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Game Preview #39: New Jersey Devils vs. St. Louis Blues

The New Jersey Devils are coming off a 5-1 win in Detroit to host the St. Louis Blues tonight. They are hurting but they can pull off wins against teams such as Toronto. Learn a little more about tonight’s match-up with this game preview.

St. Louis Blues v Toronto Maple Leafs
The St. Louis Blues and their goaltender, Jordan Binnington
Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSGSN, BSMW; Audio - The Devils Hockey Network

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils vs. the St. Louis Blues (SBN Blog: The vacant St. Louis Game Time)

The Devils Last Game: The New Jersey Devils were in the ‘D’ of Detroit last night. Also known as Hockeytown. Also the home of the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings got off to a fine enough start with a few more attempts and a few more shots than the Devils. The problem for Detroit: Vitek Vanecek was in form. The Red Wings did not beat him in the first period. In the second period, the Red Wings took things up a bit with more shooting attempts. They even drew a power play, which the Devils killed. Shortly thereafter, Ben Chiarot tripped up Jesper Boqvist. The Devils won the draw, Dougie Hamilton stepped up at the center point, and ripped a shot past Ville Husso for a 1-0 lead. The game carried on until Jake Walman tripped up Jack Hughes. A little more time was needed but the power play ended with another Hamilton long range blast, only tipped in by Nico Hischier in front. Up 2-0, the Red Wings started to press a bit. But the Red Wings did not beat Vanecek in the second period. The third period saw some early pressure. Only for a 2-on-1 rush to counter Detroit led by Alexander Holtz with Miles Wood. Holtz set up Wood but the shot was denied. But Wood Holtz re-collected the loose puck, found Michael McLeod trailing into the slot, and set him up for a score. 3-0 and the Devils began to feel it. Another Walman trip on Hughes. the Devils did not score on this power play, but the second unit did score just after it ended. Wood played in Holtz into the zone and the rookie fired a laserbeam past Husso to make it 4-0. Detroit tried to beat Vanecek but the man said no for several minutes. Later, Erik Haula found Jack Hughes at the left post. The Big Deal dazzled with his hands as he tucked a puck past Husso to make it 5-0. The shutout would have been a lovely end. Alas, Brendan Smith took a hooking call and Dylan Larkin set up Lucas Raymond on Vanecek’s left flank for a PPG. The Devils were just two minutes away from a shutout. A 5-1 win in Detroit looked as fantastic all the same. (Aside: A Vanecek start probably means MacKenzie Blackwood is starting this game.)

The Blues Last Game: St. Louis played two nights ago, winning a wild game in Toronto against the Leafs, 6-5 from the shootout. The Blues got a set of special teams goals in the first, with Brandon Saad scoring shorthanded and Brayden Schenn doubling the lead on the power play. This opened up the first of four consecutive two-goal leads for the Blues, with the Leafs cutting the lead to one only for the Blues to regain their two-goal advantage three times in the second. Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting scored one apiece to send the game to the extra session, and then to the shootout, where goals from Robert Thomas, Pavel Buchnevich and Brayden Schenn gave St. Louis the extra point, despite goaltender Jordan Binnington stopping only half of the chances he faced. Binnington had an 80.0% save percentage, saving 20 out of 25 shots, with the Blues managing to outscore the leafs. Defenseman Justin Faulk lugged a massive 28:43 of ice time, more than five minutes above his season average of 23:34. See their lineup from the game at Daily Faceoff.

The Blues Offense: Last season, the Blues notably had nine 20-goal scorers: Vladimir Tarasenko and Pavel Buchnevich led the way with 34 and 30, respectively, with Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas, Ivan Barbashev, Brayden Schenn, captain Ryan O’Reilly, and the since departed David Perron all ending their seasons in the twenties. Needless to say, St. Louis are a deep, deep team, with eight different players having scored eight or more goals this season already. Facing three legitimate scoring lines the Devils will need to play a strong four-line game to nullify the various threats the Blues possess. The St. Louis powerplay is above league average, with a conversion rate of 23.4%, good for thirteenth in the NHL, at the time of writing. However, as per Natural Stat Trick, the Blues sit third from the bottom in terms of expected goals for on the man advantage, despite having the more power play time on ice than eight other teams. In their past ten games per StatMuse, they have gone eight for thirty one, good for a conversion rate of 25.8%, trending upwards.

