The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+.
New Additions to the Protocol
Yesterday, the New Jersey Devils announced that Dougie Hamilton and Mason Geertsen would be added to the COVID Protocol. This brings the Devils up to five players in Protocol, along with Johnsson, Zacha, and Sharangovich. However, these additions do not really affect the Devils much in the short term. Dougie Hamilton was not playing anyway, as he just had jaw surgery a few days ago after taking a puck to the face. Mason Geertsen was also likely out of the lineup for the foreseeable future with the Devils doing well with him not suiting up at forward.
Given that Yegor Sharangovich and Pavel Zacha were placed on protocol on Tuesday, it seems this will be their last day in the Protocol as long as they were asymptomatic. It will be nice to have them back in the lineup so Jimmy Vesey and Nathan Bastian do not have to be top six wingers for Nico Hischier, but their return will probably be on Monday when the Devils play the Lightning.
The Changes Since Thursday
All the recent changes to the Devils, aside from the additions to the Protocol, have been to what players are on the Taxi Squad. Alex Holtz and Kevin Bahl were exchanged for Colton White and AJ Greer. They joined the Devils for the partial practice yesterday before they traveled to Columbus.
I forgot Ty Smith! He's there too!— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) January 7, 2022
I hope the Devils decide to play Colton White tonight. Even if someone has to play off-hand, I think that is am improvement from having Christian Jaros out on the ice for 10 minutes a night. As Amanda Stein noted, White has only played six NHL games and five AHL games this season. I think he was a decent defenseman at the NHL level in his appearances so far, and I would consider juggling the lines around to get Subban off of the pairing with Ryan Graves - as Subban just looked out of sorts against Columbus on Thursday. After the top pairing of Jonas Siegenthaler and Damon Severson, you could have Ryan Graves play with either Ty Smith or Colton White on their off-hand side - and then have Subban play with the other on the third pairing. Subban was finding some chemistry with Smith, but if the Devils wanted a more defensive partner for Subban (as they had with Siegenthaler earlier in the year), a White-Subban pairing might be a nice bottom pairing while they wait for Hamilton to return.
AJ Greer, meanwhile, has had a decent season in Binghamton, with four goals and 11 assists in 22 games. I think that Greer might take the spot that Nolan Foote had in the lineup last game. At age 25, Greer is probably not going to take that many more steps as a potential NHL player, but he fits the “grit and sandpaper” role well enough without noticeably taking away from what the team is doing. If Greer is in the lineup tonight, I would play him with McLeod and Studenic while Boqvist joins the third line with Mercer and Kuokkanen. The third line experiment with Foote next to Mercer did not go well last game, nor did the hope that Boqvist could mesh with McLeod and Studenic. Having Bastian on the second line does seem to imbalance that bottom six, but the only other option for Lindy Ruff is to promote Kuokkanen to Hischier’s line just to drop down Bastian back to stabilize McLeod’s line. Bastian, however, seems to have deserved another chance at the top six with Zacha and Sharangovich out after the Hischier line absolutely shut down their opposition on Thursday.
Key To The Game
I think Ruff played the Hischier line a bit more lightly than normal last game because of Nico’s foot injury sustained against the Capitals. However, Nico Hischier seems to be doing alright, and the Devils should lean into their top six while the third and fourth lines are a bit of a mess with the number of supporting players in COVID Protocol at the moment. The first key to the game is stifling the Blue Jackets from getting shots on goal by continuing to trust Nico Hischier as a top shutdown center despite having fourth liners on his wings. He elevates their game and allows them to play an aggressive forechecking game that the team needs to see more of from all its players.
The second key to the game is getting Subban less ice time. Subban was making mistakes on Thursday, and he was not really making up for it with any nice plays. It was not an awful game by any stretch, but I think extra ice time is the last thing he needs right now. If the Devils had more depth, I might even recommend a planned game off to get him fully rested. But with Hamilton out, Subban cannot miss any games. The Devils will need to keep him fresh by limiting his ice time, and in doing so they might get the most out of him.
The third key to the game is Mackenzie Blackwood having another good game. I did not see any indication that Lindy Ruff would defer to either Jon Gillies or Akira Schmid for tonight’s game, so I’m left to assume that Blackwood is staying in the lineup. From where I watched the game on Thursday, Blackwood looked better than he has since early December or November. He moved around the crease very well and only let up one bad goal on a point shot that he needed to smother before Max Domi cleaned up the rebound. Blackwood was noticeably hugging the posts to prevent any bad goals like he gave up against Boston, and he was making very timely reactive saves on Thursday - so keeping the crease clear of rebounds should be a goal for Blackwood tonight.
What do you think of tonight’s game? Do you think the Devils will beat the Blue Jackets again? What do you make of the current standings picture? How do you think Ruff should approach this game with the lineup? How do you feel about Blackwood potentially making another start? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.