After blowing yet another third period lead in last night’s overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers, the New Jersey Devils make their second of three stops on their West Canada trip as they prepare to face the Calgary Flames. Since 2013, the Devils have gone a combined 2-4-3 in their last three trips to this part of the continent against the Oilers, Flames, and Canucks. These numbers of course exclude Thursday night’s overtime loss in Edmonton (which would put their West Canada record to 2-4-4 since 2013). Furthermore, the odds are stacked against the Devils tonight when you consider this season’s abysmal road performance, over which they’ve gone 6-12-6, and won only three of their last 11 away matchups.
Unlike the Devils, Calgary is in the midst of the tight playoff battle out West. They’ve gone 3-0-0 at home in January, and won four of their last five matchups at the Saddledome. While both teams struggling to keep pucks out of their own net this season, the Flames have a clear advantage in overall goal-scoring when compared to New Jersey’s 28th-ranked offense and 29th-ranked power play (The Flames respectively rank 16th and 11th in these categories). While the Devils season is slowly looking more like a lost cause, no game is unwinnable and tonight’s particular matchup is no exception to this. As of writing this, no information has been released on any lineup changes or goaltending decisions. While Cory Schneider played a remarkable game last night (with no help from his team), it’s possible Keith Kinkaid could start between the pipes tonight since this is the second of back-to-back matchups.
Who to watch
Steve Santini…While he hasn’t helped the team improve much as a whole, Santini has been fun to watch since his call-up. The 21-year old rookie defenseman is coming off a game where he scored his first NHL goal, and has three points in his first six contests this season. His rugged physical style is just the type of play New Jersey needs when taking on teams from the Western Conference, where hitting will almost certainly factor into tonight’s outcome.
Jon Merrill…Granted Merrill has been nothing short of terrible this season, I wouldn’t quite say that last night’s overtime plunder could be entirely pinned on him. Having said that, he’s shown flashes of subtle improvement over the past few weeks, tallying one goal and three points in the last seven games and getting ice time exceeding 20 minutes in the last five consecutive contests he’s played in. Patience is always a virtue when developing defensemen, so the best hope we have for Merrill is he can continue playing through his glaring growing pains and build off the flashes of solid play he’s exhibited the past couple of weeks.
Keys to the game
Accept the inevitabilities…When you support a struggling team like the Devils, it’s essential to always go into the game with minimal expectations. When you look at the team’s seasonal habits, it’s more than likely we’re going to see more of the same tonight (especially considering how this is a road game, where the Devils have struggled mightily this season)- New Jersey will probably get outshot by a large margin, get skunked on the power play, and struggle to maintain any leads they have (if they manage to go ahead at all during any point of the game). At this point, watch the play of the team’s up and comers like Miles Wood, Steve Santini, Blake Coleman, and Nick Lappin who are currently essential building blocks of this team’s future.
Capitalize on Calgary’s struggling core forwards…Calgary (like New Jersey) has an identifiable offensive core, but no particular player that’s distinctly spearheading their scoring efforts. While forward Mikael Backlund currently leads the team in scoring with 12 goals and 29 points, notable names like Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are maintaining under a point per game this season. Both Backlund and Gaudreau have one goal each this month, while Monahan hasn’t scored in 11 games but has historically performed very well against New Jersey.
Where to watch
MSG +2 (Local)
When to watch