This not deja vu. You are not misreading anything. The New Jersey Devils are playing the Boston Bruins in New Jersey for a second straight game. Of course, there was a Christmas break for the Devils in between those games.
The Time: 7:30 PM ET
The Broadcast: TV - TNT, TVAS; Audio - The Devils Hockey Network
The Last Devils & the Last Devils-Bruins Game: These two teams played each other at the Rock on Friday, December 23. The first period went as well as you could have hoped for the Devils. They came out strong. They controlled the run of play. They held the Bruins to a mere five shots on net. Jack Hughes scored a power play goal to quickly punish a Matt Grzelcyk boarding penalty. It was quite good. Then came the second period. The game got away from the Devils. The first sign was an equalizer that not much could have done about; a Jake DeBrusk shot being tipped in by Patrice Bergeron after a faceoff that Bergeron won. The second sign was one where it was clear Mackenzie Blackwood was not going to have a good time. He sent a puck around the boards right to a Bruin. Pass, pass, David Pastrnak gets it down low and slides his rebound under the five-hole to make it 1-2. Later, a third sign: a 3-on-2 emerges and Jonas Siegenthaler decides to shift to cover Pavel Zacha going down the middle. This left David Pastrnak, one of the top scorers in the league, wide open. Siegenthaler tried to get back, Blackwood went down early, so Pastrnak went high to make it 1-3. Late in the second period, Damon Severson and Tomas Tatar went for a hit that did not work out. Kevin Bahl mishandled a puck right to Brad Marchand by the endboards. Nico Hischier chased Marchand while DeBrusk was all alone in front. Pass, shot, 1-4. Blackwood was replaced for the third period and the game seemed out of doubt. The Devils had opportunities but Linus Ullmark, the goal posts, and one clearance off the line denied them anything but a goal. Until 11 minutes into the third period, the Devils’ offensive efforts paid off when Tomas Tatar put in a rebound from a Hischier shot to make it 2-4. Two minutes and 46 seconds later, Yegor Sharangovich piled in a rebound in front from a Dougie Hamilton shot to make it 3-4. The Devils pushed to get that equalizer in the remaining six or so minutes. They could not. So they lost 3-4 to the best team in the NHL. Chris recapped the loss here, focusing on goaltending being the difference. Over at Stanley Cup of Chowder, Dan Ryan was more positive as the Bruins did hold on to win.
The Last Bruins Game: Yes, the Bruins did play last night. They were in Canada’s capital to play the Senators. Boston came out with energy, shots, but nothing to solve Cam Talbot. To be fair, Ottawa also came out well too. The Sens struck first on a power play goal from Tim Stützle. Trent Frederic was caught closing his hand on a puck and Ottawa punished Boston for that penalty. The B’s would tie it up shortly thereafter with a goal by Jake DeBrusk. Then Alex DeBrincat managed to make it a 2-1 game for Ottawa shortly after that. The Sens did more in the second and led. What did Boston do in response? Put up a whopping 27 shots on Talbot to try to get the equalizer (and keep Ottawa to just five to ensure they would not extend the lead). Yes, even Boston gets goalie’d. However, their incredible amount of rubber on net would yield an equalizer. With less than four minutes in regulation, Pavel Zacha managed to be the one to tie up the game at 2-2. Seconds after a Travis Hamonic penalty was killed by the Senators. Boston kept hope alive and managed to get a point out of the game. A rousing overtime took place with a total of ten shots on net: four for Boston and six for Ottawa. None went in. A shootout was needed. DeBrincat scored first on Jeremy Swayman. That would be it among all six shooters. When David Pastrnak missed the net, Talbot and the Senators could celebrate a 3-2 overtime win with 51 shots against (!!) over the best team in the NHL. If nothing else, Boston may be a little gassed for a game on Wednesday night. Dan Ryan has this recap at Stanley Cup of Chowder for the loss.
The Goal: Do not help the other team. The Boston Bruins are having an incredible season. Read my preview before Friday’s game to get the details on how incredible they have been in 2022-23.
While this goal applies to pretty much every game, it is the most appropriate for this matchup for two reasons. First, the Boston Bruins have demonstrated very clearly that they are very talented and have been excellent in pretty much every part of the game in regulation and overtime. They are the best team in hockey. They do not need assistance to show that; all that it does his hurt the provider of said assistance.
Second, the Devils basically lost to the Bruins because they made costly errors in three out of the four goals allowed in the second period. Sure, Ullmark and posts and puck luck betrayed them from scoring. That happens in hockey. Not much you can do about that. What they can do is not have the goaltender rim a puck right to an opposing player, which was Blackwood’s largest mistake on December 23. What they can do is to focus on David Pastrnak, Boston’s top scorer and one of the best players in the world right now, and dare other Bruins to beat them. That was apparent by Siegenthaler, who otherwise has been excellent against other top players this season, which led to Boston’s third goal in that game. What they can do is not cough up the puck to anyone, much less Brad Marchand; make their hits count so they are not late in coming back to defend the slot; and not chase Marchand around the net instead of protecting the slot. Those errors by Kevin Bahl, Damon Severson & Tomas Tatar, and Nico Hischier all yielded the fourth goal against. The Devils lost the game through that second period and they have themselves to blame for 75% of the goals against in that one.
Achieving this goal may not win the game all by itself. But I believe if the Devils want to win tonight - which they can, they did show that in their previous game - then they need to not spot Boston scoring opportunities that they can and will and did score on. Do not help the other team!
What’s Happened Between the Two Since the Last Game: Not much. Both teams were on break from the 24th through the 26th. Boston played last night and you can see how that went earlier in this preview. Jeremy Swayman started in net for the Bruins, so I would expect Linus Ullmark to get another start against the Devils. Ullmark has been superb this season with his best-in-league-among-starters 94.5% save percentage in 5-on-5 play per Natural Stat Trick. I fear that he may put in a better performance than his last start in Newark, which would be bad news for the Devils.
