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Game Preview #21: New Jersey Devils @ Minnesota Wild

The Wild beat the Devils in a shootout on November 24th in a game New Jersey probably deserved to win. Can the Devils get better puck luck on the road and pick up a win in St. Paul?

NHL: Minnesota Wild at New Jersey Devils
The Wild beat the Devils eight days ago in Newark. Can Dougie Hamilton help New Jersey get back in the win column in Minnesota?
Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (9-7-4, 22 points) visit the Minnesota Wild (15-6-1, 31 points). SB Nation Blog: Hockey Wilderness

The Time: 8 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2, ESPN+. RADIO - Devils Hockey Network on Audacy

The last Devils game

The Devils fell to the San Jose Sharks 5-2 Tuesday night in a game where the only thing that went right for New Jersey was the return of the $64M man Jack Hughes after missing 17 games with a shoulder injury. Jenna had the recap and noted how pretty much everything that could go wrong for the Devils, did.

The last Wild game

Minnesota is riding a four game winning streak after taking care of business at home against the tanking Arizona Coyotes. Jordan Greenway led the Wild with a goal and two assists, Kirill Kaprizov added a goal for his seventh of the season, and backup goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen played brilliantly stopping 29 out of 31 shots.

The last Devils-Wild game

These teams met eight nights ago on Thanksgiving Eve, as Minnesota defeated the Devils 3-2 via shootout. Chris wrote in his recap last week how the Devils played well enough to win and mostly had Cam Talbot, the shootout, and the Devils inept power play to blame for the loss. Pavel Zacha and Yegor Sharangovich scored for the Devils in the third period to erase a 2-0 deficit after two periods and force the extra session, but Kevin Fiala had the winner in the skills competition for the Wild.

Can we stop playing Jack Hughes at wing, please?

The Devils played Jack Hughes on the top line with Nico Hischier and Yegor Sharangovich for the first two periods of the Sharks game. Predictably, it did not work.....just like how it didn’t work the other times the Devils have ever tried Jack Hughes on Nico Hischier’s wing.

The Devils correctly shuffled the lines after an abysmal second period, moving Hughes back to center on the third line with Sharangovich taking the draws for him, and lo and behold, he looked more comfortable at his natural position. Weird how that works.

Say what you will about score effects (the Devils were down 4-0) and the fact he got the first two thirds of his first game back under his belt, but the familiarity of him back at center with Sharangovich and Janne Kuokkanen, who he played most of the second half of last season with, should not be understated.

Needless to say, I was disappointed when I saw the Devils line combos at Wednesday’s practice.

I can understand the Devils not wanting Hughes taking faceoffs his first night back, although I’d ask if he should even be playing in the first place if they’re that worried about him reinjuring himself doing a basic part of a center’s job in the NHL. What I don’t understand is this insistence of Hughes on Hischier’s wing. John Hynes and Alain Nasreddine tried it at various points of Hughes’s rookie season and it didn’t work then either. The Devils just committed $64 million dollars to Hughes in part for what they project him to do playing center. They should play him at his natural position.

Other lineup thoughts

I don’t know what the Devils should do with Ty Smith at the moment, but he’s a liability defensively and has contributed nothing on offense outside of the first Florida game. The Devils tried sitting him recently, but that doesn’t appear to have helped matters much as he continues to make baffling decisions with the puck and is often out of position without it. It raises the question....what should the Devils do with Ty Smith?

The Devils didn’t publicly announce any roster moves before departing for Minnesota, so I can only assume he’ll be in the lineup this evening over Colton White. I wonder if the correct move short-term would be to give White some run and send Smith to Utica. I don’t believe White is a long-term piece for the Devils, but I trust him more defensively right now. This is not so much an endorsement of White as it is an indictment of Smith.

Tonight’s game will be the front end of a back-to-back, so I’d expect Jonathan Bernier to get one of these next two games. With Blackwood fully vaccinated and eligible to play in Winnipeg on Friday, I’d consider giving Bernier the Minnesota game. Blackwood has gotten 5 of the 6 previous starts and I don’t think he played his best game against San Jose either, so I don’t mind giving him the extra day to recover. We should have an idea during the morning skate if Lindy Ruff agrees with me on the goaltending rotation.

What do the Wild bring to the table?

Here are Minnesota’s lines from that aforementioned game against the Coyotes, per The Athletic’s Michael Russo.

The Wild have not missed Mats Zuccarello (day-to-day, hand) and Jared Spurgeon (week-to-week, lower body injury) at all, as they’re still a deep and talented team without their third leading scorer and captain.

It goes without saying that the Devils need to be concerned with Minnesota’s top line. Kirill Kaprizov has shown that his Calder-trophy winning season was no fluke, averaging 1.13 PPG. Perhaps even more impressively, Ryan Hartman is having a breakout season for the Wild (12 G, 6A). If he keeps this pace up, he will obliterate his previous season high of 31 points in 2016-17 with Chicago.

Minnesota is tied-8th in CF% at 51.82% and 5th in xGF% at 54.36% so they’re still very much a dangerous 5v5 team that will have the benefit of having last change at home and getting the matchups they want. I would like to see the Devils do more of what they did when they saw the Wild last week.....get the puck on the net and attack early and often.

The Devils are 0-15 on the Power Play in their last six games. Can the Devils power play do something good for once?


Final Thoughts

What do you think about tonight’s matchup? Will the Devils rebound from an abysmal performance against San Jose and get a big road win in Minnesota? Will we see Jack Hughes get back on the scoresheet? Do you agree with me that playing him at wing is a bad idea? What should the Devils do with Ty Smith? Who would you start in goal, Blackwood or Bernier? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!