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Game Preview #39: New Jersey Devils vs. Carolina Hurricanes

The Devils host the Hurricanes in the first of four meetings this season. Can the Devils solve their finishing and goaltending woes against one of the best teams in the NHL?

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at New Jersey Devils
Sebastian Aho is the Canes leading scorer. Ideally, Mackenzie Blackwood would keep him off the scoresheet.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (14-19-5, 33 points) host the Carolina Hurricanes (27-8-2, 56 points) SB Nation Blog: Canes Country

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+, ESPN+. RADIO - Devils Hockey Network (Access through or the SiriusXM app)

The last Devils game

The Devils inexplicably lost 4-1 to the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday night as rookie netminder Karel Vejmelka stood on his head for the Yotes. I had the recap of that game and while I thought the Devils did some good things early, they failed to put Arizona away when they had the chance in the first and didn’t Blackwood-proof the latter part of the game. Predictably, goaltending let the Devils down yet again in another frustrating loss.

The last Hurricanes game

The Hurricanes hosted the New York Rangers last night and took advantage of a literal off-night for Igor Shesterkin, as the bludgeoned Alex Georgiev early and often and cruised to a 6-3 win. The Canes jumped out to a 3-0 lead and led 5-1 after two periods. The Rangers cut the deficit to 2 before Tony DeAngelo got a measure of revenge against his old club with a PPG with 2:33 to go to seal the win for Carolina.

The last Devils-Hurricanes game

These teams haven’t met yet this season and didn’t meet last year due to the realignment of the shortened COVID season, so this is the first meeting between the clubs since February 14th, 2020, a 5-2 Hurricanes win. Carolina showed off their depth with 5 different goal scorers, highlighted by Andrei Svechnikov’s goal off the rush in the second period to effectively put the game away. If you would indulge me in remembering some guys, Mirco Mueller and Joey Anderson were the Devils goal scorers that night, with Louis Domingue getting the start in net for New Jersey.

What will the lines look like?

The Devils iced the healthiest team they’ve had in the last six weeks against Arizona. The lines were as follows, per Amanda Stein.

Of course, because its the Devils and we can’t go more than one game without someone stepping on a rake or suffering a mystery ailment, we learned Friday that Ty Smith is dealing with an upper body injury.

Consider Smith to be very questionable for this weekend, which would probably mean Mason Geertsen or Colton White (who was recently reassigned to the taxi squad) is next man up.

I don’t have any real issues with the forward combinations, other than I have an issue with Pavel Zacha (2 G, 3 A in his last 21 games), Andreas Johnsson (0 G, 3 A in his last 16 games), and Janne Kuokkanen (2 G, 2 A in his last 23 games) continuing to be passengers and not contributing to the Devils offensively. The Devils haven’t gotten nearly enough production from their non-Bratt wingers, which is a big part of why they’re 7-15-3 in their last 25 games.

Of course, the biggest reason the Devils have been bad the last two months has been goaltending, which brings us to Mackenzie Blackwood.....

Back to Back? I Better See The Goaltenders Split Starts

The Devils have a back-to-back this weekend as they also host the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday. Blackwood has received 18 of the last 24 starts and played 19 games total (7-9-2 with an .884 save percentage in that stretch). One of the reasons Lindy Ruff has rode Blackwood as hard as he has, aside from lack of alternatives, is that the Devils have had few back-to-backs in that stretch. They’ve had two, thanks in part to COVID postponements, and Ruff has split the starts when he has had back-to-backs.

I say all that to point out that with the revised NHL schedule announced earlier this week, the Devils will be seeing more back-to-backs as we enter the second half of the season. How many more? Ten sets of back-to backs, to be exact.

Anyone who has been following my previews and recaps all season knows that I have little confidence in Mackenzie Blackwood to do anything other than give up four or five goals a game and put the Devils in a position to lose. Gerard was much more eloquent than me when he asked if it was time to pull the plug on Blackwood.....the answer is yes, by the way.

Blackwood has not been effective regardless of how much rest he’s had, so the absolute last thing I want to see is him getting both starts. I would implore Lindy Ruff and his staff to have some faith in the backups, whether its Jon Gillies or they recall Nico Daws/Akira Schmid.

What do the Canes Bring to the Table?

Unsurprisingly, Carolina is once again one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and among the league leaders in just about every major stat. Entering Friday night, they sit....

  • 4th in goals per game (3.50)
  • 2nd in CF% (55.49%)
  • 7th in HDCF% (53.63%)
  • 7th in xGF% (53%)
  • 5th in power play (25.5%)
  • 1st in penalty kill (90.1%)
  • 4th in save percentage (.924 %)
  • 1st in goals against/game (2.25)

So in summary, they’re one of the best 5v5 teams in the league, one of the most explosive offensive teams in the league, one of the best defensive teams in the league, have top tier goaltending, are great on the power play, and are an elite penalty killing unit. Other than that, I think the Canes are ripe for the picking.

It starts with the depth they’ve assembled. Teams like to talk about having the ability to roll four lines. The Canes actually do. The blueline is deep enough where they can withstand losing Dougie Hamilton in UFA and simply plug in Tony DeAngelo and they don’t skip a beat. Frederik Anderson was essentially discarded by the Maple Leafs and is in the Vezina conversation in his first year in Carolina. They just put six on the Rangers, with six different goal scorers, while Martin Necas is still in COVID protocol. They’re good.

Final Thoughts

What do you think about this evening’s matchup? Can the Devils find a way to pull off the upset? How will they address Ty Smith’s absence in the lineup? Who would you start in net Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!