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Game Preview #48: New Jersey Devils @ St. Louis Blues

The Devils snapped a 7-game losing streak Tuesday in Montreal. Can they get two in a row when they take on St. Louis? They’ll need to be even better against a much better team.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at St. Louis Blues
If the Devils want to win again, you’d probably rather see Jordan Binnington than Ville Husso
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (16-26-5, 37 points) visit the St. Louis Blues (26-13-5, 57 points) SB Nation Blog: St. Louis Game Time

The Time: 8:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2, ESPN+. RADIO - Devils Hockey Network (Access through NHL.com or the SiriusXM app)

The last Devils game

The Devils.....(checks notes).....won a hockey game? No kidding. They’re allowed to do that?

John did a wonderful job in his recap of breaking down what the Devils did well in their 7-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, so I won’t dive into that too much here. Personally, I don’t think there’s a lot you can really take from a blowout win over the worst team in the league, but for one night at least, the players were smiling and didn’t look miserable and they got an elusive win. Some guys on the team who may or may not be trade bait contributed on the scoresheet as well, so there’s that.

If there is something positive they can take away from that game, it involves Jesper Boqvist and Nico Hischier. But I’ll dive into that in a bit.

The last Blues game

The Blues haven’t played since January 29th when they fell to the Winnipeg Jets 4-1. Ville Husso, who has been remarkable this season for the Blues to the point where there’s now a full blown goalie controversy in St. Louis, wasn’t sharp in the loss. He stopped 20 of 23 shots as the Jets got an empty netter late to seal the win. Vladimir Tarasenko, who the Devils were reportedly rumored to be interested in last offseason, scored his 15th goal of the season and 40th point in 40 games as he looks to finally be 100 percent healthy after multiple shoulder surgeries the last few years.

The last Devils-Blues game

The Devils and Blues haven’t met yet this season, so you’ll have to go back to one of the final NHL games before the COVID shutdown of 2020 as the Devils beat the Blues 4-2 at Prudential Center on March 6th, 2020, snapping an 8-game winning streak for the Blues at the time.

You probably wouldn’t be too surprised if I told you that Jesper Bratt was among the goal scorers for the Devils that night. You likely would be surprised if I told you that Dakota Mermis, Connor Carrick, and Joey Anderson were the other Devils goal scorers in that game.

We didn’t know it at the time, but that game also has the distinction of being Cory Schneider’s final game as a member of the New Jersey Devils (and perhaps final NHL game ever), as Schneider was bought out of his contract at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season. If it was his final game, he went out with a bang, as he turned aside 31-of-33 shots and outdueled Jordan Binnington and the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

Also, because I love little coincidences like this, I can’t help but notice that the two Blues goal scorers from that game, Vince Dunn and Jaden Schwartz, are now members of the Seattle Kraken. Have they gotten together with Connor Carrick, who is also now a member of the Kraken, and reminisced about Cory Schneider’s final NHL appearance? Probably not.

Don’t Fix What Isn’t Broken, or Something

The Devils skated the following lines against the Habs.

Lindy Ruff’s history in his short time as the head coach of the Devils has been to stick with something that has kind of worked, so I don’t see why he should really make any changes to the lineup. With one possible exception.

At some point in the game, Ruff experimented with Dawson Mercer on the wing, with Jesper Boqvist centering the rookie and Andreas Johnsson. The results were good in a relatively small sample size. Per Natural Stat Trick, the trio combined for a xGF% of 97.58 in just over 11 minutes together at 5v5. They were 4-0 in HDCF, which was highlighted by the pass Boqvist made to Mercer to snap his scoring drought.

Which brings me to this....

Did the Devils Stumble onto Something with Boqvist?

I think most Devils fans had written off Jesper Boqvist at some point in the last few years. Its tough to blame them for thinking that way. Boqvist looked like your classic guy who is “too good for the AHL, not good enough for the NHL”. The quintessential AAAA-player, if you will. He’s gotten many opportunities in the Devils lineup over the last few years, but hadn’t really stuck. He’s mostly been a reserve player for the last few weeks as he finally passed the games played threshold where he now requires waivers to go back to the AHL.

I say all that to say this. He’s finally starting to look like a player where it’s all clicking and coming together for him at this level.

Boqvist has 5 points in the last 5 games and 9 in 21 NHL games this season. I mentioned the pass he made to Mercer on his goal, but he also scored one of his own last night. He drew a penalty as well. The advanced stats have looked promising. Not just against Montreal, where again, they’re the worst team in the league so take any success against Montreal with a grain of salt. They were good against the Ottawa Senator as well. Against Toronto? Not so much, but then again, nobody looked good in that last Toronto game.

We need to see a lot more from Jesper Boqvist before we can definitely say what we’re seeing from him is real. A couple games where the fancy stats looked promising against Ottawa and Montreal aren’t gonna be enough to change some long-standing opinions. That said, I’d at least consider keeping Johnsson-Boqvist-Mercer together as a trio and see if the Devils have anything there. What else do you have to lose in a lost season when you’ve already waited this long to see if the 36th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft is a player?

As for the player who went #1 in that draft class....

Hischier Getting Healthier?

It’s safe to say that a few days off for the All-Star Break did Nico Hischier some good.

I watched the postgame coverage on MSG last week when the Devils lost to the Maple Leafs on Tuesday, and my biggest takeaway from Nico Hischier in that environment wasn’t what he said but what he did. He limped to the podium and looked like a player who could barely walk, let alone play in an NHL game at a high level. Not to mention the fact that he looked miserable as he’s laying it all out there on a team going nowhere. I don’t know if it was lingering effects from a previous foot injury or something from that particular game, but it was tough not to notice that either way. Hischier’s playing style and tendency to do the dirty work that nobody else can be bothered to do is all well and good, but they also need offense from their leader.

Fast forward to last night’s game, the back end of a back-to-back, and it went noted that Hischier seemed to have a little more spring in his step and was moving around better. I don’t know if its him getting healthier or being reinvigorated because he’s playing with better linemates as Jack Hughes out of the lineup, but two goals in two games should satiate the “nIcO nEeDs To Do MoRe” crowd. For a little while, at least. Let’s hope the captain gets on a little bit of a roll here.

What do the Blues Bring to the Table?

The Blues currently sit in the first wild card spot out West and 8 points clear of the first team on the outside looking in (Edmonton Oilers). They’re likely a playoff team, although that’s not entirely set in stone yet.

I already mentioned the Blues goaltending controversy, as Husso has gotten 5 of the last 6 starts and is currently rocking a .941 save percentage. The Blues need every point they can get, so I’d expect Husso to start against a Devils team that they’re probably looking at on tape and licking their chops.

The Blues are 6th in goals per game (3.43), 2nd in power play (28.5%), and 5th in penalty kill (84.3%). Not too shabby for a team that doesn’t have a player in the Top 30 in scoring across the league. They’ve gotten it done with a balanced attack in the Top 9, as burgeoning superstar Jordan Kyrou leads the way with 42 points in 40 games. The Devils will need to play a sound, defensive game to have any chance, which, good luck with that from this group.

Here are the lines from their last practice.

Final Thoughts

What do you think about this evening’s matchup? Can the Devils find a way to beat the Blues? Can they, dare I say, start a winning streak? What do you think of Boqvist and Hischier’s play of late? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!