The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG (Primary Channel - Islanders on +)
The Good News - Call-Ups
While Studenic has zero points in five appearances this season, he has five goals and five assists in 13 AHL appearances with Utica. Meanwhile, Kevin Bahl has two assists in 19 games played, and has a +10 rating (for whatever that’s worth). Tonight, we will see if Bahl was earning that rating through strong defensive play, or if he has been a passenger to strong team play. On that note, I do not understand why the team is reluctant to give Nikita Okhotiuk a chance. He has been more involved in the Utica offense, with two goals and four assists and an equivalent plus-minus to Bahl. However, I do wonder what type of role Bahl will be thrust into playing tonight. There may be a chance that Lindy Ruff tries to match his size and skillset to the role that Ryan Graves was playing next to Dougie Hamilton. Or, they might bury him in limited minutes on the third pairing.
The Bad News - Possibility of Canceling Near-Future Games
While I was going to say that a positive to calling Studenic up is a lessened possibility of playing Mason Geertsen, I quickly learned yesterday that the call-up was on the basis of more COVID insurance, as Yegor Sharangovich might be missing games this week - and Jaros is certain to. Jaros has been placed in the protocol, while Sharangovich has either become ill or been exposed - but he has not yet tested positive.
#NJDevils COVID-19 protocol updates:— Sam Kasan (@samikasan) December 13, 2021
♦️ Christian Jaros has entered protocol
♦️ Yegor Sharangovich held out of practice as a precaution (he is not in protocol)
♦️ Nico Hischier, Ryan Graves remain in protocolhttps://t.co/qhEABab1Iy
With three players in COVID protocol and one that may be headed that way, the Devils are only three or four cases away from having their games postponed. With COVID, it seems like “when it rains, it pours” - so I would not be surprised if this turned into a full-on outbreak like the Islanders saw a few weeks ago.
#NJDevils Lindy Ruff this morning:— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) December 13, 2021
“We’ve got two or three right now (in protocol), and hopefully it ends there. But we don’t know what tomorrow brings either. We’ve got a few guys who aren’t feeling well but some of it is cold-related too, it’s hard to separate the two.”
The way that sounds to me, the game probably should not be played. If the Flyers end up having COVID breakthroughs in a few days, then I would point the finger at tonight’s game being played.
What to Make of the Players Who Are Left
Without Nico Hischier, Ryan Graves, Christian Jaros, and presumably Yegor Sharangovich, I would have to suggest moving Tomas Tatar to the first line with Hughes and Zacha. The Mercer line can stay together, as none of their members are sick or in protocol. The third line should be Kuokkanen, Boqvist, and Vesey - while the fourth line should be Studenic, McLeod, and Bastian.
As for the defense, I think I would prefer seeing what Kevin Bahl could do with Dougie Hamilton to seeing him paired with P.K. Subban in third pairing minutes. I would like to see Jonas Siegenthaler and Subban reuinited, as well as Ty Smith and Damon Severson. The mixed-up pairings have yielded, for the most part, garbage results. P.K. Subban, who had an excellent start to the season, has fallen off a cliff playing next to Ty Smith. Damon Severson is playing better - but I think that has more to do with himself than who he’s paired with. After all, this is a guy who was effective for a short period on the top pairing with Dakota Mermis as his partner at the end of the 2019-20 season. (In fact, that was one of his best performing pairings of the past few years, as they outscored opponents 9-5 in 150 minutes together.) Since Ty Smith has looked much more confident the last few games, I would like to see if they can create that spark they had last season.
The Philadelphia Flyers have won two straight, having beaten the Golden Knights on Friday by a score of 4-3, and then the Coyotes on Saturday by a score of 5-3. In their last four games, the Flyers have scored five, then zero, then four, and then five goals. Their zero came against the Devils on Wednesday. The message here is that the Devils need to play a strong defensive game, and rely on their remaining skill forwards in the top six to create counterattack goals. It is essential that the Devils not turn the puck over with unnecessary stretch passes - especially those standstill breakouts from behind the net (looking at you, P.K. Subban) that never meet the target.
The Flyers goaltending has been atrocious of late. They have given up three or more goals in eight straight games, having given up seven to the Lightning and Avalanche, six to the Hurricanes, and five to the Devils (11/28) in that span. The Devils need to make sure that this game does not turn into an end-to-end skate fest. Why? Teams hardly need to sell out for offense to get a goal against Philadelphia - they just come naturally with possessive play.
I am looking for big games from Dougie Hamilton, Jesper Bratt, and Jack Hughes tonight. Lindy Ruff stated the team needs to find guys who will step up - and while I have problems with what Lindy said after last game, Dougie, Jesper, and Jack are those guys right now. They are capable of stepping up and have at times over the past couple weeks. They just need to do it again tonight - because who knows who else might be in protocol by 7:00?
What do you think of tonight’s game? Do you think the game should be played with non-protocol Devils showing symptoms? How do you think the team will respond to Lindy Ruff’s words after last game? Do you think Blackwood will beat the Flyers again? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.