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Game Preview #25: New Jersey Devils at Colorado Avalanche

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Tonight, the New Jersey Devils begin the month of December with a game at the home of the Colorado Avalanche. This short preview includes notes on Marcus Johansson and the recent Sami Vatanen trade.

Colorado Avalanche v New Jersey Devils
Johansson may return tonight and he may get past Nikita Zadorov again.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils wrapped up a 6-4-4 month of November against the Florida Panthers on Monday in a 3-2 regulation loss in Newark, but in spite of having three days between games, the Devils made news in a different way. Yesterday morning, while I was at work, I saw news had broken that New Jersey had shipped fan-favorite Adam Henrique, struggling 13th forward Joseph Blandisi, and a 2018 3rd-round pick to the Anaheim Ducks for promising young defenseman Sami Vatanen and a conditional 3rd-rounder. Now, there'll be plenty of time to break down who won this trade in the near future, but first thing's first: To Adam Henrique, thank you, Rico, for all the great memories. Thank you for being a class act in and out of uniform. I think I speak for the entire fanbase when I say you'll be missed in a way that no on-ice product can replace. To Joseph Blandisi, thank you for your contributions to the organization, best of luck on the West Coast. And to Sami Vatanen, welcome to New Jersey, we're happy to have you.

Now to the game tonight.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (14-6-4) vs the Colorado Avalanche (12-9-2; SBN Blog: Mile High Hockey)

The Time: 9:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV – MSG+2 ; Digital Audio - The One Jersey Network

The Rematch: The Devils and Avalanche met on opening day in New Jersey in a game that ended 4-1 in favor of the home squad. In that game, Will Butcher, a former fifth-round pick by Colorado, became the first New Jersey Devil in history to score three points in his NHL debut, picking up three assists in the game. New Jersey's special teams were the story of the game. John Moore buried a shorthanded goal; meanwhile Jimmy Hayes, Jesper Bratt, and the aforementioned Adam Henrique added power play markers to round out the New Jersey scoring summary. Cory Schneider made 40 saves to pick up the win on that unseasonably warm October afternoon, and the electric atmosphere in the Prudential Center never dulled from the pre-game warmups to the final buzzer. It was one of the more fun opening days in recent memory. Here is John’s recap of that win.

At Home In the Rockies: Colorado is coming off a bit of an odd victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night. All tied at 2 after three periods of action, the Avalanche and Jets headed to OT with Colorado on the power play. 29 seconds in, it appeared Nathan MacKinnon had ended it with a wrist shot goal from the right faceoff circle. “Not so fast,” said the on-ice officials, who sent the video review to the situation room in Toronto to check on whether or not the play was offside. After a brief review, it was determined that Tyson Barrie had slipped and failed to get back onside before MacKinnon skated the puck across the Winnipeg blue line. So, back to their bench went the celebrating Avs, and back to the power play they went. 30 seconds of in-game time later, and MacKinnon did it again, burying another wrister from a near identical spot to seal the win for the Avalanche. Don't yo just hate those offsides reviews?

All oddities aside, the Avalanche are something of a Jekyll and Hyde case when it comes to playing on the road versus on home ice this year. More than half of their wins have come when playing at the Pepsi Center in Denver, elevation: 5,280 feet. Through that strong play in Colorado, the Avs have worked their way to a 12-9-2 record, which has surprised many, including myself, and has them seated one point out of the Western Conference's first wild card spot. That being said, this will be an important, and very busy month for the Avalanche. They have 15 games on tap for the month of December, the most in the NHL. They'll start that 15-game marathon with three straight at home: New Jersey tomorrow, the Dallas Stars on Sunday, and the Buffalo Sabres next Tuesday. After that they'll head on the road for a four-game trip against Eastern Conference competition, starting in Tampa, then moving to Florida, Pittsburgh, and finally, Washington, before coming home to rematch the Panthers, Lightning, and Penguins on home ice. These are all important games for Colorado, who have the misfortune of playing in hockey's toughest division, the Central. If they are going to have a successful month, then they must pick up some crucial road wins against the weaker competition on the schedule (Florida, Arizona). If not, then December could be where things start to come undone in Denver.

The New Guy: Sami Vatanen will join his new Devils teammates in Denver on Friday for the start of a three-game road trip that will start high in the Rocky Mountains and end in Columbus, Ohio, some 4,400 feet closer to sea level. According to Andrew Gross, when the Devils were asked about Vatanen, none seemed to know much about the 26-year-old right-handed defenseman. That doesn't mean there's nothing to know. Vatanen is a solid puck-moving defenseman who put up a career-high 38 points a couple seasons ago. He possesses that sought after right-handed shot as a defenseman, and he was one of the mainstays on the Anaheim power play for the last few years. The Finnish Olympian is expected to play against the Avalanche.

As for the rest of the team, there are some things to be discussed. Firstly, Marcus Johansson is expected to make his return at some point during this road trip. The 27-year-old Johansson missed all but 57 seconds of action in the month of November after suffering a concussion in a 2-0 win in Vancouver way back on November first. Coach John Hynes said that with back-to-back games in Colorado and Arizona to start the road trip, the Devils may be patient with plugging Mojo back in too soon. However, those comments were made when second line left winger Adam Henrique was still a Devil. With a solid top-6 forward in Henrique gone, Hynes' hand may be forced. According to Andrew Gross on Twitter yesterday, Johansson was lined up with Travis Zajac and Pavel Zacha on a line. That could be a sign that he does play, although there could be changes on gameday.

Wrapping Up: Is there anything I missed? Let me know in the comments section. Thanks, and have a good weekend.