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Game Preview #48: New Jersey Devils vs. Colorado Avalanche

They’re well-rested. They’re getting healthier. Will the Devils find their groove post all-star break, or is it just too late to regain their footing? Their first test comes against one of the league’s best teams.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: New Jersey Devils vs. Colorado Avalanche

The Time: 7:30 PM EST

The Broadcast: ESPN+, HULU

Key Takeaways

  • After their bye week and the all-star game break, the Devils should return to game action well-rested with several injured players nearing as close to what passes for a “clean bill of health” in professional sports.
  • They’ll face one of the NHL’s juggernauts in the Colorado Avalanche, the top team in the Central Division led by offensive phenoms Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar.
  • Alexander Georgiev played against the Rangers last night and is unlikely to start against the Devils.

Getting healthy

The Devils are one of the top teams in man-games lost to injury, a stark contrast from the relatively lucky team they were last year. But with a little extra time off due to the bye week and the all-star weekend, several Devils have returned to practice. Per team reporter Amanda Stein, Jonas Siegenthaler and Brendan Smith have begun skating. While they appear to have some ways to go before getting back into the lineup, the fact that they’re well enough to see the ice—even if it is apart from practice—is positive news. The Devils remain depleted on the back end. Though Siegenthaler and Smith have not been significant needle-movers this season (and Siegenthaler has been actively bad in more than a few games), their depth at defense is being sorely tested and led to claiming Nick DeSimone off waivers just for an extra body. Lindy Ruff told Stein “I would anticipate we’re getting closer to them getting back to practice,” so they likely are still week-to-week.

Tomas Nosek began full practices with the team coming out of the all-star break. Ruff said he’d like to “get him in a couple of practices” before Nosek is considered ready to play. Now that a couple of practices have indeed passed, Nosek could see time against the Avalanche in Max Willman’s stead. He took line rushes beside Chris Tierney and Alexander Holtz. While Nosek has only played six games for the Devils so far this season, his history as complementary bottom-six forward in the NHL makes him an automatic upgrade on Willman, who hasn’t impressed in his call-up.

Meanwhile, while Ruff told Stein that Jack Hughes is day-to-day and shouldn’t be ruled out from playing this week, Hughes did not rotate onto the top power play unit during practice and wore a non-contact jersey. I don’t expect he’ll be back until he’s had two or three full-contact practices.

The Avalanche are a juggernaut

Colorado is the best team in the league’s best division, though they miss out on the “league’s best team” title only because Vancouver and Boston are marginally ahead in terms of points. From a Stanley Cup perspective, though, they’re a favorite heading into the playoffs, perhaps moreso than the Canucks and Bruins.

Devils fans will notice a recent addition on the Avalanche’s roster: former New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise, who signed a one-year contract with Colorado on January 26. Though Parise is 39 years old, he was an effective middle-six scorer last season on the Islanders, recording a twenty-goal season and 34 points. He also played in all 82 games from each of the last two seasons prior to this year; health hasn’t been an issue for Parise lately. In the game against the Rangers last night, Parise drew a penalty and created a few offensive chances in the first period. He was on the ice for five Colorado scoring chances and just one for the Rangers, per Natural Stat Trick.

The Avalanche lost to the Rangers last night in overtime, losing steam in the third period and eventually losing the goaltending duel. Georgiev was busy in net, so I expect the Avalanche will start untested rookie Justus Annunen. Annunen, 6’4” and aged 23, was the Avalanche’s 64th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. He’s appeared in five NHL games over the last three seasons for a 3-1-1 record and an .871 save percentage.

Much like the Devils, the Avalanche have a few players out of the lineup due to various reasons. Pavel Francouz is done for the season with a groin injury and has been out for months already. Likewise, Gabriel Landeskog has not played hockey since the 2021-2022 season. He had cartilage transplant surgery in May and recently has begun skating again, but he will not play against the Devils. Valeri Nichushkin is out indefinitely after entering the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program.

Nevertheless, the sheer depth and talent on the Colorado Avalanche mean that they’ll roll along just fine, as they have been without Francouz and Landeskog all this season.

Your Thoughts

Will the Devils expose Justus Annunen and jump out to an early lead, or will they make the inexperienced netminder look like a Vezina candidate? Can they beat an Avalanche team that seemed tired in the latter half of their game last night, or will they fail to take advantage of another team’s back-to-back? Let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading. Onward.