The Devils had a practice on Tuesday. In that practice, there was some good news. Per Amanda Stein on Twitter, Ondrej Palat returned to the ice and participated in practice. He is not ready to return to a game yet. This is still a very positive development in his recovery. A return within the first half of January is very much possible. There will be no shortage of games for Palat to work his rust off in.
There was also some bad news out of that same practice. First, Ryan Novozinsky reported on Twitter that defenseman Ryan Graves is now officially listed as week-to-week. Not much in the way of what exactly his injury is or what his timeline is expected to be. How long “week-to-week” is, I wish I could tell you. It is the same status as defenseman John Marino.
I would expect Kevin Bahl and Nikita Okhotiuk to continue filling in the gap on the third pairing with additional minutes going to Damon Severson and Brendan Smith. This also means more pressure on Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Siegenthaler to perform as the defenders beyond them are either inexperienced or problematic. Can the Devils defense hold up as a whole? I think they can. Overall, they did a decent job against Boston - which was a game played without Graves and Marino. Just do not help out Boston’s offense, which clearly does not need any help.
Second, based on Amanda Stein’s tweet of the lines and pairings in Monday’s practice, it appears that Mackenzie Blackwood may start this game. I think this would be a bad idea. Blackwood helped Boston get the win on the 23rd and showed that his inconsistent performances are intact. The Devils did quite well with Vitek Vanecek starting during Blackwood’s injury. I do not think one not-so-good night in Raleigh is enough to warrant him being on the bench for three straight games. I also do not think that playing Blackwood a lot will somehow see his issues work out. While he only faced five shots in the third period as a replacement, I would much rather give Vanecek a chance against this Boston team than rolling out Blackwood against the B’s for a second time. Of course, Lindy Ruff can opt for Vanecek getting the start. But if it is Blackwood again, I am less confident about the Devils getting a much-needed result against the Best team in the NHL.
What Else I Want to See Tonight: I want to see Lindy Ruff not be so quick to shorten his bench. In Friday’s loss to Boston, Alexander Holtz, Kevin Bahl, and Yegor Sharangovich all played fewer than 11 minutes total in that game. In Bahl’s case, he was benched after his heinous turnover that led to Boston making it 1-4 in the second period. Tonight, I think he will get a clean slate to work with and perhaps play more throughout the game. In Holtz’s case, despite some strong 5-on-5 numbers on ice, he has yet to earn the favor from the coaches to get more shifts. This is a tough spot for any player because how can a player contribute without being given a chance, but the player is not being given much of a chance because they are not contributing much.
Sharangovich receiving so little ice time remains a mystery to me. Enough that I may need to write a post about this in the near future. He is a player that Ruff is very familiar with, so it is not like he does not know what he can do. While streaky in scoring, his shot is still quite good in terms of a release and he knows how to play off more talented players. He gets PK time because he knows how to defend and handle pressure situations in his own zone. He is not a one-way player. Plus, he even scored a goal in the Boston game. Yet, he is being treated not differently from Holtz. Why in the world did Miles Wood or Michael McLeod get three to four more minutes of ice time than Sharangovich? Was Wood or McLeod going to play a role in a comeback effort? Not so on Friday, but Sharangovich did. He really should get more minutes tonight and in general. He can contribute plenty. Give him the opportunities, Mr. Ruff. Do not make him (or Dawson Mercer for that matter) a victim of a shortened bench.
I also want to see David Pastrnak blanketed as much as possible. He was the biggest problem for the Devils in Friday’s game. He tends to be the biggest problem for most opponents of the Bruins. Pastrnak is a top-ten scorer in the NHL and is utterly fantastic in 5-on-5 situations. It is not a case of keeping Pastrnak from making an impact, it is a case of minimizing what impact he could have. This means not leaving him open on rushes and, just as importantly, being aware of where he is on the ice. Obviously, this may have to be ignored if the play commands it; but I would rather dare other Bruins to beat the Devils instead of letting their ace do it. By having a Devil on him and/or in range to react to him, the game can be more difficult for Pastrnak. If nothing else, do not let it be easy for Boston’s top skater tonight to put up a goal or two. Again.
Lastly, I want to see more of that kind of first period from Friday’s game. It really was a well-played period by the Devils. It took advantage of Boston not having their legs under them to start the game. It not only built up a lead but it put the B’s on their backfoot for much of the first. The Devils will have the advantage of not playing last night over Boston once again. A longer advantage as Ottawa took Boston to a shootout and the B’s racked up 51 shots in 65 minutes to get only two past Cam Talbot. However, as the Devils are coming off a break, it may take some time before the Devils get into their preferred tempo. Still, a good start can only help the Devils try to get the result they failed to get on Friday.
One Last Thought: Even though the Devils have secured a losing record for December 2022, the Devils have secured a winning home record for this part of the 2022-23 season. They are 10-8-1 at the Rock, which is in the upper half of the NHL in terms of points earned at home. It could be better, but it certainly is not bad. However tonight goes will not change that fact for the 2022 portion of this season. It is also better than the home record in the 2021 portion of last season, which was 8-7-3 for 19 points; and the 2019 portion of the 2019-20 season, which was 6-8-6 for 18 points. It is another point in favor of this team being on a better path than in the recent past. Of course, a win tonight would be a great way to end the home slate for this calendar year.
Your Take: The New Jersey Devils return from the break with another rest advantage over Boston. Will the Devils be able to get off to another good start? Can the Devils get better goaltending tonight? How can they slow down David Pastrnak among Boston’s other top players? Do you think the Devils will win tonight’s game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts and news about this rematch in the comments. Thank you for reading.