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Game Preview #49: New Jersey Devils at Ottawa Senators

The Devils could finally get out of their spot as the second worst team in the NHL.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Ottawa Senators
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Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (17-24-7) at the Ottawa Senators (17-23-8). SBN Blog: Silver Seven Sens.

The Time: 7:30 PM

The Broadcast: MSG+

Bottom of the Barrel: In case you didn’t notice already, the Devils and Senators have near identical records. Tonight, Kyle Palmieri returns from injury to aid the Devils, which should give the first line a boost. Without Palmieri on the top line, I felt that Nasreddine mostly deferred to Travis Zajac’s line with Blake Coleman and Nikita Gusev in regards to ice time and late-game situations.

While the Devils struggled without Palmieri and Blackwood, Ottawa has lost nine of their past ten games, though the overtime loss point (four) has kept Ottawa a mere point above the Devils in the standings. If the Devils win tonight, they will go from second to fourth worst point total in the league. This matters because as the Devils win more games, they drift further and further from a high probability of a top three pick.

Lines For Tonight: These will be the lines for the New Jersey Devils:

Notably also returning is MacKenzie Blackwood, with Louis Domingue backing him up. And while I understand that Schneider’s last game was bad, he also performed admirably in two games of relief. Thus I think he would be the best option as backup goaltender moving forward, also given his AHL performance.

Sending Down Boqvist: The New Jersey Devils will not have Jesper Boqvist return to the NHL club until further notice, and plan on keeping him with the BInghamton Devils. Here is a quote from head coach Alain Nasreddine on the reasoning behind that decision.

I think this is perfectly justifiable in its own right. On a better team, Jesper Boqvist might have thrived in his rookie season. Instead he floundered, shuffled between the fourth and first lines inexplicably. I am happy to know that Alain Nasreddine realizes the danger in that type of usage, and that Boqvist will better benefit from maximum having ice time against reasonable competition, rather than just fourth line minutes in the best league possible.

The Problematic Resulting Fourth Line: It is not the first time we’ve seen this line all season, but I still hate it. Miles Wood, Kevin Rooney, and John Hayden is one of the worst scoring lines in the NHL, yet it has been resurrected in the absence of Jesper Boqvist, who usually at least kept Hayden out of the lineup. Rooney and Hayden have four points total; with the goal being off Kevin Rooney’s stick on the penalty kill assisted by Pavel Zacha. Maybe you have to mix skill with defensive ability to succeed in the NHL, but let’s see if this fourth line with Rooney and Hayden can amass five goals by the end of the season. My bet is on them not doing so.

Herein lies the issue for Nasreddine, and whichever coach may or may not succeed him. The NHL today probably requires four offensively-working lines. Certain lines can focus on a shutdown role, but a line that totally lacks transition skill cannot perform a counter-attack, rendering whatever value was gained from having good defense useless. This is where I draw the line between comparisons of Blake Coleman and Kevin Rooney. While Coleman had just 2 points in 23 games in his first NHL season, he was still a shot generator. He took 46 attempts, and 29 went on net in limited minutes. Kevin Rooney has taken 46 attempts in 28 games this season, with just 23 of them going on net - which comes out to a significantly less effective shooting rate than Coleman’s first season. Rooney gets less minutes did, but the precedent for Coleman’s rise was set, while we’ve now seen Kevin Rooney four times - and we’ve seen the same Kevin Rooney four times. He is not a chance generator, and any offense that comes out of that line usually arises from Miles Wood’s speed.

Your Thoughts: What do you think about tonight’s game? Do you think the Devils will win? Would you feel happy if we passed the Senators and Kings in the standings tonight? Do you think Boqvist was sent down to give Nasreddine a John Hynes-style fourth line that he could play without having to excuse sitting a better player? Why are we still playing some of our roster when we could be figuring out which players might make an impact in the future (i.e. Binghamton call-ups)? What do you feel should be the Devils’ goal moving forward now that their breaks are over? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.