The Time: 7:00 PM
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+ 2, MSG
The Opposition’s SBN Blog: Blueshirt Banter
After two weeks of a cruel, hockey-less world, the Devils finally return to face our hated rivals, the New York Rangers! While still not full strength, with the likes of Nikita Gusev, Nico Hischier, Dmitry Kulikov and Travis Zajac still undergoing COVID-19 protocol absences, the team is slow coming together. Furthermore, Kulikov and Nikita Gusev skated independently after the team practices, indicating they are likely to come off the protocol sooner rather than later.
Also exciting news - Sami Vatanen is back! This puts the Devils one step closer to a full-lineup, which puts the Devils in a better position moving forward.
Furthermore, Mackenzie Blackwood was back on the ice today, though I’d guess that his return may delay a bit longer than the rest of the team, as he indicated that he still wasn’t completely at full strength.
#NJDevils Mackenzie Blackwood says he's "very close" to getting back to where he wants to be in terms of "getting his wind back".— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) February 15, 2021
Breathing and coughing was really how he was affected by this virus.
He says the last week he has felt better each day.
As such, my only guess for the lines is that they’d be similar to how they were before, with players slotting in for those still on the COVID-protocol. As such, I’d guess the lines for tomorrow look like this:
Johnsson - Hughes - Bratt
Merkley (?) - Zacha - Palmieri
Sharangovich - Boqvist - Kuokkanen
Bastian - McLeod - Wood
Murray - Subban
Smith - Severson
Vatanen - Tennyson
There are likely some bits and pieces to the lines that will be incorrect - such as inserting Nick Merkley on the 2nd line due to him being (to my understanding) the only other active forward (Maltsev and Seney are on the practice squad). I also don’t completely understand how the COVID protocol works if Gusev and Kulikov are cleared tomorrow prior to the game, and if they’d be allowed to play. If so, you can slot out Merkley and Tennyson and throw in Gusev and Kulikov.
Predicted Rangers Lineup:
The Rangers are scuffling, which feels great. Igor Shestyorkin looks really good, but the offense has been anemic at best. In an ideal world, the Devils overcome any rust and destroy the Rangers in their home court. Will this happen? Only time will tell - but don’t be surprised if rust occurs.
The Rangers lines were shifted in their Saturday practices and will likely look like this in the Devils game.
Kreider - Zibanejad - Blackwell
Lafreniere - Strome - Kakko
Di Giuseppe - Howden - Buchnevich
Lemieux - Rooney - Gauthier
Lindgren - Fox
Miller - Trouba
Hajek - Bitetto
How do you think the Devils will do in their first game back? Will there be ring rust? How do you expect the lines to look? Let me know in the comments below, and get excited for the return of Devils hockey!