The Time: 7:00 PM ET
The Broadcast: TV - MSG
A “Must-Win Game”
You read that right. It is October 15, and the Devils are playing their second game of the season. Yet, one member of the Devils has already identified the game as a “must-win.” Miles Wood, speaking to Amanda Stein yesterday, said this:
“I’m just sick and tired of being on a bad team, that’s the thing that stinks the most. Tomorrow is a must-win game for us and it’s my job to get the guys going.”
It is a bit dramatic, but I have to say Wood is correct here. If the Devils do something like go 0-5 to start the year, there may be a solid chance that Andrew Brunette is elevated to head coach and the wheels fall off this team quicker and more harshly than they have fallen off Devils teams in the past few years. So if this team does not want to see any of their members traded, their head coach or GM fired, or any other drastic changes take place in the first weeks of the regular season, they need to start winning tonight.
Nico Hischier missed the first game with a mild hamstring strain that he suffered during his first preseason game. Stein reported that he practiced with the top power play unit, alongside Hughes, Bratt, Tatar, and Hamilton. This is a vast step up from seeing Haula and Palat on the first wave of the power play, in my opinion. The only thing that needs to happen now is for Nico to play. The line rushes in practice did not necessarily lead me to believe he would certainly be playing.
In full, here are your #NJDevils practice lines and pairings.— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) October 14, 2022
Mercer in the middle takes Boqvist out, giving more flexibility. Hughes centers Sharangovich and Bratt. https://t.co/7mGSGQH5sS pic.twitter.com/Dm8mOpUorq
While moving Mercer back to center so we do not have to see Boqvist play too high in the lineup is a welcome change, I truly believe that this is a mostly non-competitive team when the captain is not playing. He’s the “heart and soul” of the team for a reason - and the team’s energy level was not where it needed to be in game one. I do not want Nico to risk injury if that risk is still too high, but I do not expect this team to be very watchable when he’s not dressed for the game.
Update, 11:25 AM
Ryan Novozinsky of NJ.com has reported that Nico Hischier will be in the lineup for the home opener, as you can see below:
#NJDevils captain Nico Hischier will play in the home opener tonight.— Ryan Novozinsky (@ryannovo62) October 15, 2022
This is huge for the Devils. They can go about this in two ways: they can bump McLeod out of the lineup, having Mercer center the third line with Haula on the fourth. Or, they can pick one of the wingers - I’d imagine Zetterlund or Bastian - to sit, allowing Mercer to return to wing. Personally, I would prefer the former option, but we will see full lines during warmups, according to Amanda Stein.
Give Me Bahl and Zetterlund
As you can see in the lines from practice yesterday, Fabian Zetterlund appears slated for his season debut while Kevin Bahl is still riding the pine. Given how poorly Brendan Smith played in his Devils debut, I do not have much of a desire to see him play tonight. I would much rather the bigger, stronger, fleeter Kevin Bahl get his chance to start sending a message that he is a legitimate NHL defenseman. He’s not going to do that in the press box. Zetterlund should also be a good match for Erik Haula. Zetterlund will provide physicality from a forward not named Miles Wood, and the Devils looked in sore need of that against Philadelphia. Now, against Detroit, they have to contend with an agitator in Tyler Bertuzzi as well as a great big hitter in Moritz Seider. I do not believe in playing unskilled enforcers, generally, but I would like to be able to match that style of play with the “wrecking Bahl,” as it were.
Detroit’s First Game
Were you hoping for an easy game? While the Devils struggled against a bottom-feeder Philadelphia team, the Red Wings beat up on the Canadiens before scoring three in the third period to a 3-0 victory. Detroit outshot Montreal 25-10 in the first period and did not score until the third period, where they were outshot 6-11 but still put up three on Jake Allen. Michael Rasmussen led the way for the Red Wings with a goal and two primary assists on goals by Elmer Soderblom and Olli Maatta. Rasmussen is a 6’6” center, picked 9th overall by Detroit in 2017 - and his previous career high in points is 27. His previous years were rather bad, but I hope the Devils keep a close eye on him (and dress Kevin Bahl) just in case this is another Tage Thompson-sort of breakout year for the giant center.
My favorite shifts in the third period on Thursday was when John Marino played on the left side for Damon Severson. In 2:36 together, the Devils out-attempted Philadelphia 6-1 and did not let a shot make its way to Blackwood. As a matter of note, Severson with any partner not named Ryan Graves had a 91.67 CF% (11-1) in 4:14 of five-on-five ice time. I am not, and have never been, a fan of the Graves-Severson pairing. Marino looked legitimately better in that short time on the left: look for that Marino-Severson pairing if the bench needs to be shortened again. In those two and a half minutes, they also led the Devils to put up more shot attempts than the team had in 7:36 (five attempts) of Smith-Marino time at five-on-five. The traditional pairings may just not be what’s best for this team.
Lastly, I really hope that Vitek Vanecek gets he start tonight. He has been better than Mackenzie Blackwood for the past two seasons, and people (including the Devils coaches and staff) need to realize that. There’s no reason to play around and hope that Blackwood finds his mojo again - he can prove that in a backup role.
What do you think of tonight’s game? Do you think the Devils can win? Do you think they will? Will you be attending tonight’s game? Will you be watching on TV or listening to Matt and Chico on the radio? Who do you think will have the most impact tonight? Lave your thoughts in the comments below.