Devils Gameday Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

The New Jersey Devils look to bounce back this afternoon against the defending Stanley Cup Champions. They will try to earn two points in regulation for the first time since Nov. 11. Dawson Mercer, Pavel Zacha, Andreas Johnsson and Jesper Bratt are all tied with a team-leading 11 points on the season.

The last time the Devils faced the Tampa Bay Lightning was on Jan. 12, 2020, at Prudential Center. They haven’t played at Amalie Arena was Nov. 25, 2018. This means the last time the Devils traveled to Tampa, Blake Coleman was only in his second full season playing for the Devils. Obviously, things have changed in the sunshine state, and when Coleman left Tampa as a free agent, he had two Stanley Cups to his name. The Devils will be facing a completely different team who are proven champions. Here’s a look at some storylines for the Lightning and Devils.

2 Storylines: Tampa Bay Lightning (9-3-3)

Stamkos Leads the Way for Tampa

Steven Stamkos has been battling injuries over the past few seasons and has not played a full season in quite some time. This season the captain has played in every game and has 18 points in 15 games. He has four power-play goals, which leads the team, and seven points on the man advantage. A healthy Stamkos is not something the Devils have seen in their past few matchups. They will need to be aware when he is on the ice because Stamkos is playing as he did a decade ago when he first came into the league.

Steven Stamkos
Steven Stamkos (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“I think when you come back from injuries and you’re not as quick, it’s not because you’ve lost a step, it’s because you’re probably not fully recovered,” head coach Jon Cooper said about Stamkos. “And it takes time to get things back, and … he gets through the playoffs, and he gets three months to recuperate, and now he comes back, and he’s looking better than ever.” (from ‘Steven Stamkos is back at center, right where Lightning need him,’ Tampa Bay Times, 10/30/21)

Related: Lightning Looking Strong After Slow Start

Riding a Hot Streak

The Lightning started this season at a slow pace but have recently found their game. In their first seven games of the season, they were unable to win in regulation. In their last nine, they are 7-0-2 and have not lost a game in that span in regulation. The team has performed well as of late, and their star goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has a record of  8-2-0 this season. Tampa posted their projected lineup for today’s matinee, and it appears the Devils will be facing Vasilevskiy. The Lightning are 8-2-0 at home versus the Devils since the beginning of the 2012-13 season.

2 Storylines: New Jersey Devils (7-5-3)

Hamilton Leading by Example in New Jersey

Dougie Hamilton has been everything fans have hoped for so far this season. He has 10 points in 12 games, including a goal in each of his last two. His 47 shots lead the team, and his four power-play points are tied for the team’s best with Zacha. Never ceasing to meet nor exceed head coach Lindy Ruff’s expectations, Hamilton has been a stand-out since training camp.

Related: Devils’ Signing of Hamilton Just What They Needed

“I was probably more impressed with him than anybody when it came to a veteran player and what he did inside that test,” said Coach Ruff during training camp. “Watching him shoot the puck and get pucks through today on a couple of drills where he shot them, a foot off the ice, 18 inches off the ice, getting pucks through, and how quick he got them through. And that coupled with the fact that he skates so well, I think he’s really going to be an important piece for us.”

Devils Will Need to be Disciplined

One of the issues for the Devils has been staying out of the penalty box this season. A disciplined game is always important, but especially against a team that has Stamkos on the power play. The Lightning’s power play is ranked 13th in the league and has been contributing to their victories.

Dougie Hamilton, New Jersey Devils
Dougie Hamilton, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“They’ve got a good defense. They have a power play that can be lethal and it’s a group that knows how to win,” said coach Ruff. “They know how to defend. They’re really sound with their system. They’ve been playing it and won a couple of championships with it. It’s a group that believes in what they’re doing.”

This is a game that will be about control. The Devils will need to control the puck and their emotions. Tampa will not give New Jersey many opportunities, and in return, coach Ruff’s team should not give Tampa any more of an advantage than they already have.

Players to Watch

New Jersey Devils: Jesper Bratt

Bratt has had a similar season to the Lightning. Both started slow but have found their game and are currently performing well. Bratt has been a different player since joining a line with Mercer and Johnsson. He has 40 shots on the season, which is the third-best on his team. Don’t be surprised to see him use his speed to get on a breakaway attempt this afternoon.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Brayden Point

The Lightning has so much star power that sometimes it’s easy to forget how good Brayden Point is. Currently, he has 13 points in 15 games and has scored a goal in his last three games. He is projected to play alongside Ondrej Palat and Anthony Cirelli this afternoon on Tampa’s top line.

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