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Game Preview #20: New Jersey Devils vs. San Jose Sharks

The Devils are roughly a quarter of the way through the season, and have stayed afloat without Jack Hughes. Now, they take on the Sharks for the second time this season.

New Jersey Devils v San Jose Sharks Photo by Amanda Cain/NHLI

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (9-6-4) versus the San Jose Sharks (11-9-1). SBN Blog: Fear the Fin.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: Streaming/TV - ESPN+ (Bob Wischusen and Brian Boucher). Radio - Devils Hockey Network on Audacy

Concerns with the Power Play Continue

With the shorthanded goal given up to Philadelphia on Sunday night, the Devils now have three shorthanded goals against. This means that in 55 power play opportunities, they only have a +4 goal differential. Their 12.73% power play effectiveness, adjusted for the shorthanded goals against, would be 7.27%. Bryce Salvador said in the intermission on Sunday that this power play is now costing this team points, and they will be facing an extremely tough San Jose penalty kill tonight. The Sharks have an 87.93% effectiveness on the penalty kill, and I would not expect any help from them tonight.

The facilitators on the power play need to do a much better job. And when shooters get the puck, they need to think like P.K. Subban when he’s at the blueline around the wall and just fire on the net. Especially when Dougie Hamilton is not on the ice, the Devils might as well abandon their system and play the offense as if they were at even strength. Just drive the net and cycle around the net.

Even Strength Play

Fortunately for the Devils, the Sharks remain one of the worst five-on-five teams in the league. Unfortunately for the Devils, they have been bailed out by some excellent goaltending so far this season. James Reimer is 7-4-1 with a .933 save percentage and 2.06 goals against average. He already has over seven goals saved above average. He recently had a shutout against Chicago on Sunday.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Sharks’ 47.07 xGF% is seventh worst in the league - just better then the Rangers. Their 46.51 GF% is 10th worst in the league. However, they are much better at limiting high-danger chances against, as they are 14th in the league in high-danger chances for percentage at 51.58% (the Devils are second at 55.78%).

You might be thinking that the Sharks are now easier to beat without Evander Kane. However, Kane has not played a game this season because of his 21-game suspension for submitting a fake vaccine card. The Sharks are still led by Timo Meier, who has 20 points in 16 games - with 17 of those points coming at even strength. Meier, Couture, and Hertl lead the team as the only forwards with 10 or more points (20, 18, and 13, respectively), while Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, and Mario Ferraro have chipped in many assists so far this season, with 12, 11, and 10 points respectively. Interestingly, Karlsson has been having good on-ice impacts (which is unusual for him), while Burns and Ferraro have been experiencing good results for bad process on offense.

Evolving-Hockey

The Devils need to challenge the point puck carriers tonight. I know that is not their style on defense at times, but Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson can eat teams alive if given the time and space to do whatever they want with the puck. They will find a weak spot, and they will exploit it.

Possibility of a Return

Not to get everyone’s hopes up, but Jack Hughes could be returning sooner rather than later. With him participating in non-contact practice, it seems the Devils are getting him ready for a return this or next week.

If Jack Hughes returns tonight, I am unsure whether Lindy Ruff would thrust him back to the top six or keep his minutes limited in a lesser role. Either way, I would expect to see Mason Geertsen bumped from the lineup on Jack’s return, as one of Jimmy Vesey, Janne Kuokkanen, or Tomas Tatar will likely be forced down to the fourth line. One can only dream.

Update: ~3:30 PM EST - Jack Hughes’ Return

I wanted to add this update section so people would not have to scroll down to the comments to see the news. Jack Hughes will be in the New Jersey Devils lineup tonight. And on the issue of whether Jack Hughes will start at center or wing, given that he was on the fifth line at wing in practice last week - Lindy Ruff confirmed that Hughes could be a winger tonight.

I alluded to this possibility in the recap on Sunday night. I said, regarding Lindy Ruff’s choices at hand:

He could leave Sharangovich as the third line center and play Jack Hughes with, dare I say, Nico Hischier. I know Hughes lined up on the fifth line at wing in practice with Boqvist and DeLeo, and I wonder if Ruff has something in mind with that.

Now, it is important to note that Lindy Ruff said that Hughes could start the game on wing. This might mean that he plays center in the third period if the experiment does not go well in the first couple periods. However, I am all for the move. Nico Hischier’s line this year has regularly done well against top competition, but has not had a high quantity of goals. Having Jack Hughes on his wing presents a chance for an absolutely dominant line - as wingers not named Pavel Zacha have been terrible finishers this season for Nico Hischier. Zacha has three even strength goals assisted by Nico Hischier, followed by Yegor Sharangovich with two. Jesper Bratt had one; while Tomas Tatar and Jimmy Vesey have zero. We’ll get to see if Jack Hughes can pick up from where he started, as he had two goals in the first game of the season before being injured in the second game.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of tonight’s game? Will you be watching? How do you feel about another ESPN+ broadcast? Do you think Jack Hughes returns tonight? (3:30 Edit: How do you feel knowing that Jack Hughes is back?) Leave your thoughts in the comments below.