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Game Preview #33: New Jersey Devils vs Columbus Blue Jackets

The Devils face a Metropolitan Division opponent in their first game back from the three-day holiday break. Can they take advantage of a banged up team missing key contributors on offense and defense, or will the Devils let this one slip through their fingers?

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: New Jersey Devils vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: BSOH, MSGSN2

Key Takeaways

  • The Devils ended a three-game losing skid with a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on December 23, right before the holiday break.
  • They remain sixth in the Metropolitan Division. Though they retain games in hands against most of the pack leaders, they need to put down teams like the Blue Jackets if they’re going to give themselves the best chance to catch up in the standings.
  • Since last losing to the Devils 6-3 on December 16, the Blue Jackets are 1-2 and have fallen to fifth-worst in the NHL, ahead of just the Ottawa Senators and Anaheim Ducks.

The last time the Devils played the Blue Jackets . . .

. . . Jack Hughes scored a hat trick and the Devils revenged themselves on one of the league’s bottom-feeders that had gotten the better of them in the best by defeating the Jackets 6-3. Jackson had the write-up, which you can find here. That game came during the positive side of December, when the Devils—at that time—had won eight of their last ten games. Since then, the Devils have played four games. They lost three of those games, one of them a 5-1 drubbing against an Anaheim Ducks team they absolutely should not have lost against.

The NHL was off for a CBA-mandated three-day break due to the winter holidays. No team has held practice, team events, or team travel since December 23. Since the Devils are hosting the Blue Jackets at the Prudential Center, the Blue Jackets will travel to New Jersey the morning of December 27. Travel in the Eastern Conference is lighter and usually not considered to have as much impact on the athletes, but there’s a reasonable chance that the Blue Jackets will feel out-of-sync from their usual schedule, giving the Devils a very minute advantage beyond what’s typically associated with playing at home. They’re rested, they don’t have to travel, and they’re playing a very bad team. All this is to say: there’s no excuses. Start on time, play a full sixty minutes, the usual cliches. They have everything working in their favor for this match-up. Go get a win.

The Blue Jackets are still struggling

The Jackets are having a strange December. After losing to the Devils on the 16th, they went and defeated Buffalo 9-4 just a few days later. Then they lost to the Washington Capitals 3-2 in overtime and to the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 after that. The Blue Jackets are a team that has absolutely no consistency. They have just enough talent to occasionally win hockey games—and frustrate playoff hopefuls like the Devils and the Buffalo Sabres—but as we’ve all seen and discussed and know, the Blue Jackets are a bad team.

I’ve written this before in comments, but I just want to reiterate it here. The Devils have one or two games in hand on every team ahead of them in the Metropolitan Standings save for the Capitals; they just barely beat out the fifth-place Hurricanes in points-percentage. But those games in hand mean nothing if the Devils don’t win them. Two points against the Blue Jackets—at home, coming off a three-day break—are much easier to secure now than against, say, the Hurricanes in March as both teams jockey for position. They’ve already dropped games to bad teams in recent memory. If they can’t win against the Blue Jackets tonight, if they waste these games in hand, then they’re taking their fate out of their own hands. They could still make the playoffs, but they’d be relying on teams like Philadelphia or the Capitals to come down to Earth. It might happen. They shouldn’t count on it happening.

The Blue Jackets are 2-9-2 against teams in the Metropolitan Division. What’s more, they’re also still banged up with injuries. They’re missing Adam Boqvist, Boone Jenner, Patrik Laine, and now Nick Blankenburg too. That’s two defenders, a center, and a scoring winger on a team that never had that much depth to begin with. Jenner in particular was having a very positive, underrated season before getting injured in early December.

The Jackets still have their weapons: Gaudreau, Werenski, Marchenko, Fantilli. But the Devils could shut them down if they committed themselves to playing team defense. As the Blue Jackets’ goaltending has only performed worse since their match up with the Devils in December, I’d rather see them play solid defense and try to win 3-1 than try to run and gun with a team that just scored nine goals on another team that also has bad goaltending.

Your Thoughts

Can the Devils successfully shut down the Blue Jackets, or will both teams play shoddy defense and try to outscore their opponents? As the trade deadline looms ever closer, do the Devils make an early move now that Christmas is out of the way, or do they stand pat? Let us know in the comments below. I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday season, and thanks for reading. Onward.