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Game Preview #22: New Jersey Devils @ Winnipeg Jets

After losing in Minnesota on Thursday night, the Devils get right back at it north of the border in Winnipeg on Friday. Can New Jersey get a much needed win?

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Winnipeg Jets
The Devils will need to be much better defensively if they hope to stop Kyle Connor.
Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (9-8-4, 22 points) visit the Winnipeg Jets (10-8-4, 24 points). SB Nation Blog: Arctic Ice Hockey

The Time: 8 PM ET

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

The last Devils game

The Devils played poor defense and lost convincingly to the Minnesota Wild 5-2, as Chris pointed out in his recap. New Jersey did a lot of things poorly. Mackenzie Blackwood struggled in net with all aspects of his game. Ryan Graves had a night to forget. Ty Smith continued to look lost defensively. Andreas Johnsson took off his helmet after dropping the gloves for some reason and went to the box as a result. Jack Hughes did nothing of note on the wing yet again. Lindy Ruff sat Janne Kuokkanen for Mason Geertsen for some reason, who also predictably did nothing. It was a bad effort all-around and the Devils got the result they deserved.

The last Jets game

Winnipeg lost 1-0 to the tanking Arizona Coyotes on Monday despite outshooting them 3:1. Unfortunately for the Jets, Karel Vejmelka stood on his head, stopping all 46 shots he faced in the shootout. Former Vezina winner Connor Hellebuyck didn’t see a whole lot of action, stopping all but one of the 15 shots he saw, a second period tip-in goal by Antoine Roussel. Needless to say, the Jets can not be happy they lost to a team that is trying to finish in 32nd place and they’ve had a few days to stew over this loss, so expect a better effort Friday night.

The last Devils-Jets game

You’ll have to go all the way back to November 5th, 2019 for the last Devils-Jets game, a Devils 2-1 win in the shootout. The Devils got a small measure of revenge after blowing a 4-0 lead on Opening Night of the 2019-20 season to the visiting Jets. Nico Hischier scored in the first period to give the Devils an early lead. Andrew Copp scored in the second to tie it. The game ultimately went to a shootout that the Devils won 2-0 behind goals from Nikita Gusev and Jesper Boqvist. Mackenzie Blackwood was outstanding for the Devils stopping 32-33.

I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so

The Devils rolled the following lines Thursday in Minnesota.

Let’s start with the obvious, and I’ll write it in all caps to emphasize.

STOP. PLAYING. JACK. HUGHES. AT. WING.

The Hughes-Hischier-Zacha line posted a 25% CF% and xGF% of 22.68%. I know I sound like a broken record, but it bears repeating until the Devils stop doing it.....the Jack Hughes at left wing experiment HAS NEVER WORKED WHEN THE DEVILS HAVE TRIED IT IN THE PAST. I pointed this out in my preview for the Minnesota game yesterday and I’m pointing it out again here. To continue doing this is just as insane as continuing to let Mark Recchi run your power play.

Making matters worse, its now also hamstringing the Hischier line, which previously had been very good at 5v5 with Zacha and Tatar on his wings. So congratulations Lindy Ruff, you’ve now botched two lines.

But it’s not just two lines, is it? It’s three because Mason Geertsen continues to draw into the lineup. Hey, at least he looked good in his fight last night sticking up for Hughes when he got tripped.

What’s that? You’re telling me Mason Geertsen actually did nothing to stick up for his teammates and it was Andreas Johnsson? You don’t say!

For the record, I have no issue with Janne Kuokkanen taking a seat. Kuokkanen has not been good enough this season. Even if he did play, I suspect he would’ve essentially been benched in-game after the Devils fell behind since Lindy Ruff has a track record of rolling three lines plus McLeod when he’s down multiple goals. But can we please stop giving Geertsen his 5 minutes a night to do nothing of note?

Some quick thoughts on the blueline and goaltender last night.....I’m not sure why we’re getting away from Siegenthaler-Subban when its worked, and I’m not sure why we’re running Blackwood into the ground when he’s at .898 over his last six starts and they have a capable stablemate in Jonathan Bernier.

Here are what the lines would be tonight if I had any say in the matter, which, I probably should at this point.

Zacha - Hischier - Tatar

Johnsson - Mercer - Bratt

Kuokkanen - Hughes - Sharangovich (with #17 taking the faceoffs)

Vesey - McLeod - Bastian

Graves - Hamilton

Siegenthaler - Subban

Smith - Severson (if you want to bench Smith for White, be my guest)

Bernier

What do the Devils need to do to win?

Not repeating the mistakes they made against San Jose and Minnesota would be a good place to start. It would also help if, for a change, the Devils didn’t fall behind by multiple goals and had to try to dig themselves out of a self-created mess.

Lindy Ruff might have set the Devils up to fail with bad lineup decisions, but he’s not the reason why Ryan Graves and Mackenzie Blackwood, in particular, were awful against the Wild. The puck didn’t go in the net off of Lindy Ruff’s head, it went in off of Damon Severson’s. Is Lindy Ruff the reason why this team can’t seem to do basic things like complete a stick-to-stick pass or put the puck on net on the power play?

What do the Jets bring to the table?

Winnipeg skated the following lines in their previous game.

Winnipeg is another dangerous 5v5 team, ranking 6th in CF% at 52.64% and 9th in xGF% at 52.46%, so the Devils will have their work cut out for them after spending most of this week not playing defense. Interestingly enough, Kyle Connor has played more with Pierre Luc-Dubois than with Mark Scheifele, which would explain why Connor is over a PPG while Scheifele and Blake Wheeler have gotten off to slow starts for players of their caliber. I know Winnipeg lost to Arizona, but it doesn’t appear to have been because of bad process, so they might run a similar lineup Friday against the Devils.

Connor Hellebuyck, who has a legitimate claim to the title of “Best Goaltender Alive”, got off to a slow start but has really rounded into form, posting a .934 save percentage over his last ten games. Unfortunately for him, the goal scorers in front of him have let him down and he was only 4-4-2 over that span.

Lastly, we get to see who is more inept between the Devils pathetic power play (31st in the NHL at 11.9%) and the Jets anemic penalty kill. Winnipeg is 31st in the league on the kill at 68.9%. Which leads me to this.....

The Devils are 0-18 on the Power Play in their last seven games. Will the Devils finally break through with the man advantage?

Is Mark Recchi still employed?

Final Thoughts

What do you think about tonight’s matchup? Can the Devils get back in the win column against the Jets or will they continue to get in their own way? Will they finally move Jack Hughes back to center where he belongs? Will Janne Kuokkanen be back in the lineup? Will Ty Smith be out of the lineup? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!