The Time: 7:00 PM
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+
Time for a Shakeup?
At yesterday’s practice, Lindy Ruff made some adjustments to the forward lines. The only line that remained unchanged was the top line of Yegor Sharangovich, Jack Hughes, and Kyle Palmieri. Ruff had tried to make some changes to that line when the Devils played the Islanders on Thursday, but it seems he would prefer to keep Sharangovich on the top line and Zacha at center for the time being. I imagine that might change when Nico Hischier returns.
Of these moves, I imagine some may scratch their heads at Janne Kuokkanen being brought up to Zajac’s right wing on the second line. However, I think that Kuokkanen has at least been a more active player than Andreas Johnsson. Johnsson has only taken two shot attempts and has not been effective in the defensive end. I am not sure if he’ll be a good fit next to Michael McLeod, but Ruff’s statement below gives some idea of the thinking behind the moves he made.
#NJDevils Kuokkanen will move up to play with Wood and Zajac tomorrow.— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) January 23, 2021
Lindy Ruff says he's like that Kuokk-McLeod-Bastian line. But like the idea's of pairs, and McLeod and Bastian working well together.
Opportunity for Kuokk tomorrow.
Aside from Bastian and Kuokkanen, Ruff has kept the pair of Zacha and Gusev together as well as Zajac and Wood. However, I do not know who Ruff believes is best paired with Jack Hughes - so it is hard to tell whether that whole top line will stay together or not when Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt return. For the time being, Jesper Boqvist has been moved to the taxi squad and would require someone be taken out of the main roster to return to the lineup - so we probably won’t be seeing Boqvist getting a chance with either of the top centers anytime soon. I think this is a mistake, as Boqvist looks much more comfortable this season. However, I am pleased that Ruff does not plan on breaking up Zacha and Gusev and saw that Johnsson was the one not clicking with that line. I came to the same conclusion after the game against the Rangers, and they continued to not click last game against the Islanders.
Still Waiting on Blackwood
MacKenzie Blackwood is still in the NHL’s COVID protocol. Lindy Ruff said yesterday that they are taking it “day-by-day” - so it’s still unclear what is going on there. While Blackwood remains out, expect to see Scott Wedgewood in net tonight with Eric Comrie backing up. Wedgewood had a somewhat mixed game last time against the Islanders, as he performed very well at even strength but suffered behind the Devils’ penalty kill. According to Natural Stat Trick, he had a 2.25 expected goals against at even strength and allowed just two goals on 29 shots. However, his two goals allowed on five power play shots against lowered his total save percentage to a measly .886. If the Devils’ penalty kill can do better today, perhaps Wedgewood would finish with a stat line that reflects his even strength play.
Looking at the Defense
While Lindy Ruff has made changes to the forward lines since last game, he has not touched the defensive pairings. I think this is pretty unwise. The purpose of putting Ty Smith on a sheltered third pairing is to allow him to contribute to the offense and get used to the NHL game. Instead, he is still saddled with the poor play of Matt Tennyson, who has been absolutely buried in possession stats through the first four games. Tennyson has only played 12:35 per game so far this year, so I question whether it would truly be so difficult to give Smith a new defensive partner. It might require Smith playing in the first or second pairings or someone playing their off-hand on the third, but Tennyson’s play will only serve to hurt Smith’s development if he does not promptly come out of the lineup when Sami Vatanen returns. He should be taken out before then, but Ruff seems set on having Tennyson in the lineup. We’ll see how long it takes until his 127.3 PDO starts to fall apart.
What do you think about tonight’s game? Do you think the Devils will have a bounce-back performance against the Islanders? Do you think Scott Wedgewood will continue his good even strength performance? Do you think the Devils will score more than once? How do you feel about the new forward lines? Do you think the changes are enough? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.