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Game Preview #41: New Jersey Devils at Boston Bruins

After putting down a good Florida Panthers team, the Devils head to Boston to conclude their road trip in an afternoon game.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Florida Panthers Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: New Jersey Devils vs. Boston Bruins

The Time: 1:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: NESN, MSGSN

Key Takeaways

  • After dropping two difficult games to good teams, the Devils returned fire and smashed the Florida Panthers, ending their nine-game winning streak.
  • They go from facing the Atlantic Division’s second-best team to facing the Atlantic’s best in the Boston Bruins, who have had a middling start to 2024.
  • The Bruins have a number of day-to-day injuries that could dress against the Devils, or might not dress. Nevertheless, the Devils will have to be at their sharpest today for an afternoon game against a team they’ve struggled against in the past.

The last time the Devils played the Bruins . . .

. . . they lost 5-2 in a game that saw them start strong but turtle in the second period, surrendering four unanswered and finding themselves unable to claw themselves out of the hole they’d created.

This game was eerily similar to their Florida Panthers performance the other night, actually. Against the Bruins last time, the Devils scored two early goals before sinking into their shell, same as when they faced the Panthers. So what was the difference-maker this time? Well, goaltending for one. Vanecek played badly against the Bruins, and the four quick goals were as much his fault as the defense’s (if not more so). The team deflated after the first one, the momentum flung the other way, and they were never able to get back in the driver’s seat. One goal led to two, three, four, until the Devils were staring down the barrel of a deficit they had no hope of climbing out of.

It’s for that reason that Nico Daws should start. He should get the toughest matchups from here on out until the Devils acquire a Batman to his Robin or he proves himself unable to handle tough teams (he’s been doing all right so far). Both Daws and Vanecek were on the ice for the optional skate yesterday.

The Boston Bruins

The Bruins are very good. We know that. We’ve known that. It remains true into 2024. However, they have struggled to a degree entering the new year. They’ve beaten solid teams like Tampa Bay—who the Devils recently lost in overtime to—7-3. But they’ve also lost to inferior teams (in close games) like the Penguins and the Coyotes, and struggled to put away the St. Louis Blues just a couple of days ago.

They’re still 6-1-3 in their last ten. They’re still the Boston Bruins. But they’re not infallible. Recent history has shown that teams that skate with the Bruins can hang with them, push them to overtime, which means that the Devils can at least scrape a point together today.

The Bruins have a number of players that are listed as day-to-day with injuries or illnesses. The most notable among them is Linus Ullmark, who has a lower body groin/hip injury. Pavel Zacha (illness) and Matthew Poitras are also day-to-day, with Brandon Carlo and Derek Forbort out longer term. Zacha did not play against the Blues on Saturday and remains doubtful against the Devils, which leaves the Bruins scraping together something resembling an NHL center corps. Here’s their lines from the Blues game:

The Devils will either get Swayman or Brandon Bussi, the 25-year-old right-catching goaltender who has yet to get his NHL debut. Swayman has struggled through his last five, giving up six to the Pittsburgh Penguins and three against the St. Louis Blues on only 23 shots. He played quite well against Colorado and Vegas, so it’s anyone’s guess which version will show up if he plays against the Devils. Still, Swayman is an NHL all-star. The Bruins aren’t considered one of the best tandems in the league without him.

Bussi, meanwhile, is nothing more than a third-string goalie, if that. Last season he split time between AHL Providence and the ECHL, performing reasonably well in both leagues, but this season he’s only mustered a .901 SV% and a 2.94 GAA in 20 games. But as the Bruins are not facing a back-to-back situation, I expect Swayman will get the start and Bussi will have to wait to make his NHL debut.

Keys to victory

  1. Hischier’s line has to outperform (or at least shut down) their matchups. As they’re on the road, they have the second change to Boston. Hischier’s line both got caved in against Barkov’s in Florida and did a good job of actually keeping the puck out of the night, but they can’t turn into a defensive shell against the Bruins. They’re just too good.
  2. Keep pace for sixty minutes. The Devils were able to throw up their walls and mostly defend against the Panthers after scoring early, and it worked. Daws bailed them out and they played reasonable team defense. That might not work a second time against a superior Bruins team that boasts David Pastrnak. They can’t let their foot off the gas.
  3. Toffoli needs to get going, and soon. He made a few fancy moves against the Panthers that didn’t work out—they just defended too well and he skates too slowly. He can’t be missing shots and getting stripped of the puck on zone entries tonight. He needs to help drive his line instead of riding shotgun as a passenger with a hard shot.

Your Thoughts

What do you think the Devils need to do against the Bruins? Can Daws repeat his performance against the Panthers, or will they try to force the Vitek Vanecek experience one more time? Let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading. Onward.