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This was originally going to be focused on the improving Blue Jackets under new bench boss John Tortorella, making their second trip to the Rock this season. After joining the team on their Western Canada trip and actively participating in recent practices, left wing Patrik Elias has been cleared to play and will make his season debut tonight on a line with Jacob Josefson and Stefan Matteau. Its an ideal situation for Elias, who won’t get bombarded with top-six minutes in his first game back and can fully return to game form at a more steady pace. The Devils salvaged what was ultimately a disastrous three-game road trip in Western Canada, topping it off with a 3-2 (and season-sweeping) win in Vancouver. The Devils previously dropped games against the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, and were outscored 8-3. The Jackets have improved under the leadership of Coach Tortorella and won six of their last ten games. They were triumphant over some formidable opponents like San Jose, Los Angeles, Nashville, and St. Louis. Columbus has lost two of its last three however, getting shutout by Ottawa and losing to the Sharks after having a 3-1 lead.
Only recently has the Jackets offense shown signs of life. Boone Jenner, Scott Hartnell, and Brandon Saad have 29 goals between them. Similarly to the Devils, the bulk of their offensive production comes from their top-six. Granted injuries have been an attributing factor to these circumstances, the underachievement of players like Nick Foligno could play a larger role in the Jackets’ offensive woes. After his 73-point breakout season last year, Foligno has just one goal and nine points in 22 games. Cam Atkinson, another touted forward, is maintaining a similar scoring pace to his previous two seasons. Although his consistency is encouraging, players like Atkinson not taking that next developmental step in their play, have factored in the Jackets’ disastrous 2015-2016 campaign.
Columbus’ defense is being led by their homegrown talent, but is a combined minus 31 this season, and has been a majorly detrimental factor in Columbus giving up the second-most goals in the league. It’s encouraging to see former second overall pick Ryan Murray coming to form. He’s benefiting from getting through the 2015-2016 season in good health, posting totals of two goals and ten points going into tonight’s matchup. Having said that, Columbus has only five goals coming from the blue line this year, three of which have been scored in the month of November.
Sergei Bobrovsky will get the nod in goal for Columbus tonight, and has been on an upswing, having won four out of his last five starts and six out of his last eight. He’s played some solid hockey this month, posting a 6-2-0 record, 2.00 GAA, and a .932 SV%. He was in net when the Jackets beat the Devils earlier this season, and has an improving team in front of him that is different from the lineup New Jersey faced about a month ago. Since getting his first win of the season against Colorado, Bobrovsky has gone 8-4-0 with a 2.08 GAA and .915 SV%. The gist of all this is that Bobrovsky is heating up after a dreadfully slow start. He already has New Jersey’s number this year and is being given a chance by coach Torts to shake off his previous start, where his team blew a two-goal lead and would lose to San Jose 5-3.
Who to watch
Jacob Josefson…Ideally, Patrik Elias would be the one Devil to watch tonight because he’s making his season debut, but he plays a part as to why I’ve chosen Josefson. He’s yet to score his first goal of the year as the Devils prepare to play their 21st game of the season, and is starting tonight’s game centering Elias on his left and Matteau on his right. Hopes are high that a player like Elias is what Josefson is missing on his line. The young Swede has an opportunity to capitalize on Elias’ unparalleled playmaking abilities. He needs to play his center position soundly in the offensive zone and keep his stick on the ice when Elias has the puck at all times.
Cam Atkinson…The 26-year old right wing is off to a slow but commendable start this year and scored against the Devils in their initial matchup back in October. Career-wise, Atkinson has four goals and seven points in nine contests against the Devils, being just one of many Blue Jackets that have given New Jersey an increasingly hard time over the past few years. Atkinson has a goal and four points in his last five games and could bring some of that momentum into tonight’s contest, which along with his prominent yet overlooked track record against the Devils, can make him fly under the radar tonight.
What to watch
Struggles versus bad teams…The Devils have previously had three matchups against the three worst teams in the league (Edmonton, Columbus, Calgary), and lost all three. Games like this are the ideal definition of leaving points on the table and if the Devils want to start pulling away in the standings, games like tonight’s are just as significant as their upcoming back-to-back contests against Montreal. Points are points and for a team like the Devils who have defied expectations so far, they can’t afford to keep taking opponents like Columbus for granted. Tonight could either diffuse or establish an unfavorable trend the 2015-2016 Devils could carry this season, which focuses on their inability to win games against the league’s worst performing teams.
Where to watch
Fox Sports- Ohio
When to watch