All of captain Ryan O’Reilly, sniper Vladimir Tarasenko and PP quarterback Torey Krug missed the Leafs game, and are set to miss the Devils (and more) with substantial injuries. So the St. Louis’ offense will certainly be weakened. However, as discussed, this deep team has many ways to hurt you. As of now, the current top line of Robert Thomas centering Jordan Kyrou and Pavel Buchnevich, who have combined for 33 points in the team’s last ten games per Daily Faceoff. Thomas and Kyrou are the future of this St. Louis team, representing the necessary infusion of youth into an otherwise aging and old team, while Buchnevich has flourished since being traded to the Blues from the Rangers. Coming in hot from the Leafs game, Saad scored twice on three shots and will be confident, while the third line of Noel Acciari, Jake Neighbours and Josh Leivo had an impressive 79% xGF% for at 5-on-5, the only line going above 50% while playing more than five minutes. Again, the Blues are deep, and can clearly score despite missing some of their best threats offensively.

The Blues Defense: As noted, Torey Krug is out. However, being more of an offensive threat, the defense likely will not suffer too much — Krug has a 72.9% offensive zone start percentage, clearly not someone the Blues rely on defensively. Instead, Blues head coach Craig Berube tends to lean heavily on his current top pair of Niko Mikkola and Colton Parayko defensively, who start 29.5% 36.2% of their shifts in the offensive zone, respectively. These two are also third and fourth in short-handed ice time this season, after O’Reilly and Faulk — St. Louis’ minute-munching, all-situation guy. Perhaps counter to expectation, the Blues, commonly seen as big, mean, bruising, are one of the cleanest teams in the NHL this season, having the shortest amount of time on the penalty kill this season, and having drawn the fewest penalty minutes to boot.

Unfortunately for them, when inevitably tasked with killing penalties, the Blues have not been quite as proficient, sitting at 29th in the league overall with a success rate of 71.4%. The Devils power play, then, may not get many opportunities (they happen to be closer to the bottom of the league in penalties drawn), but they may very well make their opportunities count. Especially after two PPGs and a near-PPG last night. As mentioned, Ryan O’Reilly — the top penalty-killing forward and face-off guy — is out, so hopefully Andrew Brunette’s unit can pass the puck around crisply and create some quality opportunities. The Blues are fifth bottom in high-danger save percentage on the kill: as we will see, goaltending has been an issue for the Blues, in more ways than one might expect.

The Blues Goaltending: Having lost free agent Ville Husso — whom we are now acquainted with, following his display versus the Devils in giving up five goals out of 27 shots last night -— the Blues have backed up the NHL’s resident goalie-goon Jordan Binnington with Thomas Greiss, who, with his 0.903 save percentage and 9-4-0 record. has performed admirably in his role as “solid presence”. If he’s in net, expect nothing spectacular, neither good or bad. Binnington? Well...he has been the opposite, I think we can all agree:

You get the idea.

The fascinating thing about Binnington is that, between confronting and chirping the other team’s bench following being pulled after conceding five goals on 18 shots, punching an unsuspecting skater in the face sending him into the boards, getting crushed trying to hit a stationary and evidently bemused opponent — all of which, and more, leading to notorious hardman coach Berube publicly telling Binnington to focus on his hockey — between all this, Binnington can be a truly fantastic goaltender on his day. Belied by his sub-par 0.893 save percentage, Binnington does have two shutouts this season, in addition to, by my count, six games having saved more than 0.930% of shots against. Simply put, when playing well, he plays very, very well. But when he is struggling, he really struggles. To the extent of fighting the other team. All this is to say that Binnington is a spectacle, and could be well worth the price of entrance. Having had yesterday off, I trust Binnington will be in net against the Devils tonight. Let’s hope he has one of his off days, and not the opposite.

The Game Plan: This game will likely be decided at five-on-five. As discussed, these are two teams with generally penalty-light games. If called upon, special teams will contribute, but the lion’s share of this game will be at even strength, and that is where the game will be decided. As such, the Devils should be favorites: the Blues, currently, sit 27th in Corsi For percentage and 24th in both xGF percentage and High-Danger Scoring Chances For percentage in five-on-five hockey. As we know, the Devils are a powerhouse in the game’s most common situation. They have been all season, even in their recent dry-spell for the most part. I want to see the Devils really take it to the Blues early, press them, force them into mistakes, and capitalize. If Binnington is in net, get to him early, don’t let him get settled: score one and the others will follow surely.

As an extra reminder, watch that first line: Thomas, Kyrou, Buchnevich are all quick and creative players with punish. With John Marino still out, Damon Severson and Ryan Graves have been Ruff’s shut-down pair in recent games. I want to see them win that match-up, as I imagine they will be tasked with playing tough minutes against this top line at even strength. The same applies, alternatively, if the Jonas Siegenthaler-Dougie Hamilton pairing ends up getting that match-up.

Your Take: What are your thoughts about this game? Will the Devils get it done? What are your thoughts as the playoff race in the Metropolitan Division is really heating up? Please leave your answers and other thoughts and news about tonight’s game in the comments. Thanks for reading!