Thursday night’s game was a treat for Devils fans, who watched their team route Zach Parise and the Minnesota Wild 7-4. The Devils face a tough test this upcoming weekend as they play the first of back-to-backs against their Metropolitan Division rivals, the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Devils are 0-3-0 against the Jackets this season, whose latest defeat came in the form of a 6-1 beat down in late-February. The Devils have a bizarre statistic that’s worth noting when they score in bunches. They’re 5-6-2 (.38 winning percentage) in games following victories where they scored four or more goals. Columbus has lost their last three games and wrap up a five-game home stand tonight, during which they’ve gone 0-3-1. It’s a perfect scenario for the Blue Jackets to lift themselves out of their funk, and make head coach John Tortorella’s 1000th game behind the bench a triumphant one.
This upcoming home-and-home is going to be a very defining moment for the Devils and players on their team. They still remain six points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with eleven games left. The odds of the Devils returning to the playoffs are slim, and will require New Jersey to basically win out the remainder of the season. As I mentioned earlier, the Jackets have New Jersey’s number this year. The playoffs are an afterthought for Columbus, who will spend the duration of the 2015-2016 season trying to sabotage playoff aspirations for teams like the Devils. These two games are must-wins for New Jersey if they want to keep the glimmer of hope they have to reach the postseason. One positive going into tonight is it appears that right wing Kyle Palmieri will play, after suffering a minor injury scare that prevented him from practicing yesterday. Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to get the start tonight. He won his last two starts against the Devils this year, posting a 1.00 GAA and .962 SV%.
Who to watch
Keith Kinkaid…One of the Devils players who will be looked upon to make a statement tonight is goaltender Keith Kinkaid. He will make a career-high sixth consecutive start. His only start against Columbus came in a relieving effort to Cory Schneider. Kinkaid surrendered three goals against 14 shots, which came during the Jackets’ 6-1 defeat of the Devils less than a month ago. Kinkaid has been steady for the most part since Cory Schneider went down a few weeks ago. He’s been an integral part to his team’s recent play, and needs to be more than stellar tonight if he wants to play his part in Keeping his team’s playoff chances in the realm of conceivability.
Nick Foligno…The 28-year old recorded a hat trick in his last game against the Devils back in late-February. Foligno has emerged as a true leader in the Blue Jackets locker room, and a core piece to the team’s young dynamic offense. After his four-point performance against the Devils, Foligno would tally three goals and six points over the next four games. He hasn’t registered a point in five games and hasn’t scored since he recorded his hat trick against the Devils. Since he’s due, Foligno’s point drought could very well come to an end tonight if he plays with the same tenacity he exhibited when these two teams last met.
What to watch
Penalty kill struggles…While the Devils are notorious for their special teams being a strength of their play this season, it hasn’t been the case with their PK units. The Devils dropped to 12th in this category amongst teams, which can be attributed to the struggles they’ve endured this month. The Devils have been penalized 25 times in March and killed 18 of those penalties. That equates to a 72% efficiency rate on the PK, which contrasts sharply with New Jersey’s season average of 81.8%. Giving up goals when down a man has been crippling to the Devils this month. They can’t afford to take unnecessary penalties against a team like the Blue Jackets if they want to give themselves a legitimate chance to best them for the first time this season.
Where to watch
MSG +2 (Local)
When to watch