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Preseason Split-Squad Game Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Boston Bruins and at Montreal Canadiens

Tonight, the New Jersey Devils will split their training camp squad into two for two games. One group will be in Newark and host the Boston Bruins. The other will visit the Montreal Canadiens. This post gives a light preview into the first night of the Devils’ 2019 preseason schedule.

NHL: MAR 21 Bruins at Devils
Part of the Devils will host Boston in preseason action tonight. The other part is in Montreal or off. Blake Coleman and Patrice Bergeron are not guaranteed to be there.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Rock will be open for New Jersey Devils hockey for the first time since April. Tonight, the preseason begins for the Devils in Newark and in Montreal. They are having a split-squad set so two games will go on at the same time.

The Times: 7:00 PM ET for both games

The Broadcasts: TV - TSN2 and RDS for the Montreal game. Nothing has been announced for the Boston game for either side for television. Digital Audio - The Devils Hockey Network is listed for both games. Radio - 98.5 FM for Boston if you are local there. TSN 690 for a Montreal audio feed.

This may end up needing to be followed online through someone who is at the Boston game.

The Matchups: The New Jersey Devils vs. the Boston Bruins (SBN Blog: Stanley Cup of Chowder) and The New Jersey Devils at the Montreal Canadiens (SBN Blog: Eyes on the Prize)

The Goal for Both Games Tonight: These are all exhibition games. The results really do not matter that much. Provided that the Devils do not get waxed in any of the games, the record will not matter. The purpose of these games are three-fold. The first is to get everyone’s rink rust off so they can start the season in some kind of form. The second is to try out new tactics and start to figure out who will play with who to start the season. The third is specific for some players: play well enough to impress the coaches and hopefully rise up the depth chart. I would recommend paying more attention to performances in light of those second and third points than whether or not the Devils win or lose. No one remembers preseason records when the games that count begin.

Furthermore, this is the first night of preseason action for the Devils. We have no clear idea who is playing where. We have no idea of what the Devils need to focus on. So the actual goal for this evening is for the Devils players who do play to put in a decent effort and hopefully avoid injury.

A Busy First Week of Preseason: The Devils’ preseason schedule is split up between two weeks. The Devils will play five games in four nights this week. There is the split-squad game tonight, a game at MSG on Wednesday, and a home back-to-back at the Rock with Our Hated Rivals and the Isles. The second week is more spread apart. There is a three-day break, then a road game in Boston next Wednesday, and the final preseason game in Columbus next Friday.

I would expect the Devils to make most of their cuts after the Isles game this Saturday. The Binghamton Devils start their own preseason schedule on September 27, which is next Friday. I would anticipate their training camp to open earlier in that week. They will need players so New Jersey will provide them. Therefore, I would expect tonight’s game and the other three this week to be a blend of New Jersey and Binghamton Devils on the ice. Likewise for tonight’s opponents, Boston should have plenty of Providence-likely players in their lineup in Newark and Montreal should have several people bound for Laval in action tonight.

The Devils Training Camp Roster: The Devils announced their roster last week and the majority of the players listed have been practicing and scrimmaging for the last few days. Here is a summation of who is involved. Players with AHL next to them mean they are on AHL contracts; players with prospect next to them mean they are prospects and are not signed:

Goalies (6): Cory Schneider, Mackenzie Blackwood, Evan Cormier, Gilles Senn, Akira Schmid (prospect), Eamon McAdam (AHL)

Defenseman (20): Andy Greene, P.K. Subban, Will Butcher, Damon Severson, Sami Vatanen, Mirco Mueller, Connor Carrick, Ty Smith, Colton White, Matt Tennyson, Michael Paliotta (AHL), Josh Jacobs, Julian Melchiori, Dakota Mermis, Xavier Bernard (prospect), Colby Sissons, Jeremy Groleau, Michael Vukojevic (prospect), Nikita Okhotyuk (prospect), Brian Strait

Forwards (30): Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Kyle Palmieri, Nikita Gusev, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Blake Coleman, Travis Zajac, Wayne Simmonds, Miles Wood, Pavel Zacha, John Hayden, Kevin Rooney, Joey Anderson, Brandon Baddock, Ben Street, Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, Brett Seney, Blake Speers, Brandon Gignac, Yegor Sharangovich, Mitchell Hoelscher (prospect), Fabian Zetterlund, Marian Studenic, Nikita Popugaev (AHL), Mikhail Maltsev, Ludvig Larsson (AHL), Jesper Boqvist, Graeme Clarke (prospect)

The Devils have 56 players in camp. As Mike wrote on Friday, it is hard to see if anyone will make a surprise challenge out of camp. Of course, that is why they would be a surprise. I still think Smith and Boqvist have the best chances given their situation (NHL or juniors/Sweden). However, these preseason games will help sort out who may be the first or second call up for a position. And doing well even when a roster spot is not up for grabs may lead to opportunities down the line. That should drive the B-Devils and prospects in these games. For the expected New Jersey Devils, the drive will be to nail down where exactly they will be in the lineup.

