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Game Preview #60: New Jersey Devils @ Vancouver Canucks

After the Devils dropped 7 on the Canucks just over two weeks ago, they meet again tonight as the Devils begin a three game swing through Western Canada.

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at New Jersey Devils
There were a lot of Devils goal celebrations the last time they saw the Canucks. Lets do it again, if possible
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (22-32-5, 49 points) visit the Vancouver Canucks (29-24-7, 65 points). SB Nation Blog: Nucks Misconduct

The Time: 10:00 PM ET

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

The last Devils game

The Devils defeated the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 via the shootout on Saturday to cap off a successful homestand where they took three out of four games. Matt wrote in his recap how the Devils had two particular standouts from this game. Tomas Tatar was one of them as he scored the lone goal for the Devils in regulation as well as a goal in the shootout (Jesper Bratt had the other shootout goal). Nico Daws, who outdueled Anthony Stolarz, was the other. The rookie goaltender stopped all but one of the 34 shots on goal he faced and denied Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry in the skills competition to get the Devils a rare shootout win.

The last Canucks game

Vancouver fell to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 2-1 on Sunday. It was the third game of a seven game homestand for the Canucks. Tampa got out to a quick 2-0 lead behind goals by Victor Hedman and Ross Colton in the first five minutes and change . That was ultimately all the the champs would need. J.T. Miller continued his strong campaign with his 24th goal of the season at the 5:54 mark of the third period to cut the deficit to one, but Andrei Vasilevskiy would see to it that the Canucks would get no closer than that. Thatcher Demko stopped 29-of-31 shots he faced.

The last Devils-Canucks game

These teams met in Newark back on February 28th, where the Devils offense came alive and scored early and often on Jaroslav Halak and a leaky Canucks defense in a convincing 7-2 win.

I wrote in my recap of that game about the offensive explosion and looking back on it, I’m impressed the Devils did it with a balanced attack. Seven different players scored a goal that night for New Jersey. No player had more than two points for the Devils. The second line of Pavel Zacha-Nico Hischier-Jesper Bratt (more on that in a bit) looked really good and gave the Devils offense more balance. I don’t think you can understate how tough it can be for opposing defenses when they have to go chase Jack Hughes and friends around for 90 seconds and then here comes a fresh line with Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt that is clicking. Jesper Boqvist got in on the fun as well when he got in behind Quinn Hughes and was off to the races for maybe the prettiest goal of his young career. Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Graves chipped in with a goal each. It was a complete team effort that sent Halak to the bench early in the second.

I think I understated and underrated the performance of Nico Daws in net though, in what was his first of a seven consecutive start streak. Daws weathered the storm early in that first Canucks game before the Devils started lighting the lamp, not only helping the Devils win but seizing control of the Devils starting goaltender job for the time being. That leads me to this.....

Eight Is Enough For Daws?

With the front end of a back-to-back tonight and Daws making the previous seven starts, I would mentally prepare yourselves to relive the Jon Gillies experience at some point in the next 48 hours, whether its tonight in Vancouver or tomorrow in Calgary.

Daws has been brilliant in his recent stretch, posting a .920 over the previous seven games. He also struggled mightily in his only previous start against Calgary way back on October 26th. If I were coaching the Devils, I’d view the Canucks are the more “winnable” game and start Daws against them.....his eighth consecutive start.....and let Gillies take the Calgary game.

What will the Devils look like?

Nico Hischier returned to practice on Monday and returned to his spot on the first power play unit as well. He appears to be a game-time decision, but is trending in the right direction in terms of his return to the lineup.

Hischier was red hot before this most recent setback, with 8 goals and 6 assists in his previous 11 games and looking good centering Pavel Zacha and Jesper Bratt. Assuming he’s good to go, I’d pencil him in as the 2C with Zacha shifting back to wing and Tomas Tatar dropping down to the third line with Jesper Boqvist and Andreas Johnsson.

Three players who will not make their return to the lineup against Vancouver (or at all on this road trip) are Miles Wood, Janne Kuokkanen, and Tyce Thompson. All three players recently returned to practice over the weekend wearing non-contact jerseys, but they all stayed back in New Jersey to continue their rehab away from the team. Amanda Stein explained the reasoning in a tweet on Monday and the logic behind leaving them at home is sound.

What about the Canucks?

Vancouver enters the day three points behind Edmonton and Vegas for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Canucks have a game in hand on the struggling Golden Knights, but Edmonson has a game in hand on Vancouver, so it should be a tight race to the finish over the final 22 or so regular season games.

With points coming at a premium, Vancouver has ridden starting goaltender Thatcher Demko pretty hard, with the veteran starting 11 of the 12 previous games. The one game he didn’t start? You guessed it. It was the game in New Jersey two weeks ago that Halak started and Demko was forced to come in in relief. Halak also got the early pull in a game on February 9th against the Islanders, meaning Demko has played in every Canucks game since February 1st. That is fifteen games in total, with 13 starts.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Canucks viewed tonight’s game as a must-have, and with their next game on Thursday against Detroit, I could see them going back to Demko yet again. Demko is a .916 on the season versus an .883 for Halak, despite Demko getting 4 times as many starts this season. On the surface, its a no brainer despite the heavy workload.

Elias Pettersson missed the Tampa game on Sunday with an upper body injury, and is listed as day-to-day. Jason Dickinson is also day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, while Tucker Poolman, Brady Keeper, and Kyle Burroughs are on IR with various ailments.

Here were the lines from their previous game, although I’d pay no mind to the order they’re listed in for obvious reasons.

Final Thoughts

What do you think about tonight’s matchup? Can the Devils start the Western Canada road trip with a win? Who would you start in net, Daws or Gillies? Are you excited about potentially getting Nico Hischier back in the lineup? What are the keys to the game for you? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!