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Game Preview #68: New Jersey Devils vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Round two.

Tampa Bay Lightning v New Jersey Devils Photo by Rich Graessle/NHLI via Getty Images

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (44-17-6) versus the Tampa Bay Lightning. (40-22-6) Opposition Blog: Raw Charge

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: MSGSN

Give Us Akira Schmid

I think Vitek Vanecek played a hell of a game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Contrary to Rod Brind’Amour’s statements, though, he did not “goalie” Carolina. The Devils outright outplayed them, and Vanecek did his part, making some excellent saves in the process. Of course, this made up for the months of inconsistent or downright bad play that Vanecek has been putting forth in the eyes of Lindy Ruff, earning him a start against the perennial powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning. This did not go well for Vanecek. As I said in the game preview on Tuesday,

Tampa can win a game with just 20 good shots.

Of course, Tampa already got their fourth goal on their 19th shot of the game on Tuesday. But were they particularly good shots? Not really. By the time the game went to second intermission with the score at 4-1, the Devils were dominating the expected goals battle at 1.95 to Tampa’s 0.99. Vanecek gave up three goals above expected in the first two periods, before holding it down in the third when it was too little, too late on his end. This heat map was from the end of the second period on Tuesday:

Lindy Ruff blamed the goals on defensive breakdowns and refused to throw the goalie under the bus. That was nice of him, because Schmid absolutely should have come out to play the third period. Vanecek got light, light work, and did not make saves the few times he was left to make one when the Devils still had a fighting chance on Tuesday. By the time he figured out how to make a big save, it was too late.

You cannot hold your defense accountable for every single chance that comes somewhat close to the net. The Devils’ defense has, apparently, been very good at limiting those chances. Some of them are surely ugly, blown plays — but the reality is that Vanecek has been terrible for quite a stretch now, and until he proves that he can play like he did in Carolina consistently, these games should belong to Akira Schmid.

With Mackenzie Blackwood returning to practice, it is all to easy for Ruff and Fitzgerald to say they have their true tandem back, and that Schmid can go back to Utica for their playoffs. In reality, Schmid is the guy they should be looking to for these games, as he’s the only goalie on the roster who has neither been hurt or inconsistent for the team this season. I thought that this Tampa mini-series would be the perfect time to test Schmid against a true playoff team in a series of games that should have a lot of energy, but the team seems averse to giving him a chance to earn the playoff starter’s net. For more on this, I suggest reading Mike’s comparison of our goaltending options.

Other Concerns

The Lightning had no problem scoring on Tuesday. That could worsen tonight, as Steven Stamkos practiced with his team yesterday. He had a leg injury on March 11 and left that game early, played the whole next game on the 12th, and then missed the first game against the Devils on Tuesday. Considering how efficient the Lightning were without him, the Devils need to put more emphasis on getting out to a multi-goal lead in a manner that does not involve any goaltender interference reviews.

Additionally, Miles Wood and Nathan Bastian were missing from the New Jersey Devils’ practice. Amanda Stein said that Bastian is “taking it day by day” while there is no update to be had on Miles Wood. With them banged up, I expect Yegor Sharangovich to see his long-awaited return to the lineup tonight. With what should be a fourth line of Sharangovich, McLeod, and Lazar, I think this is — on average — a slightly better line than BMW. Though, I still think Bastian is better than Lazar, and I would like to see him return to his spot when he is healthy again. On the other hand, I really hope that Sharangovich starts scoring goals again and makes it difficult for Ruff to re-insert Miles Wood later on.

And I am sorry to the Ryan Graves fans, but I think he has earned a night off. He had a paltry, unforgiveable 13.58 xGF% and saw Tampa score two even strength goals. The Devils generated nothing when he was on the ice, and the first line only played well when Brendan Smith and Damon Severson were on the ice with them. Since Brendan Smith played a solid, good game on Tuesday, I think Graves should sit for Kevin Bahl tonight.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of tonight’s game? Who should be getting these starts in goal? Are you looking forward to Yegor Sharangovich returning to the lineup? Do you think the Devils can take the next two against Tampa? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.