Today marks the third and final meeting this season between the New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning. The teams have split the first two games with one win apiece with coach Jon Cooper’s team winning the most recent contest. Devils’ head coach Lindy Ruff held a team practice yesterday as they look to get back in the win column tonight at Prudential Center.
Forward Yegor Sharangovich has two goals and three points against the Lightning this season; in fact, it was during their match-up on Nov. 20 that he scored his first goal of the season. Jesper Bratt did skate yesterday prior to the team’s practice, but it has not been confirmed if he will suit up tonight. Forward Janne Kuokkanen remains on injured reserve with a wrist injury and Dougie Hamilton has been practicing with the team, but is looking for the right jaw protector before making his return.
2 Storylines: Tampa Bay Lightning (31-11-6)
Nikita Kucherov Faces the Devils for the First Time This Season
Nikita Kucherov is a key piece of Tampa’s roster and tonight will be the first time the Devils will face the 2019 Hart Trophy winner this season. The 5-foot-11 winger has played in 13 games and has six goals and 18 points. Back on Oct. 19, the team announced he would be out indefinitely with a lower-body injury and had surgery a few days later. He skated with his team in early December and made his return to the ice on Jan. 6 against the Calgary Flames where he earned two assists.
“For him to miss as much time and come in to play a big, fast team like we just did and do the things that he did… he’s elite,” Lightning coach Cooper said. “But he’ll be the first to tell you that he’s got more in the tank.”
In his career he has played 17 games against New Jersey and has 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists). He is a consistent threat on the ice and has 10 points on the man advantage vs. the Devils. Coach Ruff’s defense will need to be aware when the 28-year-old is on the ice. Coming into this contest, he has five points in his last five games.
The Lightning are 7-2-1 in Their Last 10
Entering tonight’s game, the Lightning are looking to earn the win and jump ahead of their rivals, the Florida Panthers, to take over first place in the division. Like the Devils, they will have a break in their schedule after tonight’s game before their next game on Feb. 23. They will look to approach that break on a two-game winning streak.
Tampa Bay is one of the best teams in the league and have won their last five games by only one goal. They are comfortable playing a close game and the Devils will need to match their performance from Jan. 27 to ensure they remain in the game. The Lightning have players who are not afraid to shoot the puck and three who have over 40 points on the season. Coach Cooper is looking for a third consecutive Stanley Cup and has put his team in a position to make another run.
2 Storylines: New Jersey Devils (17-27-5)
The Devils’ Last Game Before an 8-Day Break
The Devils last game before the All-Star break resulted in a 7-1 loss in front of their home crowd and the team is not looking to repeat that as they approach another break in their schedule. After tonight, the Devils will not hit the ice until Feb. 24 when they travel to Pittsburgh. After the Devils’ recent loss to the the Pittsburgh Penguins, coach Ruff discussed the importance of not losing two games in a row.
“I think we’ve got to try to take a lot of pride in not losing two games in a row,” said Ruff on Sunday. “That’s a hard thing to do in this league, but if you want to be a good team, you have to stop it right at one and you battle right back.”
Jimmy Vesey Will Play His 400th NHL Game
Jimmy Vesey came to New Jersey on a professional tryout desperate for a contract and since earning it has done everything the coaching staff has asked for. The Devils are his fifth NHL team after playing for both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks last season. The Boston native has 133 career points (71 goals, 62 assists).
During training camp coach, Ruff was asked what he needed to see from Vesey.
“He has to reinvent himself,” said the Devils coach. “He has to be really good defensively. He has to be a good special teams player. He has to bring physicality, which I think he can. I’ve seen Jimmy play with a lot of bite and that’s an area that I think can help our club.”
I think it is safe to say mission accomplished as the 28-year-old has been a top penalty killer for the Devils all season. He has been utilized on every line and most recently has been a middle-six player alongside Pavel Zacha and Nico Hischier. He has 13 points this season and leads his team with two shorthanded goals.
Players to Watch
New Jersey Devils: Nico Hischier
Yesterday, Hischier was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week. He has five goals in his last four games and as of late has been New Jersey’s best player. The 23-year-old who was named the 12th captain of the Devils in Feb. 2021 has been leading his team by example and is finally getting the recognition he deserves.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos
Steven Stamkos was on one of three Lightning players to go to Las Vegas to attend the All-Star game. The Tampa Bay captain is having a solid season with 54 points which is 10th best in the league. He enters tonight’s game with four points in his last five games including one assist against the Devils during their last meeting at Amalie Arena.
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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.