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Overview…The Devils wrap up their six-game homestand going 4-1-1 as they prepare to play their divisional rival Columbus Blue Jackets for the second time this season. This will be the first of three more matches the Devils have against a Columbus team they previously defeated 3-2. Last night left the Devils nine points out of the final wildcard spot. Needless to say, getting a win is essential for their destabilizing playoff hopes, especially considering the Bruins will be hosting a slumping Arizona Coyotes team that’s in the midst of an eight-game losing streak. The Devils continue to have to hop through hoops to generate offense, as demonstrated in their past two losses. The Jackets have suffered four consecutive losses going into tonight, and were outscored 9-2 in the first periods of those four games. Tonight’s game will feature another top power play corps the Devils will have to face so staying out of the penalty box is going to be essential if New Jersey wants to give themselves a chance tonight.
Offense…The Jackets have struggled to score (24th in league with 157 goals), but their offense features notable names like Nick Foligno, Ryan Johansen, Scott Hartnell, and Cam Atkinson. Although Columbus is essentially out of playoff contention, they’ll spend the rest of the season making the post-season aspirations of teams like the Devils as difficult as possible. The biggest story going into tonight is the debut of recent trade acquisition and former Devil David Clarkson, who us expected to make his Blue Jackets debut against the team he spent the first six seasons of his career with. The Devils lost both times they visited Columbus last season, during which the Jacke’s offense registered nine goals. Nobody has particularly stood out in the Jacket’s recent stretch of games goal-wise, and they will play tonight’s game without Devil killer Brandon Dubinsky.
Defense…Even with former second overall pick Ryan Murray getting sidelined earlier this month, the Jackets have a formidable defense corps at their disposal. Their top four scoring defensemen combined for 29 goals on the season. Their defensemen majorly attribute to Columbus being ranked fourth among the league in hits and a large chunk of their power play production has come from Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski. They respectively have 16 and 13 power play points this season, ranking them third and fourth on their team in that category.
Goaltending…Although goaltender Sergei Borbovsky is basically cleared to play, Curtis McElhinney will make his sixth start since February 17th, during which he’s gone 2-2-1. He’s posted competitive numbers in his recent stretch of games, giving up 12 goals on 148 shots (2.40 GAA, .918 SV%). He’s gone 8-5-1 since January, giving up 35 goals on 474 shots in 16 games he’s appeared in. (2.18 GAA, .926 SV%). He’s played his part over the past month Columbus has been without Borbovsky, and his play might indicate goaltending hasn’t been his team’s biggest issue in recent weeks. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds to a Devils team that’s developed a reputation amongst its fans for making backup goalies look like can’t miss all-stars.
Players to watch
Mike Cammalleri…He continues his hot February month with an assist on Jordin Tootoo’s game-tying goal last night, extending his current point streak to five games (5G 2A).
David Clarkson…As previously mentioned, he’ll be making his Blue Jackets debut this afternoon and, like all players in his situation , will want to make a good first impression on his new teammates. It’s comical how Clarkson is now on the same team with Hartnell and Dubinsky, both of whom he’d regularly engage with back when all three were divisional rivals with each other.
Biggest factor…Columbus has struggled immensely in first periods, falling into holes they haven’t been able to climb out of. Contrarily, New Jersey has been productive in the opening period, but is notorious for blowing those early game leads they’ve accumulated. It will be interesting to see where they stand after the first twenty minutes and how that factors into the rest of the game.