For over a month, the New Jersey Devils have failed to string together consecutive wins. Their last back-to-back victories came between November 12th-14th over the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins. Since then, the Devils went 7-8-4, and are currently three points out of the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. The Devils scored just 28 times in December, averaging 2.15 goals per game. Cory Schneider has held his own all season, however the team’s substantial drop-off in scoring depth has been exploited over the past six or so weeks more than it’s ever been.
As the title suggests, Coach Hynes is sending a message to his team that he wants more than one major scoring outlet from his offense. Center Jacob Josefson will be a healthy scratch for the first time this season with his lackluster offensive production being the likely reason behind the decision. Hynes is dabbling with new lines that he’s expected to deploy in tonight’s matchup. After breaking up his successful unit of Mike Cammalleri, Adam Henrique, and Lee Stempniak, he’s relegated Henrique and Stempniak to the second and third lines (respectively), while putting Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri with Cammalleri. Hynes hasn’t tried too many different forward combinations this season, largely in part to the chemistry his top line, and the Palmieri/Zajac pairing had, which he was able to ride out until recently.
After dropping their initial contest against the Devils earlier this month, the Hurricanes returned the favor when these two teams met three nights earlier. With the season series split, tonight’s going to be the third time this month these two teams will face each other. The Hurricanes have been living up to their preseason expectations for the most part, despite going 6-3-1 in their last ten games. Spearheading Carolina’s recent play is defenseman Justin Faulk, who has six goals and twelve points in Carolina’s last ten contests. He leads the team with 14 goals and 30 points this season and is quietly having a Norris-worthy year. Forwards Victor Rask and Jeff Skinner carried the Hurricanes offense through the first-half of December. Despite both players cooling down as of late, they’ve posted some impressive numbers this month. Between both forwards, they’ve combined for 11 goals and 21 points this month (nine of those goals belonging to Skinner). Having said that, neither player has registered a point in either of their games against the Devils this season.
Who to watch
Lee Stempniak…Currently third on the team in points, Stempniak was relegated to the third line amidst the lineup changes brought about by Coach Hynes. After having a strong start to the December month, Stempniak’s play has dipped as of late. He only has two assists in his last five games and just one goal in his last eight contests. The hope is for the broken up first line of Cammalleri/Henrique/Stempniak to spark the Devils’ top-three lines to maintain a steadier pace of scoring than what we’ve seen this season. His play tonight on the third line with less-skilled line mates will be a good indicator as to whether Stempniak personally thrives in Hynes’ system or if he’s been piggybacking off Cammalleri and Henrique.
Justin Faulk…12 of his 14 goals this year have come on the power play, presently making him one of (if not) the most dangerous defenseman on the man-advantage in the league. He had a goal (even strength) and two points in his team’s initial matchup against New Jersey after going pointless when these teams first met. The Hurricanes are also 8-3-1 in games Faulk has scored in this year for what it’s worth.
What to watch
The new lines…One of two things will happen tonight. The new lines will be good enough to get the job done, or will yield the same results. If the former happens, then Coach Hynes will try to ride these new combos out as long as he could. If the latter happens, you’ll probably see him revert back to the lines he’s been going with all year. This is going to be a boom or bust scenario for the Devils offense. If things don’t work out well tonight, I’m not sure what Hynes’ Plan B will be.
Where to watch
FS-SE (N. Carolina)
When to watch