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Game Preview #43: New Jersey Devils at Columbus Blue Jackets

Well. We’re back. After losing to the Montreal Canadiens in some type of way, the Devils face the Blue Jackets in Columbus. Theoretically, they could beat them.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: New Jersey Devils vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: BSOH, MSG

Key Takeaways

  • Despite outplaying the Montreal Canadiens for broad swathes of their most recent game, the Devils come to Columbus with more questions than answers.
  • The Blue Jackets are . . . well they’re just terrible. 14-21-9 on the season, 3-4-3 in their last ten, and a -31 goal differential, nobody can pretend they’re a competitive team. Which is to say, they’re the kind of team the Devils need to come away with two points from. Their games in hand on the teams leading them in the Metropolitan are only worth anything if they, y’know, win them.
  • The Blue Jackets most recently beat the Canucks, the team that dominated the Devils not too long ago, 4-3 in the shootout.

The last time the Devils played the Blue Jackets . . .

. . . they pulled off yet another come-from-behind win to defeat the Blue Jackets 4-3 in overtime. The Blue Jackets scored first, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone paying attention to the Devils this season, before running and gunning back and forth all the way to overtime. Notably, the Blue Jackets led 2-1 with four minutes remaining in the third period before Dawson Mercer tied the game. Then Yegor Chinakhov scored for the Blue Jackets. Then the Devils tied it yet again with just under ninety seconds left. Meier scored the game-winner in overtime off a good hustle that earned him a breakaway, a clean shot, and a goal. It was a messy game. Thankfully, the offense scored when they needed to and Vitek Vanecek played reasonably well despite the three goals against. That’s important to note, as I imagine he’ll likely get the start against the ‘weaker’ opponent, leaving Nico Daws to take a tougher Dallas Stars team tomorrow.

Should they do that? Probably not, no. Conventional wisdom dictates that—in back-to-back games—you start your best goalie against the worse opponent to ‘guarantee’ (or as much as you can) at least two points, especially when the weaker opponent is coming in the first half of the weekend. Still, Daws can’t play every game. This isn’t the 1990s. So let’s all hope that Vanecek can put in as decent a performance as he did last time against the Jackets.

The season marches on and the Blue Jackets ail

Last time we checked in on the Blue Jackets, they were a very injured team that had managed some inexplicably good performances against better teams. While they’re no longer quite as injured (only Nick Blankenburg remains on injured reserve), the second part of that sentence still applies. Their last game, they managed to force the Canucks to a shootout and beat them 4-3. Prior to that, they were blown out against the Kraken and the Jets, lost a close game to the Wild, beat the Flyers in a shootout, and were smothered by the Bruins. That’s been their 2024 thus far. They’re not a good team. But they show up every now and then to surprise their opponent.

Per Aaron Portzline by way of Columbus head coach Pascal Vincent, Elvis Merzlikins will play against the Devils tonight. Columbus has taken the odd approach of carrying three goalies this season: Daniil Tarasov, Spencer Martin (recently waived), and Merzlikins. Now, whether you believe a three-goalie tandem is the way of the future or not, the fact remains that is hasn’t worked out for the Blue Jackets. Tarasov and Martin both have sub .890 save percentages and now Elvis Merzlikins has requested a trade. In fact, the only reason Merzlikins appears to be getting ice time again is to help move the trade along and generate interest, which according to Pierre LeBrun is “pretty soft.” Merzlikins is 8-8-6 this season with a 3.22 GAA and .906 SV%. He does, however, have three more years on his contract worth north of five million a year in average annual value. While some may look to Merzlikins as a potential trade target for the Devils, I think he’s riskier than John Gibson, who makes slightly more for the same amount of time but has track record of success. (Even if that success last came in 2018-2019.) Even though Martin was waived recently, the damage is done and Merzlikins wants out of Columbus as fast as possible.

The Blue Jackets have been a particularly dysfunctional team lately, what with the Merzlikins trade request due to the three-goalie tandem, sending young phenom David Jiricek to the AHL, and fans calling already for the firing of Pascal Vincent after scratching Jiricek and moving Adam Fantilli to the wing in lieu of Boone Jenner (among other reasons).

Nobody is scoring for the Jackets (Gaudreau is their leader with 28 points in 44 games), Severson is playing the left side, and their coach is scratching/burying young talent in favor of veterans on a team that’s supposed to be nurturing more than a few young stars. All this is to say they’re a mess. The Devils should beat them. So. Go out and beat them.

Your Thoughts

What’re your thoughts on the Blue Jackets and all the drama surrounding them lately? Can the Devils take advantage and score two points they need, or will they let Merzlikins goalie them and Gaudreau to score a hat trick? Let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading. Onward.