The New Jersey Devils are 3-5-0 during February and are looking to put a disastrous performance against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday behind them. The Devils allowed eight goals, including hat tricks to Patrick Kane and Brandon Hagel. The Vancouver Canucks have done well offensively during the month as they are coming off of a 5-2 win against the New York Rangers on Feb. 27.
The Devils improved their goal total in February. Last month, they struggled to score more than one or two goals a game but have since made some improvements. Here’s a look at some storylines in preparation for tonight’s game.
2 Storylines: Vancouver Canucks (26-22-6)
More Points for Miller During February
J.T. Miller should be a candidate for NHL player of the month. He had two assists against the Rangers, giving him 10 during February, along with five goals. Entering the final game of the month, the 28-year-old center has 15 points in nine games. He leads the team with 20 goals and 39 assists this season, and general managers (GMs) of teams that are in the playoff hunt have taken notice.
If Canucks GM Patrik Allvin receives an offer that is too good to pass up, he may trade Miller. Allvin will be considering the future of his team if he receives prospects or future draft picks in return for the Canucks’ point leader. He also needs to consider the other players who are eligible for extensions this offseason.
However, the Canucks have improved since Bruce Boudreau became the new head coach in December. Miller represents one of the core players who is keeping the franchise in the midst of the playoff hunt. The Pacific Division has been relatively close, and before games on Feb. 28, they were in sixth place and ten points behind the first-place Calgary Flames.
If the Canucks continue to play well before the trading deadline on March 21, Allvin may decide to hold onto Miller. Keeping him on the roster would give the team a good chance of finishing the season in a wild-card spot in the Western Conference or as one of the top three teams in the Pacific. After their struggles during the first two months of 2022, the team finds itself in the playoff mix, which did not seem likely before Boudreau.
Desperation Is Fueling Canucks’ Play
Following the Canucks’ most recent victory, Matthew Highmore commented on the team’s success: “I think we’re just playing with a lot of desperation. I mean, not that we weren’t in January…but I think we’ve found a little something here. Our group is growing in confidence. We have to continue to keep it going and get points, and you never know what will happen”.
Boudreau commented on the team’s mindset: “We’re definitely seeing that with every game that goes by, the next game is way more important. I mean, we’re in a playoff chase. We have to be ready for every game. That’s what we have to do. I don’t know if it’s any more readiness or whatever, but we’re playing to win.” The Canucks have 28 games remaining and will continue to play with a sense of urgency in the final two months.
2 Storylines: New Jersey Devils (18-29-5)
Is Smith the Odd-Man Out on Defense?
Devils’ head coach Lindy Ruff put together defensive pairings for practice on Feb. 27, and Ty Smith was listed as a reserve. He could be a healthy scratch for the first time in his career against the Canucks. Ruff commented on his motivation behind the pairings that did not include Smith: “When you look at some of his puck play, he’s been victimized on some of the errant plays that he’s made with the puck. I feel defensively sometimes his game has been loose. We all know that to be a young defenseman to play in this league, and he’s still a young defenseman, you have to play sound defensively”.
Smith had a good rookie season with the Devils in 2020-21. He played like their top defenseman at times and came into 2021-22 with high expectations. Ruff mentioned how unsteady securing a role with an NHL franchise can be, stating, “There’s no clear line to a steady position in the NHL. There are bumps along the road, dips in your play. He’s had lots of opportunity to earn the right to be in night after night. For a young player like Ty, he has to keep working hard. He has to know what his game is. He’s had an opportunity all year to find his game. I’m going to emphasize that it’s defensively and puck play that has been victimized.” Colton White took Smith’s spot on the third defensive pairing in practice. In his four-year career, he has played the most with the Devils this year.
Sharangovich Playing Well During February
Yegor Sharangovich is in the midst of a hot streak. He enters the game against the Canucks with points in six consecutive games and has points in seven of the eight games this month.
Sharangovich has four goals and six assists in February. His steady point production is a boost to the offensive core of Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, and Jesper Bratt. If the Devils can continue to get consistent offense from players outside of their core, they could become a contender within a few seasons.
When the Devils are winning, their young team shows their potential to be a competitor in the Metropolitan Division. They will look to finish off February with a win against a competitive Canucks team before playing the Columbus Blue Jackets on Mar. 1. The Devils and Canucks matchup has the potential to be a high-scoring contest given how well both teams have been playing offensively during February.