The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (27-45-9) versus the Detroit Red Wings (31-40-10). SBN Blog: Winging It In Motown.
The Time: 7:00 PM
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+. Radio - Devils Hockey Network on NHL.com.
This is Where This Season Ends
This season, which started a bit late, saw COVID outbreaks early on, and resulted in a few injuries for the Devils’ most important players. Miles Wood, Jonathan Bernier, Jack Hughes, and Dougie Hamilton missed significant time. Meanwhile, Nico Hischier played through a decent chunk of the season shrugging off a foot injury. Mackenzie Blackwood, slated to start tonight, has been out multiple times for his heel injury, which he got surgery on in the last offseason. This season has usually been fun or easy to watch.
Still, there are some positives - even aside from the outbreak of Hischier, Hughes, and Bratt’s scoring, or Sharangovich’s bounce back from a rough start, Mercer’s rookie season, and Siegenthaler blossoming into a great defenseman. At the end of the season, when the Devils have recalled Kevin Bahl, Nikita Okhotiuk, Reilly Walsh, Fabian Zetterlund, Nolan Foote, and Alexander Holtz from the Utica Comets - we have seen promising signs from a good number of our AHLers. In particular, Okhotiuk and Zetterlund have stuck out as good. I don’t think this is entirely surprising, given their speed, physicality, and hockey IQ in their respective roles. Even on the goaltending end, we saw Nico Daws show flashes of being an NHL-capable goalie, as he earned his first NHL win at 20 years old and became the full-time starter at 21 before being sent back to Utica when Blackwood was ready to return.
The coaching staff, much maligned, has had the microscope pointed at them all season. I did not want Lindy Ruff to fail with the Devils, seeing as this could be the end of the road for him as a head coach if he gets fired. But, he has retained a dubious power play specialist in Mark Recchi, who has failed in every aspect of that responsibility so blatantly that the Devils regularly give up as many chances as they get on the power play. And then there is Alain Nasreddine, whom I do not know how I feel about at the moment. On one hand, Nasreddine has been the defensive coach for a great penalty kill ever since the team changed from Lindy Ruff’s passive PK structure back to the system Nasreddine had been running for several years here. Nasreddine has been the defensive coach for the breakout season of Jonas Siegenthaler, and ever-increasing offensive numbers for Damon Severson. On the other hand, I do not know who ruined Ty Smith - that is, if anyone did on the coaching staff. But I would like to know what went on there, and the optics of that issue gives me pause on whether I would be comfortable with Nasreddine sticking around long enough to coach Okhotiuk, Walsh, and Bahl; and later on Hughes, Mukhamadullin, and Edwards. But at least he’s been respectable enough where I give him a consideration.
So that’s where we are at after this season. Tom Fitzgerald is going to have a critical offseason, now. This can either be an offseason where the road forward gets smoothed out, or we can continue along this bumpy and uninspired path of mediocre to terrible results.
How the Devils Might Line Up Tonight
The Devils lined up like this last night against Carolina:
Here’s the #NJDevils anticipated lineup for tonight’s game against the Hurricanes.— Catherine Bogart (@CatherineBogart) April 28, 2022
Bratt - Boqvist - Holtz
Sharangovich - Mercer - Kuokkanen
Foote - Zacha - Zetterlund
Vesey - McLeod - Bastian
Graves - Severson
Bahl - Hamilton
Smith - Okhotiuk
Hammond gets the start.
We know one thing that will be different tonight - Mackenzie Blackwood will start. That was stated repeatedly on the MSG broadcast last night. Some of the players who were out: Nico Hischier, Tomas Tatar, Andreas Johnsson, and P.K. Subban have been out with the flu. I do not know why Reilly Walsh was scratched last night, though.
Hopefully, Nico Hischier plays tonight. It would be his 300th game in the NHL, and give him a chance to get his 60th point - he only needs one. Of the others, I am not really sure if I need to see them, save maybe Walsh. I can see them letting the veterans get back in the lineup for...*checks notes*...Fan Appreciation Night at The Rock. This is especially true for P.K. Subban, who is at the forefront of the Devils’ public image this season.
There are a few players close to point milestones. Jesper Bratt is at 72 points in 75 games, and he has had a good number of three-point games this season. Yegor Sharangovich stands at 24 goals - and I think he would very much like 25. Damon Severson and Pavel Zacha can extend their career highs from 46 and 36 points, respectively. Pavel Zacha in particular has four points in his last two games with his new line of Nolan Foote and Fabian Zetterlund, so I would not be surprised to see him have another good game tonight. Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Graves stand at 29 and 28 points, respectively. The last time Hamilton finished with less than 30 points was in 2013-14 in 64 games with Boston (25 points, when he was 20 years old). It would be Ryan Graves’ first 30-point season, on the other hand. If Fabian Zetterlund gets a point tonight, he will finish with half a point per game in his 14 games played. Mackenzie Blackwood is looking for his 10th win of the season - a mark only Nico Daws has gotten to on the Devils. And I think most exciting of all for Devils fans would be a first career NHL goal from Alexander Holtz - he only has two assists in eight games.
The Red Wings are in a similar situation to the Devils. Dylan Larkin has not played since April 17 when the Wings played Florida at home, and he will not miss the season. Filip Zadina is out with appendicitis, and Robby Fabbri sustained a season-ending knee injury in March. They are among the regular starters for the Red Wings, but you will not see them tonight. Lucas Raymodn and Moritz Seider have had excellent rookie seasons, with Raymond totaling 23 goals and 33 assists, while Seider has 49 points - both having played every game for the Wings. Since coming back from injury, Jakub Vrana has 13 goals in 25 games playing just third line minutes. So, there are some high-end offensive players still in the lineup for the Red Wings - and I should mention the 60-point scoring Tyler Bertuzzi, who can get to 30 goals tonight if he scores one. The Red Wings goaltending is not amazing. Alex Nedeljkovic leads the team with a 20-24-0 record, with a .901 save percentage and 3.31 goals against average. Thomas Greiss, the backup, has a .891 with a 3.66 - this could be a very high scoring affair. Will it be fun to watch? Well, that remains to be seen.
What do you think of tonight’s game? Will you be watching? How do you feel about the season ending? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.