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Game Preview #33: Chicago Blackhawks at New Jersey Devils

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New Jersey will look to extend their win-streak to four games when they welcome the fifth place Chicago Blackhawks to the Rock tonight.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Chicago Blackhawks
Miles Wood celebrates his hat-trick goal in a 7-5 Devils win on November 12 in Chicago.
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

So, after a thoroughly enjoyable shootout win against Our Hated Rivals on Thursday night, it’s back to Prudential Center ice for the New Jersey Devils. As they’ll take on the Chicago Blackhawks in the second of two meetings this season, and the final game for both teams before the three-day holiday break.

The Matchup: The Chicago Blackhawks (17-12-5; SBN Blog: Second City Hockey) at the New Jersey Devils (20-9-5)

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Devils Last Game: It was an exciting Thursday night in Newark, as the New Jersey Devils scored the equalizer with 8:06 remaining in the third period, before besting Our Hated Rivals in the shootout. The game ended 4-3 New Jersey, and the home crowd was able to leave the Rock thoroughly satisfied with the outcome of events. Brian Boyle notched his ninth goal this season to tie the game in the third, and also scored the shootout winner by beating Henrik Lundqvist with a deceptive shot through the five hole. Kyle Palmieri chipped in two assists, and Cory Schneider made 25 saves to leave as the winning goalie in a game in which the Devils out-shot the opposition 48-28. Wow, that Ranger defense could use some work. For a more in-depth description of the game, head over to Chris Fieldhouse’s recap.

The Blackhawks Last Game: Chicago carried a five game win-streak into action on Thursday night against the Dallas Stars. With a Dallas win, Stars coach Ken Hitchcock would become only the third head coach in NHL history to reach the 800-wins mark. Putting him in the company of the legendary Scotty Bowman, and the guy standing behind the opposing bench on Thursday night, Chicago’s Joel Quenneville. The Blackhawks came out strong in the early-going, but ultimately failed to solve Ben Bishop, and fell 4-0 in the sort of loss that resonates like a shattered dinner plate. Check out Satchel Price’s recap over at Second City Hockey, for a more detailed perspective on that game.

Devils Storylines: Jesper Bratt appears about ready to get back in the lineup after missing his only game this season on Thursday. Bratt took a shot off his foot in Monday’s 5-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks. The Swedish rookie was a full participant in Friday’s Devils practice at the Barnabas Health Hockey House, and Andrew Gross reports Bratt will either sit or skate on Saturday depending on his ability to manage the pain. He’ll skate again at the Devils’ Newark practice facility today at 12:15 and based on how the morning skate goes coach John Hynes will make his decision.

A couple Devils who have already returned from injury, forwards Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson, will look to continue getting back into mid-season form. Both missed extended periods of time recently, and should benefit from seeing more time in real-game situations. Palmieri picked up two assists in the Devils’ Thursday win over Our Hated Rivals, and Johansson had one shot in over 18 minutes of ice-time. Palms looked to be getting back around to where he should be. Johansson, who missed time in two separate stints, showed his usual jump, but his game didn’t look all there on Thursday, and he should have that mostly worked out by tonight’s game.

Meanwhile, the Devils are getting fully healthy, are near the top of the Metropolitan Division, and are 3-0 in the first three games of their six-game homestand, which will continue after the three-day holiday break lets off this coming Wednesday.

Blackhawks Storylines: Blackhawks veteran Patrick Sharp was a healthy scratch in Chicago’s 4-0 loss to Dallas on Thursday. The reason? Sharp has recorded just 3 goals in 33 games this season, and only has six assists to add to the mix. His 4.2 percent shooting percentage is way below the league average 8.8 percent, and he has shown a steady decline in scoring in the past three years. Once a consistent 60 point scorer, Sharp has not reached that mark since the 2013-14 season, which was also the last season he played in all 82 regular season games.

Meanwhile, Chicago starting goalie Cory Crawford is quietly having a career year. Crawford’s .932 save percentage and 2.18 goals against average both rank second among 28 eligible (20 appearances or more) netminders. He trails the San Jose Sharks’ Aaron Dell in both of those stats. Dell boasts a .935 SV% and a dazzling 1.94 goals against average, and is making a bid for Vezina Trophy consideration in the first half of this season. With Crawford being Dell’s most immediate competition at the moment, that likely puts the Blackhawks’ veteran starter in the running as well. Crawford has never won a Vezina Trophy, though he is a two-time William M. Jennings Award winner.

Finally, Chicago has points in six out of nine games in the month of December (5-3-1), yet they find themselves in fifth place in the Western Conference’s Central Division. I’ve heard the Central called hockey’s toughest division this year, and it doesn’t take watching every game to see why. All seven Central teams feature records above NHL .500, the division is also home to last year’s Western Conference champion Nashville Predators, and to the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets, all three of which are tied for first in the division at 46 points. It’s going to take a concerted effort from the Blackhawks to find their way into a top-three spot in the Central this year, though I don’t see it being likely that they miss out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs entirely, something they haven’t done since the 2007-08 season. However, their back-to-back first round exits in the previous two years’ playoff runs are concerning, and could continue into this season’s tournament should things remain similar to their current state.

Lineups: I haven’t seen any lineup updates as of yet. They’ll likely be available some time tomorrow afternoon, once both teams wrap up their morning skates. Same goes with the starting goaltenders.

Thoughts, Comments, Questions: Leave any and all thoughts, comments, questions, concerns, conundrums in the comments section below. Enjoy your weekends, and enjoy your holidays everybody.