The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (47-20-8) at the Chicago Blackhawks (24-45-6). Opposition Blog: Second City Hockey.
The Time: 8:00 PM ET
The Broadcast: TV - ESPN2 (I guess they thought the Blackhawks would be a bit better when they made this national broadcast schedule?)
Bastian Getting Closer; Foote Back in Utica
The New Jersey Devils, deciding that Miles Wood should continue to play out his time on the fourth line with Michael McLeod and Yegor Sharangovich, sent Nolan Foote back down to Utica. I suppose this is a fine admission that they’d prefer the veteran play of Wood over the more skilled play of Foote, and Foote will be able to get more games and ice time in for Utica as the playoffs loom.
#NEWS: We have assigned F Nolan Foote to Utica (AHL). pic.twitter.com/hOWEMIqY4Q— x - New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 31, 2023
The upside to Foote returning to the AHL is knowing that Nathan Bastian is close to returning to the lineup. As some have pointed out, including P.K. Subban, Nathan Bastian lifts up the Devils in ways that his lineup replacements seem to fail at. We saw how Timo Meier can bring physicality into the top six during the Devils’ most recent game against the Rangers — and you can read more about that game here — but Bastian is by far the most physical member of the bottom six. The third line of Palat-Boqvist-Tatar might be able to play with a bit of grit in the playoffs, but Bastian returning to the fourth line (hopefully in place of Wood, as I think Sharangovich has more to offer) will wear down opposing teams with his propensity for finishing checks, getting to the front of the net, and prolonging possession on the forecheck.
“I feel pretty good.”— x - New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 31, 2023
Bastian ⤵️#Sponsored | @Genucel pic.twitter.com/qRLkkK1U9M
Jonathan Toews Returning
The now-maligned captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews, is expected to make his return to the lineup after not playing a game since January 28. He has been dealing with the effects of Long COVID and Chronic Immune Response Syndrome. Due to the various health issues that he now deals with, Jonathan Toews seems to be wondering whether he is physically capable of being part of an NHL roster at this point in his life. With recovery time being such a struggle for him, he sounds exhausted and I would not expect him to play very much in his return to the lineup.
Jonathan Toews on contemplating both his time left in Chicago and in the NHL#Blackhawks pic.twitter.com/ehSX0jdplX— CHGO Blackhawks (@CHGO_Blackhawks) March 28, 2023
With Toews understanding that this could be it for him, both Toews and Chicago Head Coach Luke Richardson acknowledge that he may look pretty rough in his return to the lineup tonight. On the season, Toews has 14 goals and 14 assists in 46 games. For what it’s worth, this is much better production than what he was able to put up last year in his return from long COVID, but he was not able to deal with the full grind of the season this year.
Luke Richardson says Jonathan Toews will play tomorrow vs New Jersey#Blackhawks pic.twitter.com/gL4pVcwAzl— Mario Tirabassi (@Mario_Tirabassi) March 31, 2023
With his contract expiring at the end of the season, I would not expect him to remain in a Blackhawks uniform. Like Patrick Kane, he may just get out of Chicago when the time comes this offseason. Can he play a full season anymore? Probably not, but I imagine teams will want to sign him even for a limited role as a 13th forward. Otherwise, these could very well be the last weeks of Jonathan Toews in the NHL.
Other Blackhawks Notes
While March was not the best month for the New Jersey Devils, as John said in yesterday’s monthly review, it was no disaster, as Girard also noted. The Devils have a chance to put a great April forth starting with tonight’s game, as they also have another bottom-feeder in Columbus looming on the horizon. If they can win these games against non-competitive teams that are only playing to finish the season on an official basis as they wait for the Bedard lottery, that’s two out of seven remaining games that should be chalked up as wins (or else they’re difficult to excuse as losses). Tonight should not be a problem for the Devils, as the top two scorers listed for the Blackhawks this season — Domi and Kane — are no longer with the team.
Lately, the Blackhawks have actually been playing former Devil Joey Anderson in a bottom six role. He has three goals and two assists for them in an average ice time of 12:27 per game in 17 appearances, and he has five goals and three assists in 31 total games this year (also with Toronto). It would be nice to see Joey Anderson carve out a role somewhere in his career, as the Devils really did not gain all that much by trading him a few years ago just for him to be buried by Toronto in the AHL. And now the Devils have Andreas Johnsson buried in Utica — but Anderson has played more NHL games this year. Funny how that works.
With Petr Mrazek having lost for the Blackhawks two nights ago, it’s likely that 35-year old Alex Stalock will get the start tonight. He has a 9-12-1 record with a .913 save percentage and 2.86 goals against average, with a 6.2 goals saved above expected. He actually got tossed at the end of his last start, on Tuesday, for unsportsmanlike conduct when the referees lacked thick enough skin to take criticism from the veteran goalie after he was run by Luke Glendening.
Alex Stalock is penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. He's still jawing at the official after he was run over by Luke Glendening. #Blackhawks pic.twitter.com/MZaoiJJdwK— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) March 29, 2023
He should be facing Mackenzie Blackwood tonight. Blackwood can use a confidence booster, so there’s no time as good as any like a team whose best remaining scorer has 35 points in 75 games (24-year old Taylor Raddysh, who is a pretty good shooter). The Blackhawks have some other decent players, like former Lightning Cup winner Tyler Johnson, who has missed chunks of this season but has 29 points in 49 games; as he now plays a top line role. He should have fun seeing Ondrej Palat tonight.
What do you think of tonight’s game? Will you be tuning in? Who do you think ESPN will assign us for the broadcast? Is there anyone left on Chicago you think would be worth looking at in any future free agency periods? What do you think the final score will be tonight? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.