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Game Preview #37: New Jersey Devils vs. Buffalo Sabres

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The Devils will be dealing with Buffalo tonight, but both teams will be missing key members as the deadline approaches.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at New Jersey Devils Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (13-17-6) versus the Buffalo Sabres (8-23-6). SBN Blog: Die By The Blade.

The Time: 7:00 PM

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+

Goodbye Palms?

Kyle Palmieri will likely be held out of tonight’s game, again, as the trade deadline draws ever near. They have until April 12 at 3:00 PM Eastern Time - and pretty soon we should be reading who is rumored to be interested in Palmieri. The Devils will also have to act, to some extent, to find a deal with a team Palmieri is interested in.

The next question is probably whether the trade market is healthy enough to move Palmieri. Very few rumblings have come about his situation since he was held out on Sunday for precautionary reasons. We’ll see in less than a week. In the meantime, this is a very good time for Jesper Boqvist, Nick Merkley, or Tyce Thompson to solidify themselves in the lineup - or perhaps the Devils will give Gusev a last chance on the ice before the deadline.

Pavel Zacha, First to 20 Points

With his assist on Jesper Bratt’s goal on Sunday, Pavel Zacha became the first New Jersey Devil to break the 20-point mark this season. Jesper Bratt and Ty Hughes are right behind him at 19, but I do not think anyone had Zacha leading the team in points this late in the season. He’s been playing through a dry spell, but perhaps his line from last game will be a good place for him to get back on track for the rest of the season.

It’s not ideal to see Travis Zajac’s linemates in such poor territory, but they were facing the Capitals. The Buffalo Sabres, with Jack Eichel injured and Eric Staal traded, should be a welcome relief from playing Washignton. I also wonder if Taylor Hall will be playing, as the deadline is less than a week away.

Tough Days on Defense

The Devils need to think on their defense situation. Despite carrying Will Butcher as a healthy scratch, they continue to play, mostly, the same six players despite the ultra-condensed schedule. The result, I think, has been wildly varying play. The decision last game to play Severson with Murray and Smith with Vatanen was an interesting one, but I don’t think it at all improved their play. Ty Smith had a 64.29 CF% with Vatanen in 9:13 of five-on-five play, but an 81.82 CF% in another 5:27 - mostly with Severson. Likewise, Smith’s xGF% with Vatanen was 38.30, which turned up to 92.45 without Vatanen. Meanwhile, Severson had a 38.89 CF% and 36.99 xGF% in 11:48 with Murray - along with two goals against. In 5:21 without Murray, Severson had a 71.43 CF% and 58.15 xGF%.

If the Devils want to shake up their defense, they should consider getting Butcher or Jacobs in for a night rather than worsen the matching of their currently-playing group.

Why Keep Playing Blackwood?

In addition to giving rest to defensemen, the Devils need to start resting Mackenzie Blackwood more often. He should not be playing four games in eight days like he just did for the Devils from March 28 to April 4. The team is carrying Scott Wedgewood and Aaron Dell for a very good reason - to lighten Blackwood’s load. Since the season is all but lost at this point, not having Blackwood on the ice all the time might end up helping the team’s lottery situation, while also seeing who the Devils might want to re-sign this offseason. If Scott Wedgewood has a few more good starts, I could definitely see him returning. Aaron Dell would need the Devils to start giving more games, though, since he’s only started twice. It’s hard to use this season as a grounds for roster competition if Lindy Ruff isn’t going to give a wider array of players the chance to play.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of tonight’s game? How do you think the Sabres will look? What do you think will happen to Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall? How do you feel about Pavel Zacha having one more point than Taylor Hall in two fewer games played? Should Ruff make changes to the lineup personnel tonight? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.