Tonight’s game will feature a battle for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division as the New Jersey Devils travel to Columbus to face the first place Blue Jackets.
New Jersey is coming off a 5-0 defeat at the hands of one of the worst teams in the league. At such a pivotal time of the year, the Devils must put together a better string of performances, which starts with a home-and-home series against the team they trail by one-point in the Metropolitan Division. In order for the Devils to complete this series successfully, they must start scoring more goals. They’ve only scored four goals in their last three games and must establish scoring depth throughout their lineup if they want to keep pace with the division-leading Blue Jackets.
Columbus continues to lead the Metropolitan Division and are doing so by winning at a rapid pace. They have an 8-2-0 record over their past ten games where they have relied on their 3rd ranked defense (allowing 2.8 goals per game). Over those past ten games, they have allowed just 1.7 goals per game, due largely to elite goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky. However, the Blue Jackets are not perfect, as they have struggled offensively all year. They only produce, on average, 2.8 goals per game (21st best in the league) and their power play has been historically bad this year, as it is only producing a goal 9.3% of the time.
Regarding personnel, Steven Santini will replace Ben Lovejoy in the lineup tonight. Pavel Zacha and Dalton Prout will be the Devils’ other two healthy scratches. Coach John Hynes has already announced that Cory Schneider will make his 20th start this year. The Blue Jackets are reportedly going to be without defensemen Markus Nutivaara and Ryan Murray, both out with upper-body injuries. It is expected that all-star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (14-6-1, 2.02 GAA, .931 Sv%) will be in between the pipes tonight.
(*injured and not expected to play)
What/Who to Watch
- Recent scoring droughts have haunted many key Devils forwards, as Travis Zajac, Marcus Johansson, and Drew Stafford have all been held scoreless in their last five games. With these three forwards making up the Devils second line tonight in Columbus, they must start to produce in order for the Devils to complete this home-and-home series successfully.
- Once again, young Devils’ forward Pavel Zacha is slated to be a healthy scratch and his future with the team is becoming more and more unclear. It’ll be interesting to see how Coach Hynes and General Manager Ray Shero ultimately end up handling Zacha, as many believe it is best for the young forward to go to Binghamton and polish his game in the AHL.
- Like always, special teams will play a huge role in this pivotal divisional matchup. The Devils’ power play has only converted once in their last eleven attempts, and this trend might continue as the Blue Jackets have the 6th best penalty-kill in the league (83.8% efficiency). However, as mentioned above, the Blue Jackets have struggled mightily on the power play, so the Devils tendency to take undisciplined penalties might not play as large a role as it usually does.
- A large part of the Blue Jackets offense is generated from their talented defensive core. Led by young defensemen Zach Werenski and Seth Jones, they are responsible for roughly 30% of all points scored by Blue Jackets players this year. The Blue Jackets blue-line is lethal, to say the least.
Tonight’s game can be seen on MSG+ at 7:00 PM.