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Game Preview #46: New Jersey Devils @ Ottawa Senators

The New Jersey Devils, who will be missing Jack Hughes, will have a tall task trying to beat another NHL team. Tonight’s challenge is the Ottawa Senators, one of the few teams with less points than the Devils.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at New York Islanders
Brady Tkachuk, the type of power forward the Devils sorely lack, is very good at hockey
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (15-25-5, 35 points) visit the Ottawa Senators (14-22-4, 32 points) SB Nation Blog: Silver Seven Sens

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+, SN1, ESPN+. RADIO - Devils Hockey Network (Access through NHL.com or the SiriusXM app)

The last Devils game

In the final game before the All-Star Break, the New Jersey Devils fell to the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-1 to lose their sixth straight game and 9th loss in their last 10. I had the recap of that debacle of a game, and frankly, the less said about it, the better. It was a total no-show that featured the worst issues plaguing this team. Poor goaltending, a non-existent offense (minus a garbage time Jack Hughes goal), poor coaching, poor defense.....you know, the usual stuff that we’ve come to expect from this group.

The last Senators game

The Ottawa Senators also went into the All-Star Break off of a loss, a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the New York Islanders at UBS Arena. Nick Holden scored the lone goal for the Senators while veteran netminder Anton Forsberg struggled in net, stopping 26 or 30 shots he saw.

The last Devils-Senators game

The Devils and Senators met earlier this season, a 3-2 shootout loss for the Devils at Prudential Center in a makeup game back on December 6th.

I had the recap of that game as well, and at the time, I noted how it felt like a ‘get right’ or ‘must win’ game. I wasn’t wrong given where the Devils were in the standings and seeing the season slipping away from them as it has in years past. The Devils were 2-6-2 in their previous ten games and there were plenty of warning signs. Of course, little did we know at the time that Jonathan Bernier would be done for the year. We also didn’t know Mackenzie Blackwood’s performance would drop off to sub-replacement level production before he also went on IR. We had no idea that despite the struggles, Lindy Ruff and his staff would still be here for some reason two months later.

And that’s the most frustrating part of this entire Devils stretch....it’s the same issues that continue to plague this team because time is a flat circle and nothing has changed or will change. The Devils decided to stay the course. They decided that status quo was the way to go, and it predictably blew up in their faces. Tom Fitzgerald said weeks later the answers were in the room, shifting the blame to the players, and while he’s right that the players deserve blame, so does the braintrust tasked with making this a competitive team because the answers were clearly never in the room to begin with.

Not to mention the Devils continue to be plagued by the same issues in games that they haven’t been able to overcome for awhile now. They can’t finish. They lose board battles. They’re mentally weak. They continue to turn the puck over in the defensive zone which leads to a goal against, or they simply leave the area of the ice in front of their goaltender open for any opposing forward to stroll in for a high danger scoring chance. I commented in my recap then that I couldn’t help get “the feeling that by the time April rolls around, they (the Devils) won’t have made any tangible progress.” Fast forward two months later and I still feel that way. The Devils are playing out the string of another lost season where even if they do make progress, I have to question how much of it is real and what is and isn’t sustainable the next time there’s a meaningful game on the Devils schedule.

What Happens in Vegas is Supposed to Stay in Vegas

Jack Hughes had a big weekend representing the New Jersey Devils as their lone All-Star. participating in the Breakaway Challenge and registering three goals and an assist in the game itself. Unfortunately, like many young people before him, Hughes returned from a weekend in Vegas with something undesired. In his case, its a positive COVID test.

The timing isn’t great for a variety of reasons, as Hughes briefly joined his teammates on the ice at practice Sunday before being pulled once the team received confirmation of the positive test. NOT IDEAL. It’s also not ideal that Hughes will presumably miss the next week’s worth of games as he’s one of the few players on this team that consistently generates any offense. It’s definitely not ideal that Michael McLeod and Jesper Boqvist will likely be the two bottom six centers. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

New and Familiar Faces at Practice

The Devils held a practice Sunday and we saw some new faces take the ice. Nico Daws was called up to the Devils roster late last week, replacing Akira Schmid on the roster. You may recall Daws getting a cup of coffee with the Devils earlier this season before Mackenzie Blackwood made his season debut. Daws played brilliantly in a 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres and struggled in a start against the Calgary Flames where he gave up 3 goals on 7 shots before getting pulled and subsequently sent down to Utica. Daws probably should’ve gotten another look before now considering how much the Devils have struggled in net, but he missed six weeks with an injury and the Devils had him get into a rhythm in the AHL first before bringing him back to this mess.

Daws hasn’t been particularly sharp since returning to the Utica Comets lineup, posting a .904 save percentage and 2.83 GAA in seven games, but he has the distinction of not being Akira Schmid or Jon Gillies. I can’t blame the Devils for hoping Daws catches fire and sticks, and I think Daws is closer to being NHL-ready than Schmid is from a technical standpoint in the little bit I’ve seen both play.

The Devils also announced that they’ve recalled Colton White from Utica, which would coincide with the news that Dougie Hamilton isn’t quite ready to return to the Devils lineup. Hamilton will not travel with the team on this road trip as he has not been cleared for contact, and his return to the lineup remains uncertain as he approaches five weeks post-op after surgery to repair a broken jaw.

Lastly, the aforementioned Michael McLeod returned to Devils practice after being out since January 25th when he got hauled to the ice and punched in the head by Luke Glendening. McLeod has been cleared to play and its safe to assume he’ll occupy the roster spot vacated by Jack Hughes after his positive COVID test.

One other quick roster note, but now that the All-Star Break has come and gone, taxi squads around the NHL no longer exist. This shouldn’t be a major issue for the Devils either way as they didn’t have anyone on the taxi squad the last couple weeks and almost the entire active roster at this point has spent a portion of the season in COVID protocols, but its something to keep in mind going forward.

What do the Sens Bring to the Table?

The Senators got some welcome injury news Sunday as Connor Brown is expected to play with a face shield after suffering a broken jaw. Josh Norris and Drake Batherson watched their team’s practice from the stands, but head coach DJ Smith did say that Nikita Zaitsev and Dylan Gambrell will play.

In a lot of ways though, the Devils and Senators are two teams that have mirrored each other this season. Both teams were hopeful going into the year they’d be better than what they’ve shown, while neither team has delivered on those expectations. Both teams have have prolonged losing streaks this season, although Ottawa has been a somewhat respectable 9-7-3 since December 2. Both teams have dealt with COVID-related shutdowns, injuries to key players, and mediocre at best goaltending (and that last one is if I’m being very generous with what the Devils have gotten in net).

We have two of the worst teams in the NHL who view the other one as a “winnable game” on the schedule. Let’s see if the Devils can clean up the issues that have plagued them all season. I had my doubts before we got the news that Jack Hughes would be entering COVID protocols.

Final Thoughts

What do you think about this evening’s matchup? Can the Devils find a way to beat another struggling team in the Senators or will they find a way to lose again because that’s what they do best? How will the Devils address the loss of Jack Hughes from the lineup? Would you give Nico Daws the start in net? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!