According to the section 15.4(c) of the NHL CBA, all NHL teams must have at least eight veterans in the lineup for any exhibition game. This is why both games will feature a mix of players who will be in New Jersey in 2019-20 and players who will likely be elsewhere in 2019-20. Teams typically bring in a veteran on a professional try out (PTO) contract to help meet that requirement as well as see if the player still can contribute to the team at the NHL level. For the first time in years, the Devils have no PTOs in this year’s training camp. They will have 16 veterans dressed tonight.

The Training Camp Rosters for the Opponents: Boston and Montreal have a similar number of players in their training camp this year as well. Boston announced their roster here, featuring Alex Petrovic on a PTO. Their schedule is also included in their announcement so those wondering who from Boston will come to the Rock tonight will have to wait until later this morning. Montreal has their roster here, featuring Liam Hawel on a PTO. They had their annual Red-White scrimmage yesterday. As with Boston, information about who will represent for Montreal on the ice tonight will come later today.

The Devils Roster in Each City: Last night, Chris Ryan of posted the rosters for each game.

For the Devils-Boston game in Newark, the roster includes Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Jesper Boqvist, and Nikita Gusev. This would be their debuts at the Prudential Center. It may also be the debuts for prospect forward Graeme Clarke, forward Mikhail Maltsev, defenseman Julian Melchiori and goaltender Gilles Senn. Ty Smith is also on this roster, but he is questionable. According to Amanda Stein as part of the Devils’ own coverage of Sunday’s training camp session, Ty Smith was out sick yesterday. If he is feeling better, then he will be in Newark. I hope he feels better.

In terms of returning Devils, the Devils-Boston game will also have Cory Schneider, Andy Greene, Sami Vatanen, Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt, Miles Wood, Travis Zajac, and Connor Carrick. Combined with Hughes, Subban, and Simmonds, we shall see how they all work well together. There are plenty of veterans - by requirement - in Montreal so we will get a more complete picture next week.

For the Devils in Montreal, the roster includes John Hayden, Matt Tenneyson, Dakota Mermis, Ben Street, and Brian McAdam. I believe these players would make their Devils debuts if they are involved tonight. There are three goalies going to Montreal: Mackenzie Blackwood, Evan Cormier, and McAdam so it remains to be seen if the AHL goaltender gets in. There are plenty of returning Devils: Nico Hischier, Damon Severson, Kyle Palmieri, Blake Coleman and Will Butcher will lead this group. Some of the other Binghamton-based prospects are also involved here: Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, Brett Seney, and Colton White will be up in Montreal as well.

On paper, the stronger roster is the one in Newark. The inclusion of Hughes, Subban, and Simmonds With the debuts of Hughes, Subban, and Simmonds at the Rock tonight, those in attendance will get a treat. It is a shame there is no local broadcast.

Notable Absences: Two players stuck out to me as not playing. Here is why not, as near as I can tell.

“He’s been working out, skating, and we’ll kind of see where we go with the exhibition games,” Shero said. “Maybe he’ll play later on in the exhibition, but I’ll leave that up to [coach John Hynes] and our medical staff. But everything is good to go coming into camp. I’m looking forward to it and we’ll kind of see how he’s doing and then get him game ready maybe for the last few games of exhibition, but we’ll see.”

This would suggest that we will not see Hall play until later this week or even just in the two games next week. I am fine with this if only because it will be more value-added to have him work with his potential linemates in dress rehearsals for the season than games where both squads are a mixture of NHL/AHL players.

  • Pavel Zacha. Also according to Stein from the Devils’ coverage of Saturday’s training camp session, Zacha did not practice due to visa issues. He was not part of the scrimmages on Sunday. As near as I can tell, he was not part of the other groups that did not scrimmage on Sunday. Until his issue is resolved, he is inactive. The recently re-signed Devil has plenty to prove but he will have plenty of opportunities to do so. Of course, if his issues are resolved by now, then he could draw into one of the games.

With 56 players in camp, not everyone can be involved tonight. Only 40 can be active between the two games. I would not worry about too much about the 16 that do not play. There are more games this week and by Saturday, most everyone should have received some minutes - with a possible exception for Hall given Shero’s comments.

An Area to Watch For: If there is one area I would recommend paying more attention to in tonight’s game and this week’s games, then it is the goaltenders. Again, preseason games are not about the results but about the performances. A large part of the fate of the 2019-20 seasons for both New Jersey and Binghamton will be in the paraphenalias of the goaltenders. Not that we will see New Jersey’s or Binghamton’s top tandems take a whole game for the first few games, but do look out for how they handle themselves in when forced to move laterally, react to breakdowns in coverage, and how they try to minimize the puck getting loose (rebounds, stickhandling, freezing it amid traffic, etc.).

One Final Thought: Devils hockey returned in Buffalo at the Harborcenter for the Prospects Challenge. Tonight will be the return of Devils hockey to the Prudential Center. The real season is coming ever closer. I, for one, am excited.

Your Take: The Devils will split up their training camp roster and take on two opponents in two separate places. Who do you want to see do well tonight? How well do you think the Devils will do in Boston and/or in Montreal? Does anyone have anything to prove in this first game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s games in the comments. Thank you for reading and, again, welcome to the 2019 Devils preseason.