It’s game day at Prudential Center. The New Jersey Devils will face the Vegas Golden Knights as they try to stop the bleeding and get back into the win column. They’ve dropped three straight games and will still be without Nico Hischier, Ryan Graves, and Christian Jaros, who remain in Covid-19 protocol. Jonathan Bernier was also placed on injured reserve, and the Devils are concerned about his hip injury. The news led general manager Tom Fitzgerald to trade for 27-year-old goaltender Jon Gillies.
The teams last met on March 3, 2020, at T-mobile Arena in Vegas. The game ended in a 3-0 victory for the Golden Knights after goaltender Robin Lehner made 27 saves and Max Pacioretty and William Karlsson each earned two points. Hischier spoke with the media post-game and said something we’ve heard time and time again:
“We did a couple of good things but obviously not enough,” said Hischier. “We’ve got to find a way to score. [Blackwood] was unbelievable again. We’ve got to give him something back, and we did not do that tonight.”
Here’s a look at the storylines ahead of tonight’s game.
2 Storylines: Vegas Golden Knights (17-11-0)
Golden Knights Top Line is Dangerous
In the past month, no line has been better than the trio of Chandler Stephenson, Pacioretty, and Mark Stone. Stone, Vegas’ captain, is on a nine-game point streak, so is Pacioretty. Meanwhile, Stephenson ranks 19th in the league with 20 assists. In addition to their offense, the line has been equally good without the puck.
“It’s something we’ve been stressing a lot this year,” Pacioretty said. “Every year, you kind of have a couple things that you harp on, and our transition is one of them. I don’t want to give away too much details of it, but every team wants to fill lanes, and when you get the puck, you definitely want to get it with speed” (from ‘Golden Knights’ top line is on fire, and it’s fueled by movement away from the puck,’ The Athletic, 12/15/21).
Robin Lehner Struggling for Vegas
Everyone had an opinion when the Golden Knights decided to move Marc-André Fleury and keep Lehner as their number one goaltender. In his first 11 games, Lehner performed very well, with a .919 save percentage and 2.72 goals-against average. However, in his last 10 games, he’s let in 34 goals (3.64 GAA) for a .886 save percentage.
“It ebbs and flows sometimes when it comes to your bounces, but obviously it’s not been up to my standards as of late,” Lehner said of his play. “We’re finding ways to win through this, and I know it will turn.”
The 30-year-old goaltender has always been honest about his play and noted that he’s gone through these struggles before. He’s been building up his confidence again and was in net for the Golden Knights’ last two wins. Vegas has not confirmed a starting goaltender for tonight’s game, but with his recent play, fans should expect to see the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy-winner lead his team onto the ice for the pregame warmup.
2 Storylines: New Jersey Devils (10-12-5)
The Devils Need Positives to Build On
During this difficult stretch, the Devils need to start building on their positives. That doesn’t necessarily mean a win – although that would be nice. A simple boost in confidence from a power-play goal or a few consistent good shifts in the offensive zone should work.
Head coach Lindy Ruff has talked about self-inflicted wounds, and after their loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, forward Tomas Tatar agreed: “We are shooting ourselves in the leg. We’re doing individual mistakes that cost us goals,” Tatar said. “We have to simplify.”
Ruff mentioned shaking up his power play after his team allowed shorthanded goals in back-to-back games. The man advantage has been a disadvantage for the Devils, a turning point for their opponent to gain momentum and win the game. However, during Thursday’s morning skate, Devils reporter Amanda Stein stated that Ruff would use the same line combinations as he did on Tuesday, to the dismay of fans who wanted to see Tatar switch lines with Jesper Bratt.
How Healthy Are the Devils?
Two nights ago, the Devils crawled into Wells Fargo Center wounded and not quite ready for battle. How much healthier will the team be 48 hours later? Blackwood, who Ruff said was one of his sickest players on Tuesday, will be the Devils’ starter tonight. After the morning skate, Damon Severson confirmed he was not one of the players battling illness. Ruff stated the team as a whole is better, but there are still question marks about some players, including Jesper Boqvist. Forward Janne Kuokkanen was kept out of the last game but should return to the lineup tonight. We might have to wait until after the warmup to find out the confirmed lineup.
Players to Watch
New Jersey Devils: Dougie Hamilton
Dougie Hamilton is always a player to watch, but it’s more intriguing now that he is paired with Ty Smith, who continues to struggle. The 6-foot-6 defenseman is never afraid to shoot the puck and registered the Devils’ first two shots on goal against the Flyers. If the Devils want to jump back into the win column, they will need their prized offseason acquisition to get on the scoreboard.
Vegas Golden Knights: Max Pacioretty
Pacioretty has scored in every game he’s played this season except one. The 33-year-old is part of one of the best lines in the league, and he doesn’t need time or space to create a dangerous scoring chance. He will keep the Devils’ defense on their toes all night.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.