The words “must win” get tossed around a lot as the NHL regular season begins to head towards the finish line; however, with the New Jersey Devils losing their last game, and some other divisional match-ups on the docket, tonight is the definition of a must win game with 2 necessary points on the line.
Our Devils will of course be continuing their current 3 game home stand with a game against the Minnesota Wild. The last time these teams met, the Devils took the extra point thanks to a John Moore-vertime moment. With the Devils having improved their defense since the original meeting, and a red-hot Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier, the Devils are poised to bounce back from Tuesday’s disappointment.
The question mark for the team’s ability to be successful remains in goal; Cory Schneider has been ruled out for tonight, as he is not quite ready to return from injury. Keith Kinkaid and Eddie Lack each stole the team a game during their previous winning streak, and Kinkaid played (mostly) well against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but both have also been terribly inconsistent. The Devils will need a solid performance in net if they want to take both points tonight.
What is also working in the Devils’ favor is that two of the three teams closest to catching New Jersey in the standings are playing teams that are ahead of the Devils. While the New York Islanders are playing a team not in the division, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still technically ahead of the Devils, and they could so us a solid by preventing the Islanders from moving within 4 points of us. If everything goes well tonight, we would pull 8 points ahead of them with a game in hand.
Also in action are the Blue Jackets, and they will be colliding with the Pittsburgh Penguins; Pittsburgh has been playing much better than they were at the start of the season, and as they are already ahead of us (with both in a playoff spot), we would rather keep the chasing team off of our tail. Again, provided everything goes as we desire tonight, we could increase our lead over Columbus for the first wild card spot to 7 points with an equivalent number of games played.
The Devils who have not played well need to step up in this game too; Jesper Bratt has looked like a shell of the player who started the season here. While it is to be expected of a rookie player, we could use him to rediscover his scoring (and puck carrying) ability. If Drew Stafford or Jimmy Hayes could somehow contribute something of substance, that’d be incredible; if both could contribute, then we’d have to thank the Hockey Gods for aligning the planets for us. Travis Zajac is due for an offensive contribution as well and if someone could find the Andy Greene of old for even one more game, we could REALLY use it right now.
The team could also use the recent excellent play of Hall, Hischier, Pavel Zacha, Damon Severson and Sami Vatanen to continue. All of them have contributed on a least one side of the puck, and the team needs its best players to continue playing like its best players should they hope to reach the postseason.
The Devils have a chance to provide themselves with a significant buffer going forward should they defeat the Wild tonight, which makes this game a must win in my opinion. Do you think tonight is a make or break game? Who do you want to see contributing for the Devils? Does Cory Schneider return this weekend to solidify the crease? Do the Devils stop the losing at one game? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!