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Game Preview #9: New Jersey Devils vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Coming off one of their biggest wins in years, the Devils get right back at it in this divisional matinee against the Blue Jackets. Can they slow down Johnny Gaudreau and take advantage of a leaky Columbus defense?

NHL: Nashville Predators at Columbus Blue Jackets
You may be surprised to hear that Johnny Gaudreau leads Columbus in scoring
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (5-3-0, 10 points) host the Columbus Blue Jackets (3-6-0, 6 points). SB Nation Blog: Jackets Cannon

The Time: 2:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSGSN, SN, ESPN+. RADIO - Devils Hockey Network (Access through the official Devils app)

The last Devils game

The New Jersey Devils are coming off of a huge 1-0 win at home against the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche on Friday. Chris handled the recap of that game and highlighted the strong goaltending (!), strong defensive play (!!), and physicality (!!!) the Devils played with. Credit the penalty kill as well for going 6-for-6 on the night, including the final 59.1 seconds of regulation in a 6-on-4 situation. Jack Hughes scored a PPG for the only goal of the game, and Vitek Vanecek stopped all 24 shots he saw for his first shutout as a Devil.

The last Blue Jackets game

Columbus was shutout at home by the Boston Bruins 4-0 on Friday night, as Matt Grzelcyk, Charlie Coyle, Jake DeBrusk, and David Pastrnak found the back of the net for the Bruins. Elvis Merzlikins struggled in this game with 25 saves on 29 shots and is sitting at an .863 save percentage over 5 appearances this season. 2022 6th overall pick David Jiricek made his NHL debut for Columbus and logged 15:35 in ice time.

The last Devils-Blue Jackets game

Columbus defeated the Devils back on March 1st last season, winning 4-3. You may recall that the Blue Jackets manhandled the Devils that night, as I was reminded of that very fact when I re-read my recap of the game.

The Blue Jackets didn’t give Jack Hughes much room to operate or do much of anything, but he still managed to score a goal that night. Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha also scored for the Devils.

So what’s different since then? For starters, the Devils did add some players who have a higher compete level and are tougher to play against such as Erik Haula and the injured Ondrej Palat. They have Miles Wood, who they didn’t have for most of last year. I don’t really consider John Marino a physical presence, but he has been a major upgrade on the blueline and can utilize his body the right way. Lastly, Vitek Vanecek or Mackenzie Blackwood is a better option in net than an inexperienced Nico Daws was in that game.

Columbus did the Devils a solid when they traded away Oliver Bjorkstrand this offseason, as the Devil-killer had 12 goals and 5 assists in 19 career games against New Jersey, but they probably won’t be any easier to face considering who they brought in this offseason.


The Devils lineup on Friday night was as follows.

Ondrej Palat was placed on IR on Saturday, with Andreas Johnsson being recalled from Utica to take his spot on the roster.

Columbus skated these lines in their loss to Boston, although they didn’t last long as they shook things up as the game went on and Tarasov came on in relief of Merzlikins.

Joonas Korpisalo was activated off of injured reserve and sent to the AHL on a conditioning assignment, so he presumably won’t be an option after starting last night in Syracuse. Nick Blankenburg wore a non-contact jersey in Saturday’s practice so he likely won’t be available either.

Keys to the Game

Let’s start from the net and work our way out.

Much like last season, Columbus has struggled to keep opposing teams from putting the puck in the back of their net. This is a major issue for them as Elvis Merzlikins, who is in Year 1 of a 5-year deal paying him $5.3M AAV, has an .863 save percentage thus far on the young season. Rookie goaltender Daniil Tarasov hasn’t been much better with an .893 save percentage over 4 appearances.

Adam Boqvist suffered a broken foot, forcing Columbus to turn to Jiricek. Zach Werenski has been a stud on the backend, but Columbus hasn’t gotten much out of sub-replacement level players like Erik Gudbranson. If you’ve followed Gudbranson throughout his career, none of this should be surprising.

