The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (35-14-5) at the Pittsburgh Penguins (27-18-9). SBN Blog: Pensburgh.
The Time: 5:30 PM ET
The Broadcast: TV — MSG.
Hughes Returns, Holtz Goes Down
While Jack Hughes was practicing as early in the week as Tuesday, the Devils still saw it fit to sit him out on Thursday when the Devils played the Blues. The team sorely missed him then, and it likely impacted the outcome of that game. However, as Lindy Ruff implied last week he did not believe Jack Hughes would actually be out for more than a week, this held true as he announced after practice yesterday that Jack Hughes would be returning to the lineup tonight.
"It looks like we've got Jack coming back in the lineup."— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 17, 2023
#Sponsored | @Genucel pic.twitter.com/o1pgszocgu
The Devils went 2-1-1 in Jack’s absence. While this is not bad by any means, the Devils had to claw their way through those games at times. While Hughes was out, Jesper Boqvist mostly saw third line ice time as a center, while Alexander Holtz continued to watch from the press box. This appears to have hit a breaking point, as the team sent Holtz down to Utica, leaving the active roster at 22 skater. Holtz scrubbed the Devils from his social media bios, and Ruff had this to say about the misused sniper.
Lindy Ruff on Holtz:— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) February 17, 2023
"He needs to go play. He needs to go play lots. He needs to get on the ice. He needs to have some fun playing, being parts of wins, of losses, he’s had too much time away from the game”
Said he's had a great attitude up w/ #NJDevils, despite not playing.
With Jack Hughes back, Lindy Ruff decided to keep Erik Haula at center, dropping him to the third line while Jesper Boqvist skated with the fourth line. You can see the lines below.
Big time shuffle upfront for #NJDevils today at practice… Nearly every line is different… and Jack Hughes is on one of them. pic.twitter.com/ujYh0z0Tf6— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) February 17, 2023
I think these lines are far better than what we have mostly seen of late. The Palat-Hischier-Bratt line was not working, and that top line saw a marked improvement on Thursday when Tatar took Palat’s spot in the third period. This move also brings Bratt to Hughes’ line, which is always fun to watch. I wish that Zetterlund was still with Hughes, but I think Ruff might be trying to figure a typical third checking/scoring line. Palat, Haula, and Zetterlund should be able to hold up physically against opposing bottom six lines, and there is plenty of offensive talent between them. I could see Zetterlund and Haula regularly digging out pucks from the boards for centering chances for Palat, who seems to have his scoring touch back. I would also like to see Jesper Boqvist take Miles Wood’s spot in the lineup, as Wood was atrocious against St. Louis and really hurt the team with an illegal check to the head penalty in the third. But, I don’t expect him to be held accountable.
What do you think of tonight’s game? Do you think the Devils will bounce back from their last performance? Do you think Ruff has a good set of lines for tonight? What do you think of adding Mercer to the top line, considering both his and Nico’s chemistry with Tatar? Do you think the Penguins have enough in them to hold onto their playoff spot? How do you think the Devils should approach the Penguins, considering Tristan Jarry is still out? What do you think of the way the Penguins have handled Ty Smith (4 points in 9 games, >20 ATOI, but hasn’t played in NHL in a month)? Will we ever see Alex Holtz back in Devils red? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.