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Game Preview #43: New Jersey Devils @ Carolina Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes will turn back the clock on Whalers Night when they host the New Jersey Devils Saturday night. Can the Devils turn back the clock to when they used to win games consistently and get a W?

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at New Jersey Devils
Pavel Zacha scored against Carolina last week. Can he do it again tonight?
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (15-22-5, 35 points) visit the Carolina Hurricanes (29-9-2, 60 points) SB Nation Blog: Canes Country

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

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

The last Devils game

The Devils kicked off the second half of the season with a competitive effort against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but ultimately fell 3-2 in yet another disappointing loss. Chris had the recap of Thursday’s game, and while Jon Gillies was solid in net, the Devils didn’t do him any favors with shoddy defense in front of the net and one (1) line contributing anything positive offensively.

The last Hurricanes game

The Carolina Hurricanes needed a shootout to get a 3-2 win in Ottawa Thursday night, with Andrei Svechnikov getting the deciding goal in the skills competition. Derek Stepan and Vincent Trocheck tallied the other goals for Carolina while Frederik Andersen stopped 37-of-39 in the win.

As you may have noticed on NHL.com or social media, the Hurricanes will be celebrating Whalers Night so let’s remember some Hartford Whalers. In the fabled franchise’s final game on April 13th, 1997 before relocating to North Carolina, the Whalers defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1. Glen Wesley, who was on the 2006 Stanley Cup champion Hurricanes, scored in the first period of that game. The final goal in Whalers history was scored by then captain (and current Utica Comets head coach) Kevin Dineen. Former Devils goaltender Sean Burke stopped 38-of-39 shots in the win for Hartford.

The last Devils-Hurricanes game

You don’t have to go back very far to see what happened the last time the Devils and Hurricanes met, and the Devils defeated Carolina 7-4 in a thrilling win at The Rock. Matt had the recap for that one where the Devils got a lot of rubber on goaltender Jack Lafontaine. Nate Bastian scored twice, with Michael McLeod, Andreas Johnsson, Pavel Zacha, Jesper Bratt, and Jack Hughes finding the back of the net as well.

Jon Gillies wasn’t great in net, but when you explode for seven goals against one of the best teams in the NHL and a goaltender who probably shouldn’t be in the NHL in the first place, I guess you don’t need to be. But considering the struggles the Devils have had of their own in net, I’m not gonna complain if they want to score goals in bunches one night.

What will the lines look like?

The Devils had a quiet night on the scoresheet Thursday as only one line generated much of anything offensively. Here were the lines, per Amanda Stein and her immaculate handwriting.

The Devils top line of Yegor Sharangovich-Jack Hughes-Jesper Bratt was the only unit that consistently created anything offensively with a 63.64 CF% and a xGFX% of 59.24. Bratt picked up two primary assists on the night, one on Damon Severson’s power play goal in the first and one on Jack Hughes’s tying goal in the third. The young duo of Hughes and Bratt now both currently sit at a PPG pace.

Judging from Natural Stat Trick, Nico Hischier’s line primarily was matched up against Tampa’s Steven Stamkos line, which is understandable with Michael McLeod out of the lineup and unavailable for those defensive matchups. Unfortunately, the captain didn’t get a lot of support from his wingers as Pavel Zacha was mostly invisible and Nate Bastian isn’t really suited for a Top Six role at the NHL level.

If I were to put my head coaching hat on, I’d strongly consider moving Dawson Mercer to Hischier’s wing and putting Andreas Johnsson with them to try to balance the lines out a little more. I don’t think you’re losing a ton defensively swapping out Zacha and Bastian for Johnsson and Mercer. Doing that though would leave the Devils with a hole at 3C, so if I can put on my GM hat as well, I’d call up Nate Schnarr, who has been tearing it up in Utica with 12 G and 11 A in 28 games entering last night. I’d put Schnarr between Zacha and Tatar on the third line, or perhaps scratch Zacha (its not like he’s done much of late to keep his spot) and put Kuokkanen there. Of course, I don’t expect the Devils to do any of this to “send a message” to one or several underperforming veterans, and that is a shame as I consistently have good opinions and ideas.

Ty Smith returned to the Devils lineup and while his underlying numbers didn’t look particularly great, he at least avoided making a major mistake defensively in his sheltered minutes. So there’s that. Dougie Hamilton is also on the road trip, although he’ll probably need a few more practices under his belt before the Devils feel comfortable putting him back out there in a live game setting.

Go Go Gillies

Jon Gillies has posted a .927 save percentage over his last three outings, and while that is almost certainly a mirage and unsustainable due to his poor rebound control and the poor angles he takes at times, he has at least provided stability for the Devils in net. This run of competent play is the best goaltending stretch the Devils have had in several months now, even though its just a handful of games. It’s an easy call for Lindy Ruff and his staff to continue rolling with Gillies until he either gives them a reason not to or something better presents itself.

What do the Canes Bring to the Table?

I already broke down a lot of the good things a good team like Carolina does when I previewed last week’s game, so I won’t rehash all of that here. Trust me, they’re good. All the numbers say so.

The two big differences from the game last week versus tomorrow that I want to highlight are the fact that an NHL goaltender will be in net for Carolina (presumably Andersen), and Martin Necas should play a Top Six role after being elevated from the fourth line earlier this week. Necas is a big, skilled playmaking winger who takes an already talented Canes lineup and makes them deeper, with 22 points in 36 games this season. It’s an embarrassment of riches for one of the best teams in the league.

Final Thoughts

What do you think about this evening’s matchup? Can the Devils find a way to get another surprising win over the Canes? Will Dougie Hamilton return to the lineup? Would you shake up the lines or sit some underperforming wingers? Should the Canes permanently rock Whalers gear since it’s a clear upgrade over their current logo, uniform, and color scheme? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!