The New Jersey Devils are playing the final half of a back-to-back tonight against the visiting Montreal Canadiens at Prudential Center. It is their second matchup of the season with the first ending in favor of the Devils who won by a final score of 7-1. Forward Michael McLeod played his best game of the season in that victory scoring two goals and finishing with a faceoff win percentage of 68. The last time these two teams met, there was a different coach behind Montreal’s bench and Brett Kulak was manning the Canadiens’ blue line. New Jersey’s opponent has seen plenty of changes since their last game on Feb. 8, but that does not translate to an automatic win for the home team.
2 Storylines: Montreal Canadiens (18-37-10)
Montreal Is the First Team Mathematically Eliminated From Playoffs
It was not a surprise when it was announced that the Canadiens were mathematically eliminated from the postseason. They have struggled since October and have made several off-ice changes including the hiring of Kent Hughes as the new general manager and adding Nick Bobrov and Vincent Lecavalier to the front office.
The team has been without their star goaltender, Carey Price, who had knee surgery in the offseason and entered the NHL’s player assistance program in October. Shea Weber has been held off the ice and probably played his final NHL game, and youngster Cole Caufield did not score his first goal of the season until Nov. 24.
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By the trade deadline, the organization moved several pieces including Kulak, Artturi Lehkonen, Ben Chiarot, and Tyler Toffoli. Hockey experts would say that overall the team did well trading players, and fans can only hope they can go back to the drawing board this offseason.
Caufield Is Flourishing Under St. Louis
Another move was bringing in Martin St. Louis to replace head coach Dominique Ducharme on Feb 9, 2022. Since the hiring, the team has won 10 games including a 4-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs last night. One player who has flourished under St. Louis is 21-year-old Caufield. Since Feb.10, he has scored 13 goals and collected 24 points.
“I think he trusts me,” said Caufield of St. Louis on Feb. 21 after a game against the Maple Leafs. “He’s putting me out there in situations to succeed and I’m playing with two great players too so that helps. He trusts my game and I think that’s the biggest part for me. I just gotta keep playing the right way and it’ll keep going like that.”
2 Storylines: New Jersey Devils (23-37-5)
Devils Try to Avoid Three Straight Losses
While the Devils have yet to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, fans and players know that day will inevitably come. With less than 20 games left this season, the coaching staff is looking for the team to finish the right way and that includes putting together a string of meaningful wins. Currently, New Jersey is on a two-game losing streak and will look to rebound against a team that is positionally worse than them in the standings.
Head coach Lindy Ruff’s team has played well at home recently winning four of its last five games. The Devils will look to bounce back today and win their fifth game in March. After last night’s loss to the Capitals, coach Ruff was asked by Devils reporter Catherine Bogart what the team needs to improve upon in order to win today.
“If you look at the number of opportunities, it’s finishing some of those opportunities,” said coach Ruff. “On the defensive side I thought we were pretty good, we didn’t give up a lot. We have been stressing and trying to lock it down defensively. Those individual mistakes we made on the goals, didn’t get covered up by a great save.”
Military Appreciation Night at Prudential Center
Tonight marks the Devils’ 11th annual Military Appreciation Night. In addition to the players warming up in military-inspired jerseys, the organization provided over 200 active duty service members stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst with tickets to tonight’s game. The players’ warm-up jerseys will be auctioned off online until Sunday, April 3, 2022. All proceeds will go to Operation Gratitude.
Throughout the night there will be opportunities for fans to pay tribute such as writing letters of gratitude. Fans can go to the Prudential Financial activation space located on the main concourse to fill out a personal postcard to troops overseas. The USO Show Troupe will perform the United States National Anthem on the main concourse ahead of the game as well. The first 9,000 fans in attendance will receive a Devils Camouflage-themed hat and will be given the opportunity to customize their hat with their initials at various stations.
Players to Watch
New Jersey Devils: Nico Hischier
It can be argued that recently, captain Nico Hischier has been the best player on the ice for New Jersey. He has 47 points in 56 games and has nine points in his last five games. Since Feb. 1 he has had points in all but four games. This season the 23-year-old has elevated his game whether it’s putting up points or playing a strong defensive game. He scored a goal in his team’s first matchup against the Canadiens, and I don’t see his offensive output slowing down anytime soon.
Montreal Canadiens: Nick Suzuki
Another youngster who has performed well under his new interim head coach is 22-year-old Nick Suzuki. The 5-foot-11 center is coming off a two-point night and has six points in his last five games. He has recently played on the top line alongside Caufield and Josh Anderson and the trio combined for three points against the Maple Leafs last night.