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Game Preview #50: New Jersey Devils at Carolina Hurricanes

Thursday's loss was deflating, but the Devils can't feel sorry for themselves.

New Jersey Devils v Carolina Hurricanes
Big night.
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (25-21-3) at the Carolina Hurricanes (29-16-5)

The Time: 7:00 PM

The Broadcast: TV - MSGSN

Drag Every Game to Overtime or Win in Regulation

The Devils stand at 24 total losses on the season. With 33 games left to play, I think they can afford to outright lose about 10-12 games for the rest of the season, unless they can stretch some regulation losses into overtime games. If the Devils went 22-11-0 for the rest of the season, they would end up with a 47-32-3 record, putting them at 97 points. Thanks to the loser point, what would otherwise be a fine record would be very close to the edge of making or missing the playoffs. But if the Devils got a few overtime losses in there: say they went 21-7-7, they would end up with 101 points. With 169 goals scored and 176 allowed on the season, it’s kind of odd to me that the Devils haven’t gotten more games to overtime — especially when a team like the Islanders have 12 overtime losses with a -18 goal differential.

The Devils have not done a good enough job of pushing play to three-on-three overtime. Look at the game versus Calgary on home ice. The Devils scored two goals in a period they started down one, including a shorthanded goal amid a successful four-minute double minor penalty kill. All the effort from the Palat-Hischier-Bratt line — and they were the only line that made a difference — was for nothing. Had they taken a point from that game, they would only be five points out with three games on hand.

When the Power Play Isn’t Shooting, Bring Out Colin Miller

With Jack Hughes’ return to the lineup on Thursday, he was put into a great position to work up some offense on a line with Alex Holtz and Tyler Toffoli. The results were disappointing, but it was only one game back. Where it killed the team was on the blueline power play shuffle that Jack, Luke, and Bratt did during the final five minutes of the game, during which time they might have taken one or two shot attempts on the power play in about 1:40 of consecutive 5v4 ice time.

Colin Miller shot a puck over 105 miles per hour on Tuesday. Any time that it looks like the Hughes brothers are valuing non-threatening puck movement over shots on goal — especially during a late-game power play, Lindy Ruff needs to pull Luke off the ice and send out a one-timer threat in Miller. That type of move completely changes the way opposing penalty kills can function. Instead of being able to play up high to disrupt puck movement, they would be forced to collapse. Then a shot, tip, and score — and maybe Thursday’s game goes to overtime. But instead, it was a passing and skating display when there should have been a shooting display.

The Devils are 17-8-2 with Jack and Nico in the lineup. They have literally performed to the level that, if replicated over the rest of the season, would take them to a playoff spot. But sometimes, I would like to see Ruff make a tough personnel decision when the team needs to score by separating the Hughes brothers on the power play. Opponents know what they are doing, and it severely limits their shots on goal.

Carolina’s Neutral Zone Trap

The tough part of tonight will be dealing with the neutral zone trap and the approximate zero to one holding or hooking calls (alongside multiple ignored trips) that the officials will call on Carolina. For once, I would like to see the Devils use their speedier players — Bratt, Jack, and Meier (or even defensemen like Marino, Luke, and Nemec) — to chase down dumped pucks in the offensive zone. Skating right into their blueline wall is not going to draw a penalty, but Jesper Bratt blowing by their neutral zone structure might get one of their guys to egregiously grab him from behind to impede his movement. Having watched the way the Canes played the Devils in late January, I think this is the only way to deal with them. Skating right into them does not work.

Without Raanta, the Canes will likely go to Pyotr Kochetkov or Spencer Martin, who has a win in his only game for Carolina this season. Raanta had the 3-2 victory in January against the Devils despite his .872 save percentage on the year. The Canes missing Pesce would probably have the biggest impact, as he is probably their most defensively sound player after Jaccob Slavin. Andrei Svechnikov did not play in the earlier matchup, though, and has been out since mid-January. He has 30 points in 29 games this season.

On the Devils’ side, there will be no changes. Brendan Smith will not play tonight, per Lindy Ruff, as the Devils want him to get more practice time in. I do think that Nathan Bastian might deserve to sit for Chris Tierney after the way the fourth line played on Thursday (Bastian did not seem to have his head in the game, offensively), but I doubt there will be any movement there.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of tonight’s game? Are you excited to potentially see Nico Daws in net? Do you think Timo Meier will break his bad luck and get the puck to hit twine tonight? How much better will Jack look in game two, back from the injury? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.