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Game Preview #38: New Jersey Devils vs. Arizona Coyotes

After a nearly week-long break, the Devils are nearly back to full strength and have had plenty of time to rest and practice.

NHL: JAN 13 Devils at Islanders
Pavel Zacha is in a midst of a slump. Can he turn it around against the terrible Coyotes?
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (14-18-5) versus the Arizona Coyotes (9-24-4). SBN Blog: Five for Howling.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+

Roster Nearly at Full Strength

After being given the weekend off by Lindy Ruff, the Devils have had two full days to practice prior to the game tonight. With the extra days to get players off of protocol, the Devils practiced with a roster that was almost completely healthy. The big missing piece is Dougie Hamilton, who is still out with a jaw injury - and we have known Jonathan Bernier to be out for the season for awhile now. This is how the Devils practiced yesterday after P.K. Subban returned from a non-COVID illness.

I know some may clamor for Marian Studenic to see the lineup because of his tenacity, but I do not really see where he fits into the lineup right now, considering his lack of production. Because of Taxi Squad rules, the Devils are also a bit limited in their roster shuffling - as players can only play from the Taxi Squad as a result of a 23-man roster player missing time with COVID or an injury.

My one source of hesitation from the lineup is the continued presence of Christian Jaros. I understand that Hamilton is out for some time, but I would like to see the Devils call Reilly Walsh up at some point to see how he fares in NHL action. While Jaros does not really pass my eye test most of the time, he hasn’t been bad next to Smith in limited time. In 28:52, the pairing has a 46.94 CF% and 47.97 xGF% with one goal against.

Travis Zajac Filling In While Ruff Attends to Personal Matters

While the team’s roster was only missing Hamilton, Lindy Ruff was missing from the coaching staff in both practices. Stein reported that he was away for personal reasons. Perhaps in response to this, the Devils called up one of their former players in Travis Zajac to help support the coaching staff.

I think there’s a few things that Zajac would be capable of helping a team with in practice. As a hard-working player in all situations, Zajac’s role has mostly been shared by Nico Hischier and Michael McLeod since his departure from the team. However, I imagine he might want to impart a message of defensive responsibility and tenacity to get the puck on this young team.

Fortunately for the Devils, it seems that Lindy Ruff will not be away beyond yesterday’s practice. Hopefully everything is alright for him.

State of the Yotes

The Coyotes can make any team look good. At 9-24-4, they have a league worst -58 goal differential, while the Devils sit at just -22. The Coyotes did beat the Canadiens 5-2 on Monday, and they are 4-4-2 in their last ten games. So, it might be possible that this has been their best ten game stretch of the season so far.

They have a few players still worth keeping an eye on. Clayton Keller is still rather good, on pace for 60+ points as the only Coyote with more than ten goals at 14. Phil Kessel has only managed good playmaking numbers this season with five goals and 21 assists, but he could always put up a surprising streak. Shayne Gostisbehere has seen much more consistent ice time than he saw his last couple years in Philadelphia, putting up 24 points in 37 games with an ATOI of 22:11. The Coyotes are not a very deep team, as they have some completely players at the likely twilight of their careers such as Antoine Roussel, Loui Eriksson, Anton Stralman, Andrew Ladd, and Jay Beagle. Meanwhile, younger players such as Ryan Dzingel and Alex Galchenyuk have been unable to regain the form of their earlier seasons. and some players, like Christian Fischer and Barrett Hayton struggle to make improvements to their game as their early careers stagnate. Few players can perform well in Arizona’s environment, and the Devils need to use that to their advantage tonight.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of tonight’s game? Do you think the Devils will win? Who do you think will benefit most from the break? How do you feel about the lineup as it is? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.