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Game Preview #5: New Jersey Devils vs. Calgary Flames

Blake Coleman returns to the Prudential Center tonight as the Devils take on the Flames.

Calgary Flames v Detroit Red Wings”n
Blake Coleman could spell trouble for the Devils tonight if he matches up against the top line.
Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (3-1-0) versus the Calgary Flames (2-1-1). SBN Blog: Matchsticks and Gasoline.

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+

An Injury Update

Since Nico Daws started the game on Saturday for the New Jersey Devils, some may have wondered whether the 2021-22 season will be like the last one - in which the Devils had to rely heavily on goaltending beyond their planned tandem. However, Lindy Ruff shared some positive updates on both Mackenzie Blackwood (who is getting vaccinated) and Jonathan Bernier. He also made it seem like Miles Wood might be out of the lineup for awhile, but did not share what injury he has.

The Lines in Practice Yesterday

At the end of the Devils-Sabres game on Saturday, Lindy Ruff had shuffled some of his wingers around while keeping lines intact for the most part. The first line became Tatar-Hischier-Zacha, while the second was Bratt-Mercer-Johnsson, the third was Kuokkanen-McLeod-Vesey, and the fourth was Sharangovich-Gauthier-Studenic. Despite these lines working incredibly well together, with the Devils massively outshooting the Sabres after the reshuffle, Lindy Ruff felt it was necessary to completely overhaul the lines.

To the dismay of almost everyone, Ruff continues to use Geertsen rather than allow Marian Studenic to play. When playing Buffalo, Studenic was one of the best at generating scoring chances. His even strength ixG of 0.39 was third best on the team as it came on three shots on goal and two high-danger scoring chances. This is particularly annoying from Ruff, as he is rewarding good games with views from the press box.

Nearly four minutes in, Lindy Ruff says,

Y’know, inside of a game, yeah, almost every team - you’re going to see someone move around. Y’know our choice - or my choice right now is ‘let’s start the game off with different lines’ and see if that brings us something better off the bat.

Ruff also acknowledged that some of his decisions may fly in the face of what the advance stats say, mentioning that he does look after the game and the following morning - but the feeling he gets from the eye test takes some precedence.

The Return of Blake Coleman

Now, if you are looking for a hockey player whose eye test matches his analytics, then look no further than Calgary’s Blake Coleman, the fan favorite former Devil. Coleman, who was inked to a six-year, $4.9 million contract during the offseason by Calgary, was expected to take a top-six role with the Flames. He has been playing most often with Michael Backlund, with whom Coleman has formed a rather good line.

Evolving-Hockey

Last night against the Rangers, the Pitlick-Backlund-Coleman line led the Flames in even strength ice time with 10:52 together, as they outshot the Rangers 9-2 and scored two goals despite getting heavy defensive zone deployment. Their faceoff zone breakdown was one offensive, seven neutral, and six defensive zone faceoffs for an offensive zone faceoff percentage of 14.29. Blake Coleman himself had a goal and an assist on eight shots, a 0.44 five-on-five ixG, five scoring chances, and one high-danger scoring chance. He does not mess around.

Tonight will be the first time Blake Coleman plays for the New Jersey Devils’ opponent. They could learn a lot from Coleman, as his downhill style of play and decisive shot decisions is the exact type of mindset this team has been missing without Jack Hughes.

Not Straying From the System

After the game against Buffalo, Lindy Ruff made some interesting comments about the changes he had to make to the team after the losses of Miles Wood and Jack Hughes.

I am not sure why Lindy Ruff would make alterations to his system just because of relatively short-term injuries, as Jack Hughes could be back around Thanksgiving or early December. Wood and Hughes are two of the fastest skaters in the NHL, but I do think there are plenty of others who are capable of turning on the jets. Yegor Sharangovich comes to mind as someone whose speed is not utilized enough. Jesper Bratt also does not use his speed enough. Marian Studenic also displayed good skating ability against Buffalo, as he probably should have drawn a holding call on his breakaway. But this goes beyond offensive speed - I noticed the Devils sitting back a lot more when they could have been forechecking. Even with the top line on the ice, Ruff had them circle back to the blueline as a breakout control method rather than bring the pressure to the puck carrier. I do not think this is a team that can make a lot out of a standstill. If Ruff wants his team to win more battles, he needs to keep them aggressive even without their best pure skaters on the ice.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of tonight’s game? Do you think Nico Daws will start again? Would you be excited to see him play a second game? How do you feel about the defensive reshuffle? Do you think these changes will last long against Calgary? How do you feel about seeing Blake Coleman again? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.