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Game Preview #37: New Jersey Devils vs. Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are bad and injured. Can the Devils take advantage, or will they make what should be an easy win much harder than necessary?

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: New Jersey Devils vs. Chicago Blackhawks

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: NBCSCH, MSGSN

Key Takeaways

  • Just when you think the Devils are down, they pick it back up again. After an inconsistent December that saw more than its fair share of convincing wins and concerning losses, they began 2024 off on the right foot with a 6-3 victory over their Metropolitan Division rival Washington.
  • As the season nears the halfway mark, the Devils have been slipping in and out of the final wild card playoff position, a spot they could reinforce with a win against the league’s second-worst team.
  • Luckily, the Blackhawks played against the Rangers yesterday, meaning the Devils have an opportunity to take advantage of a team coming into the second half of a back-to-back.

The last time the Devils played the Blackhawks . . .

. . . they put together a solid 4-2 winning effort against a team that didn’t have much going for them at the time (and still doesn’t). That was back on November 6; Jackson wrote the recap if you want to revisit the game. Notably, Vitek Vanecek put together a very decent effort in stopping 32/34, including a save-of-the-year candidate on the Blackhawks’ Tyler Johnson.

As the Devils enter the front half of the dreaded back-to-back weekend, I would expect Lindy Ruff and the coaching staff to start Vanecek against the inferior Blackhawks in the hopes that he can replicate his November performance, giving Daws the tougher—but perhaps more manageable with his confidence level—matchup against Vancouver tomorrow.

The good news is twofold:

  • The Devils recently proved to us again that they can win big games against good teams in their 6-3 defeat of division-rival Capitals. What I liked about that game was that both their stars and their depth showed up in a very tangible, on-the-scoresheet kind of way. Hischier scored twice, as did McLeod and Mercer. Daws made several key saves on breakaways in moments that could’ve spelled disaster and a subsequent mental breakdown across the roster had those shots gone in. Daws also scored his first NHL point, an assist on Hischier’s first goal.
  • While I never am pleased to see someone a player injured, the Blackhawks’ roster is quite banged up, meaning the Devils should have an even easier time than usual against one of the league’s worst teams. As we’ve all written many times before, there aren’t many excuses for losing against these kinds of teams; I hope and expect that the Devils will take advantage and rack up two points they’ll need in the standings later.

The Devils do have injuries of their own, however. They expect Ondrej Palat to miss several games, and Timo Meier remains listed as day-to-day with what Ruff said (or meant to say) is a “mid-body injury.”

The Blackhawks played last night against the Rangers . . .

. . . and lost convincingly, 4-1. It was an ugly game. The Blackhawks were out-possessed and out-shot through every period, ending with a 22-32 disparity in shots on goal. Mrazek started for the Blackhawks (and found himself under siege for sixty minutes), so Arvid Soderblom will likely get the start against the Devils. Soderblom has been brutal at the NHL level. In 17 games played this season, Soderblom has a 2-12 record with a 4.07 GAA and .874 save percentage. Per MoneyPuck.com, Soderblom is 77th out of 85 goalies ranked in goals saved above expected with -6.5.

As I mentioned earlier, this team is also absolutely ravaged by injuries. Taylor Hall, Andreas Athanasiou, Joey Anderson, Taylor Raddysh, Tyler Johnson, Seth Jones, and Anthony Beauvillier are all on injured reserve. Those are six forwards who—quality notwithstanding—are NHL regulars alongside one of their top defensemen. What remains for the Blackhawks include their young rookies—Connor Bedard, Kevan Korchinski, Lukas Reichel, and Alex Vlasic—and a host of other depth options and minor-league tweeners like Brett Seney and Ryan Donato.

The Blackhawks, partly because of their injuries and partly because they’re not very good, are 2-7-1 in their last ten, on a three-game losing streak, and are facing the Devils in the second half of their back-to-back series. All this is to say that they are not looking especially dangerous right now, and even a Devils team missing Meier, Palat, and Hamilton should outplay this team comfortably. Should being the operative word. If they play hard from puck drop on.

Your Thoughts

Do the Devils comfortably dispatch an ailing Blackhawks team, or do they ‘play down’ to the Blackhawks’ level and drag this out longer than they need to? Let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading. Onward.