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Game Preview #53: Devils at Columbus

You know who has been a fairly successful team when playing the 2nd game of a back-to-back this season? You probably guessed right, it’s the Devils! Can they add to that success tonight in Columbus?

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at New Jersey Devils
Good ol’ Bobby Farnham scoring on the Bobs last season.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The 53rd game of the year, the second game of a back-to-back, will see the New Jersey Devils traveling to one of only two away games for the entire month of February. Today, that location happens to be Columbus, Ohio.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV – MSG; Radio - WFAN 660 AM and 101.9 FM

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (21-21-10) vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets (33-12-5, SBN: Jackets Cannon)

The Last Devils Game: Last night, the Devils hosted the Calgary Flames for their yearly visit to the Rock. The Devils entered on a 6 game home losing streak. Thankfully, unlike for most of the previous month, the Devils decided they wanted to defend home ice with a strong conviction. They fell down 2-0 very early into the second period after a power play goal after no Flames were called for a penalty in a scuffle at the end of the first. After that, however, NJ had a very strong middle frame, with three goals of their own, taking the lead 3-2 with only 24 seconds remaining off of a strong crashing of the net by Kyle Palmieri. Alas, they could not hold the lead, however, nor continue their offensive outburst into the third. Matt Stajan would tie the game less than halfway into the third, eventually forcing overtime. There, a minute or so in, Calgary would have an easy time cycling the puck in the Devils’ zone, leading to a beautiful pass through the royal road which Mikael Backlund would bury, ending the game 3-4 in overtime. It was a loss, but it was a close game, one where the Devils were competitive, which is a definitive improvement from what had been going on in Newark over the previous month. Devin had the recap of the game.

The Last Blue Jackets Game: Columbus also played a game last night. They traveled to Pittsburgh in a matchup between two of the best the Metro has to offer this season. Their game also went into overtime, and also ended with a final score of 4-3. In this game, however, the home team eventually came out as the victors, thanks to a power play in overtime caused by Cam Atkinson (hint: someone below who I will mention as someone the Devils need to drive play forward against tonight). The Penguins would go out to an early lead, going up 2-0 after the 1st and 3-1 after the 2nd. They could not keep the lead however, with both Alexander Wennberg and Atkinson scoring in the third to force overtime before Phil Kessel would bury home the overtime winner to win the game and tighten the top of the Metro even further. The game was extremely close in terms of possession, with Pitt coming out on top in the Corsi department 52-51, but it was a tale of two halves essentially. The Penguins were dominating the possession battle until a little over halfway through the 2nd period, when Brandon Dubinsky scored Columbus’ first goal of the game. For the next twenty or so minutes, Columbus dominated, leading to the tie game. At the end, Pittsburgh would settle it back down just enough to get the W in overtime. For the SBN take on the game, check out either Jackets Cannon or PensBurgh.

The Last Devils-Jackets Game: There hasn’t been. Despite being divisional opponents, this is the first game between the two this season. They will see each other three more times, all in March.

The Goal: Find quality matchups. As I found out the other day for CJ’s round table, Columbus does not ever change their line combinations, this according to Left Wing Lock. Knowing that, the Devils need to expose the lines that perhaps have not played as well as the others. In terms of possession, the weak point over their last 10 games has to be the line of William Karlsson, Matt Calvert and Josh Anderson. Despite being on the ice together for almost 10% of Columbus’ ice time over the last ten games (almost as much as any line for New Jersey), not one of them has a Corsi of over 48%. Karlsson has the highest at 47.7%, and Calvert is all the way down at 46.4%. If the Devils can get the matchups they want against this line, they can look to drive play forward and keep the puck in Columbus’ end for shifts at a time.

What’s the Line to Be Scared About Then? If the line of Karlsson, Calvert and Anderson is the one to exploit, which is the line to be worried about? The answer is that they have not one line that is formidable, but two. The top line of Nick Foligno, Alexander Wennberg and Brandon Saad, on the ice together for over 18% of Columbus’ last ten games, all have over 51% Corsi. Wennberg just passes that at 51.1%, Foligno is up at 51.7%, and Saad is the team’s best possession player with a 5v5 Corsi of 54.4%. They will be trouble for whoever the Devils want to throw against them.

The other line to be concerned over is that of Scott Hartnell, Lukas Sedak, and Sam Gagner. On the ice for almost 15% of the team’s last 10 games, all of them are also over 50% in possession, and they can undoubtedly drive possession forward nearly as well as the team’s top line can. For a Devils’ team that is very poor in possession, that can be a problem.

That leaves only one other potential line to take advantage of, which is the trio of Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, and Boone Jenner. Despite the quality names in that line, and their 15.58% usage over the last 10 games, all of them have a Corsi under 49%. If the Devils can manage to drive play forward against their line, and especially against the Karlsson line, they can have a chance to hang with one of the best teams in the Metro.

Goaltending: Considering that both teams played last night, both played their starters, and both of those starters allowed 4 goals against, tonight will not be a heavyweight matchup in the creases. With Cory Schneider seeing the ice last night against Calgary, Keith Kinkaid will most likely be getting the start against Columbus. Through 16 appearances this season, Keith boasts a quality .920 save percentage and an ok 2.59 GAA, so while the starter is not in for New Jersey tonight, it should not matter. Kinkaid has been every bit as capable as Schneider this year.

At the moment, the backup for Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus is the Finnish goalie Joonas Korpisalo. He only has four starts dating back to his initial call up a few weeks ago, his last coming against the Rangers on Tuesday. He won that game despite allowing four goals against on 37 shots. He is 3-1 since being named the backup with a subpar .893 save percentage and a poor 3.57 GAA. However, the Devils love to make backups look good, so you never know tonight. If Bobrovsky happens to play both games of his team’s back-to-back, something I guess is possible, you can know that he rocks a .927 save percentage, 3rd in the NHL this year for any goalie with at least 20 games played.

Other, Random Devils Notes: On a back to back which requires travel, there will most likely not be many changes to the lineup. Expect to see a similar lineup, with perhaps only small tweaks. Joseph Blandisi should play for his 2nd game back with the big club, and Andy Greene will get his 2nd game back from injury, hopefully getting back into rhythm again with Damon Severson after rocking only a 35% 5v5 Corsi last night against Calgary.

The Devils only play two more games before their “bye week”, tonight and Monday, a home game against Buffalo. Despite this being the 2nd game of a back-to-back, it is only the team’s 3rd game since the all-star break, and they only have one more before their bye week. Given those circumstances, knowing that rest was just had, and is just around the corner again, I would hope that the Devils come out with their all. Playing tired is always possible for games like this, but in between breaks, I don’t want to see it. This is an important game if NJ wants to stay away from the basement of the East. Come out and play hard.

If I looked at the Devils’ schedule correct, and I very well may not have, it looks like the Devils are currently 5-2-3 in the second game of a back-to-back so far this year, which is quite good. Let’s hope that continues again tonight.

Your Take: While today’s game is not an easy one— against a tough Metro opponent—it is one that the Devils can have if they take advantage of their opportunities and Columbus’ weak lines. What do you think will happen? Do you think the Devils have a good shot? What do you feel they need to do to pull off a victory? Please leave your comments in the section below, and thanks for reading.