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Game Preview #1: New Jersey Devils versus the Winnipeg Jets

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The Devils will start their season at home versus Winnipeg, who is on the end of a back-to-back.

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at New Jersey Devils
Guess who's back
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

New Jersey Devils hockey is officially back. Today, their 2019-20 season begins. The NHL debut of Jack Hughes will be made, and potentially Jesper Boqvist. P.K Subban, Wayne Simmonds, and Nikita Gusev will make their regular season Devils debuts. Expectations vary wildly for the team, with some expecting a low-80s season points finish, some expecting the playoffs, and an apparent contingent of people betting on them winning the Stanley Cup. How is this season going to go?

Let’s find out.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (0-0-0) versus the Winnipeg Jets (0-1-0). SBN Blog: Arctic Ice Hockey.

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSG

The Practice Lines: Amanda Stein posted the lines in practice yesterday as such:

However, these might not be the lines that we see in the morning skate today. I expect the defensive pairings to stay the same, but I think Jesper Boqvist will probably be in the starting lineup for game one. Jesper Bratt did not initially start in the top six two years ago, and worked his way up. I think they have the amount of depth that it is necessary for Jesper Boqvist to do that, rather than just jump into the top six right away.

What the Jets Did Last Night: The Winnipeg Jets played the New York Rangers last night and lost to the tune of 6-4. Without Dustin Byufglien and Jacob Trouba, the Jets defense looks rough suddenly. Connor Hellebuyck gave up five goals on 31 shots for a .839 save percentage. Blake Wheeler had two goals and Nikolaj Elhers had three assists for the Winnipeg Jets. So while the Jets are missing some big pieces that made them a very difficult team to play against in the past, they still have a lot of scoring potential that the Devils defense will have to be prepared for.

Take Advantage of the Back-to-Back: Winnipeg got the worst possible start to a year: back-to-back games on the coast opposite their location in North America. They might be a bit tired tonight. I think that, if Jesper Boqvist gets in the lineup, they should keep Miles Wood in and not John Hayden. The Devils coaching staff needs to be aggressive and use their speed as much as possible now that the Jets have become significantly less physically imposing.

An aggressive forecheck should probably see a lot of Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman in the game early to stifle the Jets’ top lines. I expect to see Jack Hughes get the third or fourth full five-on-five shift. Hischier or Zajac will probably start and be the following line called on. Whether Hughes or Zacha’s line comes onto the ice first probably depends whether it is an offensive (Hughes) or defensive (Zacha).

Goaltenders: Cory Schneider will be in net for the New Jersey Devils.

This was expected, as Schneider did great during the preseason. His showing was particularly encouraging following his late-season resurgence last year, which some regard as a potential fluke in an otherwise injury-riddled 30s of his career. Hopefully he continues to look like he’s making a somewhat long-term return to his old form.

Since Connor Hellebuyck played last night, Laurent Brossoit will probably be getting the start. Last year, Brossoit was 13-6-2 with a .925 save percentage, 2.52 goals against average, and one shutout. On his whole career, Brossoit is 20-19-4 with a .911 save percentage and 2.77 goals against average.

The Defense: The defense may have added P.K Subban, but it is still quite a question mark. Andy Greene is getting quite up there in age, and is still on the first pairing. Most would argue that Greene is too old for the first pairing. There is a hope for this defense, though. They were very good at preventing high-danger chances last season. Subban might be able to help Andy Greene get the relative danger of the chances against him to decrease. Subban is a gifted transition-starter, and gives Greene a level of passer that has never been played next to him.

If Cory Schneider is healthy, that decrease in the danger of chances against the Devils will probably look very good on paper. If Schneider doesn’t have to deal with very tough shots against, he will probably have a much easier time looking like the old all-star goalie he was years ago and seeming like again at the end of last year.

Looking Forward to the Power Play: I mean, come on - how can you not?

The Winnipeg Jets take a lot of penalties, relative to the rest of the league. Each of the last three years, the Jets have had 30, 24, and 11 more power play opportunities against than league average. The last time they had fewer than league average was 2012-13. That’s a six-year streak of the Jets being a highly-penalized team, and I expect that trend to continue. The Devils can and should use their speed and playmaking to draw as many penalties as they can to get both of their power play units on the ice.

Goose: Corey Masiak tweeted this last night:

I can’t imagine this referring to anyone other than Nikita Gusev. Since Gusev is going to be on the second power play wave to start the season, that will give Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt a chance to rack up a huge number of points for secondary power-play time.

Gusev’s success will make up for a lot of whether Jack Hughes is successful to start off his NHL career. If Gusev transitions well, it can be assumed that the man who scored 82 points in 62 games at a mere 15:52 of ice time per game in the KHL will be a huge help to a first-year center. With a shot percentage that has been as high as 15.9% in the KHL (and only one season under 10% [last year] since 2012-13, when he was 21 years old), more shots on a line with the playmaking Jack Hughes has a huge potential success - possibly similar to Artemi Panarin in his rookie season with Chicago.

Hall is Back: Most importantly of all, the franchise player of the New Jersey Devils is back. Taylor Hall only played 33 games last season due to injury. But now, after getting surgery on his chronically-injured knee that he scored 37 points playing with, which had loose fragments that escaped detection in three separate MRIs, Taylor Hall ought to be back full-time. And that bodes well for the Devils.

With Hall giving his agent the green light to talk contract extension, the Devils should look to start their future-defining season with a win. Every win counts towards re-signing Taylor Hall, and preserving the window of competitiveness that Ray Shero has attempted to build.

He joins Nico Hischier, now a former-first overall pick in his third season, on the first line. Hischier should look to breakout into league-wide recognition this year with a healthy Hall on his left, and the continued success of their line with Kyle Palmieri. Perhaps, if this season goes well enough, Nico Hischier could start getting Selke Trophy votes this year, and perhaps and all-star appearance.

Your Thoughts: Who are you excited to see tonight? How much ice time do you think Jack Hughes will get at even strength? Do you think Schneider is back to his old self? Do you think the Jets can survive their defensive losses? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.