division for some time now.  It's clear that their season is now essentially all about getting lottery balls for a high draft pick this summer.  I will give the Blue Jackets this much credit. They're not total doormats. Per War on Ice, it's just that their prime team stats at evens are just not great across the board. They're not near dead last in possession, but a 47.9% CF isn't good.  They're not near the bottom in team save percentage, but a 92% isn't high either.  Their team shooting percentage at evens of 7.2% is actually quite decent, but it's not exemplary.  If I jump to and briefly look at their special team success rates, I find that they have a low - but not the lowest - power play success rate (17.2%) and a decent penalty kill success rate (80.5%).   Columbus isn't a team where the individual parts are necessarily awful.  It seems that the sum and other outside factors has just led to a rather poor record.  What does one do if you're in Columbus management?  Plan on the younger players develop into better ones soon and ride this out?  Blow up the team to start again?  Hope for something else to happen? I don't know.

I'll also give the Blue Jackets this much credit as well. They've beaten the Devils twice already.  While they weren't dominant performances, they did get the result.  I wonder if they have their number somehow.  Guess we'll find out for sure tonight.

The New (to NJ) Opposing Goalies: With Sergey Bobrovsky on IR with a groin injury, Columbus has been splitting time between Curtis McElhinny and Joonas Korpisalo.  There's a chance the Devils will see Korpisalo tonight.  He's been the statistically better goaltender of the two with a 93.2% save percentage at evens while McElhinny is below 90%. Korpisalo hasn't had a good time on the PK with a 83.5% save percentage in those situations, but the superior even strength save percentage says much more.  He's made more appearances than McElhinney as well.  Either way, the Devils will face a new goalie from Columbus tonight.

The Threats: From a goal scoring perspective, the Blue Jackets have five players the Devils should be concerned with: Boone Jenner (22), Brandon Saad (22), Scott Hartnell (19), Cam Atkinson (19), and Brandon Dubinsky (13). All five are near each other in points. Per Left Wing Lock's last view of their lines, three have been on the same unit - Jenner, Dubinsky, and Atkinson - and the other two have been together with Alexander Wennberg centering them. So the Devils can try to key in on two of their lines.  This isn't to say that Nick Foligno, William Karlsson, or Wennberg  are chopped liver.  Foligno and Wennberg have plenty of assists in helping set up those goal scorers and Karlsson is the closest to double digits in goals with eight. Still, the threats are the goal scorers mentioned as the Blue Jackets will most likely live by whatever they can put up.   And no matter how they organize them, five players that can potentially make it a long night isn't an easy defensive assignment.

On defense, the main man to watch for is Seth JonesPer War on Ice, he's been given plenty of tough minutes and he's come out rather well. Only Fedor Tyutin has been better in CF% and he's been given more favorable zone starts and relatively easier shifts than Jones.   Jones may only have eleven assists and lag behind Ryan Murray (his current partner), Jack Johnson, and David Savard in terms of points. However, it appears to me that Jones has been a better defender than those three.  Given he's only 21, he's only going to get much better. It won't be too long before he truly leads the blueline in Columbus. For tonight, I think he'll provide the Devils their biggest challenge in Columbus' end of the rink.

One Last Thought: If you're all about the postseason hopes for the Devils, then you should be cheering extra hard for a win tonight.  It's kind of hard to make a case for the postseason should the Devils have three 'L's against the worst team in the division.

Your Take: The Devils will visit the Blue Jackets in the hopes of starting this back-to-back set with some points.  Will the Devils prevail in getting something out of this game? Who do you think will have to have a great game to do so for New Jersey?   Who on the Blue Jackets are you most concerned with?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.