Of course, the big addition Columbus did make this offseason was when they surprisingly won the Johnny Gaudreau free agency sweepstakes. By now, you know the story of why he picked Columbus. You can believe him if you so choose. You can believe he actually did want to sign with the Devils. Or you can think he’s full of it. It doesn’t really matter anymore at this point, but it is going to be the elephant in the room that needs to be mentioned when talking about this game. I doubt the Devils fans in attendance Sunday will forget so quickly that Gaudreau didn’t pick New Jersey and will let him hear it every time he touches the puck. I also don’t think they’re going to care much about the particulars as to why he didn’t pick New Jersey. It doesn’t really matter at this point. Regardless, Gaudreau is Columbus’s most dangerous player and slowing him down should be priority #1 defensively for the Devils.

On the other hand, if the Devils get out to a big lead, they might see defensive non-plays like this one from Johnny Hockey.

It goes without saying that the Devils need to do what they’ve done over the first eight games of the season. Shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. Shoot from every angle. Shoot from the greasy areas. Columbus has done nothing over the early portion of the season to show they can keep the puck out of the net, so keep attacking. Only Los Angeles has given up more goals as a team.

If Columbus keeps the Chinakhov-Sillinger-Johnson line together, this would be a matchup I’d be looking to take advantage of. We know these players are all skilled as they’re all former first round draft picks, but young players tend to make mistakes in their defensive end and the Devils have the skill and speed up front to make inexperienced players look silly. Take advantage of that.

Did you know Columbus is the last NHL team without a power play goal this season? The Devils penalty kill has played very well to this point, and they’re coming off of a big 6-for-6 performance against a good Colorado team, but you don’t want to be that team that Columbus breaks through against. They have enough skill up front between Gaudreau, Patrik Laine, Jack Roslovic, and perhaps even perennial pains in the neck like Boone Jenner and Jakub Voracek that the Devils should not overlook. The most Devils thing I can think of is laying an egg against a last place team less than 48 hours after a big win. Don’t fall into the trap.

Ken Daneyko: 40 Years a Devil

The Devils announced on Friday that they will honor Ken Daneyko for his 40 years with the organization between his playing and broadcasting careers.

If you’re attending the game, I would recommend being in your seats early as they plan to have a special tribute to “Mr. Devil” prior to puck drop. I would imagine this tribute will also be televised as well.

As a special treat, let’s remember the time he got his own “This is Sportscenter” commercial and all of the New Jersey goodness ESPN crammed into a 30-second spot.

Of course, it wasn’t the only time he was on a “This is Sportscenter” ad.

Congratulations to Ken Daneyko for his 40 years with the Devils!

A Personal Note and a New Role

If you have been following me on my Twitter account, and you should since the takes there are even better than the ones I write here, you may have noticed that I started a new job recently. I thought that I would be able to balance my day job and continuing to write previews and recaps here, but unfortunately, there’s only so many hours in a day between work, sleep, watching 82 Devils games and doing this job to the best of my ability, and my other interests. So I am sad to announce that this will be my final preview and/or recap for All About The Jersey for the time being.

Fortunately, John has been aware of my personal situation for some time and we were able to work together to come to an agreement where I would continue contributing to All About the Jersey. You didn’t think you were getting rid of me that easily, did you?

As you may have noticed a couple weeks ago, I wrote nearly 3000 words on whether or not its too early to fire a head coach. I’ve been looking to write more content like that for some time now while simultaneously being opinionated, as my background is in sports radio and production, so I’m pleased to announce I’ll be contributing to AATJ on a weekly basis moving forward. So if Lindy Ruff and the Devils want to continue winning games and make me look like a dope in the process, that’s fine. I’m willing to take the L on that one and look like a fool if the Devils keep winning hockey games.

Final Thoughts

What do you think about today’s matchup? Can the Devils win their third straight game? Who would you start in net? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!