The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (34-13-4; L10 8-1-1) at the Minnesota Wild (27-20-4; L10 4-6-0). SBN Blog: Hockey Wilderness
The Time: 8:00 PM ET
The Broadcast: TV - ESPN+
Jack Hughes and Brendan Smith
With the minor injuries sustained by Jack Hughes and Brendan Smith earlier this week, Alexander Holtz and Kevin Bahl drew into the lineup for the team’s game with the Kraken on Thursday. Neither were particularly impressive, though Holtz seemed to be skating well and had a scoring chance at one point of the game that was robbed by Grubauer. Kevin Bahl, on a pairing with John Marino, had one of the worst nights for the defensemen this season. The team was outshot 1-9 with him on the ice, and I can imagine Brendan Smith might draw back in for him even if Smith is not fully recovered from his injury.
As for Jack Hughes, tonight might be too early for him to return. He was described as “week-to-week” on Thursday, though Ruff noted that he would return sooner rather than later. I think it’s more likely that Hughes rejoins the lineup in Columbus on Tuesday or St. Louis on Thursday, but he did travel alongside Smith and the team to Minnesota yesterday. I would not be surprised if we hear of Jack Hughes skating with the team prior to the game, whether or not he plays.
I would expect Dean Evason to send out Filip Gustavsson in goal tonight. Gustavsson is the better of the two Wild goaltenders, though he has gotten 13 fewer starts than Marc-Andre Fleury this season. Gustavsson, who replaced Fleury for the third period on Thursday in a loss to Vegas, has an 11-8-1 record with a .923 save percentage an 2.27 goals against average in 21 appearances. Fleury has a 16-12-3 record with a .902 save percentage and 2.98 goals against average in 33 appearances.
Offensively, the team is still led by Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello, with Matt Boldy and Joel Eriksson Ek also making a big impact on the offensive side. Despite their great top line, the Wild are rather thin at forward after their big players. Aside from those four forwards, Minnesota only has one more 10-goal score in Frederick Gaudreau and two more forwards that have 20 or more points in Gaudreu an Sam Steel — both have 22 points in 51 games.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Wild sent out the following forward lines in their most recent game:
Kaprizov — Hartman — Zuccarello
Boldy — Steel — Gaudreau
Foligno — Eriksson Ek — Greenway
Duhaime — Dewar — Reaves
The Wild do their best to even out the lines — Jordan Greenway, for example, has six points and is playing with Eriksson Ek, who has 43 points in 51 games. I think that a team this weak at forward depth should lean into their good top six and try to play an extremely defensive and conservative game with their bottom six. But I am not their coach, and this is the split of their forward talent that Dean Evason has opted for.
What do you think of tonight’s game? Do you think Mackenzie Blackwood will get another start, or will Vitek Vanecek get back in goal? Which Devil are you picking as your player to watch? Do you think either of Smith or Hughes will return tonight? How do you think the Devils will respond to the Wild’s physical bottom six forwards, considering that Minnesota probably won’t be in a position to score much with that fourth line? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thank you for reading.