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Game Preview #70: New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning

In the midst of a losing streak, the Devils play Tampa once more tonight.

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (44-18-7) versus the Tampa Bay Lightning (42-22-6). Opposition Blog: Raw Charge

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: MSGSN

End of the Mini-Series

While both the Devils and Lightning played last night — the Devils against Florida, with the Canadians visiting Tampa Bay — the dominant theme of the week has been the Devils’ matchup with Jon Cooper’s Lightning. While the Devils looked much, much better in the second game, forcing an overtime — Lindy Ruff made some interesting lineup decisions last night. The first and fourth lines stayed together, while Timo Meier and Ondrej Palat were swapped. This left a Boqvist-Haula-Meier line, while Jack Hughes skated with Bratt and Palat. This did not work out. Neither line was particularly good, and the Haula line saw two goals scored by Florida.

If Lindy Ruff wants to cobble together a working lineup, he should look back at the second game against Tampa. In that game, Jack Hughes played his best hockey on a line with Ondrej Palat and Jesper Boqvist, posting a 78.57 xGF%. Bratt, Haula, and Meier only played together for 1:33, but they managed three scoring chances in that time. So why not go with that?

The priority tonight is to walk away with a win. The Devils do not want the taste of a four-game losing streak in their mouths. Another key to winning, based on how the defense has played lately, seems to be getting Kevin Bahl in the lineup. But even when Kevin Bahl is in the lineup, Lindy Ruff does not give him the proper amount of minutes when one of Jonas Siegenthaler or Ryan Graves inevitably has a terrible game. Last night, Siegenthaler had a 15.30 xGF%, as the Devils got outshot 4-12 at five-on-five. In a right and just world, Bahl would have been in the lineup and Ruff would have been able to demote Siegenthaler in the latter stages of the game. Brendan Smith, however, is not a guy you want to saddle with extra responsibilities.

I would also like to see more of the fourth line tonight. Through two games, and just 12:34 of ice time together, the Sharangovich-McLeod-Lazar line has outshot opponents 8-3 and worked a 76.87 xGF%. If nobody aside from Nico Hischier’s line wants to play well, then that line should see more ice time. Sharangovich still has a wicked shot that can get himself on the scoresheet, but at least that line shouldn’t be allowing anything against.

Lastly, Akira Schmid’s effort was lasted last night in Sunrise, Florida. Meanwhile, Jon Cooper rested Andrei Vasilevskiy and played Brian Elliott as the Lightning took on the Canadiens. So, tonight should be a matchup between a well-rested Vitek Vanecek (has not played since Tuesday) and a rested Vasilevskiy. I would have rather seen Vanecek start last night — especially as the skaters did not show up for much of the game and Schmid gives the better chance to beat Tampa, but it is what it is. Round three is tonight.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of tonight’s game? Will the Devils get their victory against Tampa Bay? Or will Lindy Ruff be left disappointed that they could not beat one of the best playoff teams in three matchups within a week? What do you think needs to be done with the lineup? Can Jack Hughes play well with Timo Meier, or should they stay split up? Why is Yegor Sharangovich getting so little ice time even while the rest of the lines are struggling? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.