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Game Preview #56: New Jersey Devils vs. St. Louis Blues

The Devils look to snap a two game skid as they host the Blues, a team they dropped seven goals on less than a month ago. This game preview explains why that might be a tall task to replicate this time around.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at St. Louis Blues
Nico Hischier has 8 goals and 5 assists in his last 10 games
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (19-31-5, 43 points) host the St. Louis Blues (32-16-6, 70 points) SB Nation Blog: St. Louis Game Time

The Time: 1:00 PM ET

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

The last Devils game

The Devils lost to the New York Rangers at The World’s Most Overrated Arena by a score of 3-1 Friday evening. Matt wrote in his recap how they basically got goalie’d by one of the best in the business and I’d agree. The Devils didn’t necessarily play poorly, but they would’ve been well served to get a few more pucks on the net.

The last Blues game

The Blues fell to the Islanders in Elmont by a score of 2-1 in the first half of a back-to-back. New York got out to a 2-0 lead behind goals by Oliver Wahlstrom and Brock Nelson. Robert Thomas scored his eighth goal of the season with 2:52 remaining in the game, but the Blues were unable to put the equalizer beyond Ilya Sorokin. Jordan Binnington stopped 18-of-20 shots in the losing effort.

The last Devils-Blues game

These teams met last month in St. Louis as the Devils defeated the Blues 7-4 thanks for five third period goals. It was a particularly good night for Nico Hischier (2 G, 1 A) and Yegor Sharangovich (1 G, 2 A), as they both scored midway through the third to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead. Jimmy Vesey added an important insurance goal with 2:19 to go to make it 5-3, as Brayden Schenn pulled the Blues back within one a few seconds later. Jesper Boqvist and Hischier tallied empty netters in the closing moments to put the exclamation point on this one.

Chris handled the recap of that win and made it a point to emphasis how the Devils needed their captain to step up in a big way, and did he ever? Hischier has 8 goals and 5 assists in his last 10 games, a stretch that includes that aforementioned Blues game. After a slow start, he has quietly put together an unheralded breakout season, as he’s up to 16 G and 21 A in 49 games, a 62 point pace over an 82 game season. Jack Hughes (who did not play in that St. Louis game) and Jesper Bratt have drawn a lot of attention with what they’ve done offensively, and rightfully so with them both at a PPG pace, but Hischier is playing some of the best hockey of his young career.

What’s New With the Devils?

I mentioned that Hughes missed the Blues game the last time around, but he’ll be in the lineup today. Pavel Zacha, who missed the Rangers game on Friday with a non-COVID illness, will also be back in the lineup as he returned to practice on Saturday.

Jimmy Vesey did not practice Saturday as he is now dealing with a non-COVID illness, so consider him questionable. Mason Geertsen would be in line to play in his second consecutive game if Vesey is unavailable (barring a Utica callup). Hischier and Nathan Bastian took maintenance days and skipped Saturday’s practice, but there’s no reason to think either player won’t be good to go this afternoon.

We’ll find out during warmups what direction the Devils go in in terms of who starts in net. Nico Daws has drawn 4 of the last 5 starts, including the last three in a row, and has played well in a small sample size, posting a .928 save percentage in those games. I can understand the temptation by Lindy Ruff to continue rolling with the young netminder. The Devils don’t have another back-to-back until March 15-16, but I’d also be careful not to overdo it with Daws on this four-game homestand here this week, so I’d expect Jon Gillies to get a start somewhere in there.

What do the Blues bring to the table?

Let’s start with the goaltender. Jordan Binnington started Saturday against the Islanders, which would free up Ville Husso to start today’s game. Husso has clearly outplayed Binnington this season (.931 save percentage for Husso vs. .904 for Binnington), and the Devils offensive explosion against the Blues earlier this season was against Binnington. The Devils will have their work cut out for them against Husso.

David Perron missed Saturday’s contest with an illness, so its possible he misses today’s game as well. It’s not an insignificant loss as the Blues are a deep team with a deep Top 9, to the point where their leading scorer Jordan Kyrou is skating on their third line. The Blues did shake up their lines during the Isles game though, so we may see a different look if Craig Berube is pleased from what he saw late in the Isles game.

I mentioned in my preview from the last time the Devils faced the Blues that the Devils need to play a sound, defensive game to win. They didn’t do that, but they won anyways because they scored a bunch of goals against a struggling netminder. That doesn’t change the fact that the Blues are a great offensive team and have some of the best special teams units in the league, so I would implore the Devils to do better this time around. My confidence level in them putting up seven goals on Husso as well is fairly low.

(Side note: I also mentioned in that preview how Hischier finally looked healthy and hoped he would go on a bit of a run, and he lo and behold, he has. To quote Jeremy Roenick, “again I’m right in my analysis.”)

It should be mentioned that part of why the Blues have fallen to the Rangers and Islanders the last two games is that both of those teams have gotten a mass of bodies in front and blocked a ton of shots. The Devils are a bottom ten team in terms of blocked shots per game, so it would behoove them to stay with their man defensively and not get lost in coverage like they tend to do under this coaching staff. Blocking a ton of shots isn’t really their game, but it appears to be a sound strategy against this Blues team.

Final Thoughts

What do you think about today’s matchup? Can the Devils get back in the win column at the Blues’ expense? What will you be looking out for in this game? Who would you start in net between Daws and Gillies? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!