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Game Preview #2: New Jersey Devils vs. Seattle Kraken

The Devils look to start the season 2-0-0 for the first time since 2018-19. This game preview looks ahead to Tuesday’s matchup as the Devils host the expansion Seattle Kraken.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at New Jersey Devils
Damon Severson is expected to make his return to the Devils lineup in Tuesday night’s matchup against Seattle
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (1-0-0, 2 points) host the Seattle Kraken (1-2-1, 3 points). SBN Blog: Davy Jones Locker Room

The Time: 7:00 PM

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+, ESPN+. RADIO - Devils Hockey Network

The Devils last game

The Devils defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in overtime last Friday night, as Jack Hughes scored the game-winning goal and announced his arrival as the next NHL superstar.

The Kraken’s last game

The Kraken continued their long season-opening road trip with a stop in Philadelphia Monday night to take on the Flyers. It did not go well for Seattle, as Philadelphia jumped out to a 3-0 lead after the first period and ran Philipp Grubauer from the game after he gave up his 5th goal of the night at 8:49 in the second period. Chris Driedger came in to finish the game for Seattle and would presumably start for Seattle in tonight’s game, although we might not get confirmation on that until sometime Tuesday afternoon. Philadelphia won the game 6-1.

Seattle’s line combinations last night, per The Athletic’s Ryan S. Clark

Schwartz-McCann-Eberle

Lind-Wennberg-Donskoi

Donato-Geekie-Tanev

Bastian-Sheahan-Appleton

Giordano-Soucy

Larsson-Oleksiak

Fleury-Lauzon

Grubauer

The last Devils-Kraken game

There is none, as this will be the first ever meeting between the two franchises.

Welcome back, Nate Bastian

Tuesday night will be Nathan Bastian’s first game in New Jersey since Seattle selected him in the Expansion Draft earlier this year. Bastian appears to have settled into a 4th line, “energy guy” role for the Kraken, and while he has no points in four games thus far this season, he seems to have carved out a role for himself in Seattle’s lineup (Bastian also picked up 27 penalty minutes in last night’s loss to Philadelphia).

I think it would be a bit much if the Devils put together some sort of video tribute for Bastian during a TV timeout. Bastian finished his Devils career with six goals and seven assists over 48 games in parts of two seasons. That said, Bastian played hard when he was here and certainly had his legion of fans in New Jersey. There were plenty of fans on these very forums who believed the Devils should have protected Bastian from Seattle. I would expect Bastian to get a warm welcome back from the fans in attendance at Prudential Center at some point during the game.

Adam Larsson returns to New Jersey

Nate Bastian isn’t the only former Devil who will be making his return to Newark. Former lottery pick Adam Larsson, the other one in “the trade is one for one”, will play in New Jersey for the first time as a member of the Kraken.

Seattle has leaned heavily on Larsson since he signed a 4 year, 16 million dollar contract prior to free agency, playing him roughly 22 minutes a night. I would expect similar usage Tuesday night in a Top 4 role, and the Devils will have to deal with the challenges that come with going up against a big defensive pairing like Larsson and Jamie Oleksiak.

Damon Severson expected to play, Ty Smith days away?

The Devils got some good news on the injury front as both Damon Severson and Ty Smith returned to practice on Monday. Lindy Ruff told the media after practice that Severson will be ready to play tonight, while Ty Smith is probably a few days away.

Even just getting Severson back would be a huge boon for the Devils blueline as it will lengthen the lineup. Colton White and Christian Jaros weren’t particularly awful in the season opener against Chicago (40.91 & 36.84% CF%, respectively), but they weren’t great either. Inserting Severson into the second slot at RHD between Dougie Hamilton and PK Subban makes the lineup that much deeper.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Ty Smith will be ready to play Tuesday, but Ruff’s optimism would seem to suggest he could be an option for the games later this week. The Devils host Washington on Thursday, Buffalo on Saturday, and they wrap up the homestand next Tuesday against Calgary. I would expect to see Smith sometime between now and then barring any setbacks.

In other injury news, Mackenzie Blackwood (heel) and Miles Wood (lower body injury) did not practice on Monday. It is safe to assume neither will play on Tuesday and its fair to wonder when we might see either of them back in the lineup.

Getting the Hughes line going

The Devils top line of Janne Kuokkanen-Jack Hughes-Yegor Sharangovich had their share of struggles against the Blackhawks. None of the forwards posted a CF% over 30% or a xGF% over 36%. We talk a lot about process over results on these forums, but Friday was an example of “bad process, good results”. Hughes wound up scoring twice, which ultimately trumps everything else, but since he won’t always score twice a game, you do want to see better ‘process’.

Ultimately, I think this line will be fine if they stick together. We saw first-hand last season how effective this line could be together. And it should be noted that on Friday, this line saw very little time together with the Graves-Hamilton pairing, which played well. That said, I’d like to see more from the Hughes line in terms of tilting the ice and creating opportunities, if not for themselves, then in a trickle-down effect for the rest of the lineup. I’m not worried about that line, but I do expect them to play better.

Lineup Expectations

I suspect we’ll get an idea at to where the Devils are leaning with their lineup during the morning skate later today, but aside from Severson going into the lineup for Jaros or White, I wouldn’t expect significant changes. Three of the four Devils forward lines played well against Chicago, as did the top defensive pairing of Ryan Graves and Dougie Hamilton, as did Jonathan Bernier in net, and there’s little reason for the Devils not to turn back to what was mostly successful the other night.

If Lindy Ruff and his staff were in the business from taking suggestions from me (and they shouldn’t be, even though I have very good opinions), I’d consider swapping Janne Kuokkanen and Tomas Tatar in the lineup as I think they’d both be better suited with a different role in the Top 9, but that is nitpicky and I don’t expect the Devils to change something that worked.

Your Thoughts

After being embarrassed in Philadelphia, I would expect a better effort from Seattle less than 24 hours later. Tonight is the final game of a long road trip for the Kraken before they return to the Pacific Northwest for their home opener at Climate Pledge Arena. They’re pros who have professional pride as well, and they surely don’t want to stew over another loss before a long cross-country flight home.

As for the Devils, I would say the same thing that I said the other day. If the Devils are going to achieve their goal of playing meaningful games later in the year, games like Tuesday night are ones that the Devils need to win. Yes, I want to see good process lead to good results, but ultimately, I want to win. The Devils are arguably the better team with the more dynamic offense. I’ll take the Devils top defensive pairing over the Kraken’s. Seattle isn’t a particularly good possession team (48.67% CF% before last night’s blowout loss) and they’re near the bottom of the league in xGF% as a team. The Devils had three days off while Seattle is playing their second game in as many nights. Find a way to win the game if you’re New Jersey. No excuses.

What do you think of tonight’s game? Do you want to see the same line combinations we saw Friday night or do you want to see Lindy Ruff shake things up? Are you excited about the potential return of Damon Severson to the Devils lineup? Can the Devils continue their good start with another win and take a step closer to their goal of playing meaningful games later in the season? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts on tonight’s game and thank you for reading!