The New Jersey Devils will look to end 2021 on a high note and win their second game in three days. Head coach Lindy Ruff’s team will face the Edmonton Oilers for the first time this season in a New Year’s Eve matinee at Prudential Center. The last time these two teams faced each other was on Nov. 8, 2019, in Edmonton. It was a tough game for the Devils, who lost 4-0. Cory Schneider was in the net for New Jersey, and P.K. Subban led all players with seven shots on goal.
Jimmy Vesey, Jon Gillies, and Tomas Tatar remain on the NHL’s COVID protocol list and will be unavailable this afternoon. While the Devils have not confirmed their starting goaltender, their opponents announced that Mike Smith will get his fifth start this season. Here’s a look at the storylines ahead of today’s game.
2 Storylines: Edmonton Oilers (18-12-0)
The Oilers Struggled in December
The Devils were not the only team to go on a six-game losing streak this month. The Oilers have played nine games this month and only won twice. The dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl was not enough to get their team on track the past few weeks. They have been plagued by injuries and players jumping in and out of the lineup.
“You don’t want to get out of it by changing your game, trying to do something that’s not there and forcing mistakes that way,” said Colton Sceviour after Edmonton’s loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 14. “I think the most frustrating part about the whole thing has been – if you look at the last three or four games, I think we’ve played (well) in stretches… When we give up opportunities, we give up Grade-A plus chances. I think that’s probably the thing we need to get out of our game the most. I think those chances we’re giving up – you just can’t afford to give them up against good players in the NHL because they’re going to put them into the back of your net. That’s what’s happening right now.”
The Oilers managed to right the ship and won consecutive games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Seattle Kraken before the COVID pause. They then faced the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center on Wednesday and lost 4-2. Edmonton will enter today’s matchup looking for a victory to start their four-game road trip, and they got a couple of players back from protocol that can help.
Darnell Nurse, Jesse Puljujarvi, and William Lagesson Set to Return
Like the rest of the NHL, the Oilers have been dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks. The good news is they are getting key players back, including Darnell Nurse and Jesse Puljujarvi. Both players were on the ice yesterday for the team’s optional skate and are expected to return this afternoon against the Devils.
“It’s great to get people like that back,” head coach Dave Tippett said. “You’re trying to stabilize your lineup a little bit. Obviously, Nurse carries a lot of minutes for our group and is our number-one defenceman, so when you can put a guy like that in your lineup, it solidifies a lot of things. Not just him, but whomever he plays with becomes a key partner too.”
The return of the Oilers’ number one defenseman will be an automatic boost for the team. Nurse finished seventh in Norris Trophy voting last season and has 13 points in 23 games this season.
2 Storylines: New Jersey Devils (11-15-5)
McLeod vs. McLeod
For the first time in their professional career, Michael McLeod will faceoff against his younger brother Ryan. The Oilers center told the media he thinks his parents will be neutral this afternoon; his mom will wear red and black for the Devils while his dad will wear blue and orange for him. Both players are centers: Michael has found success, winning 60.37% of his faceoffs and his brother, who is in his first full season with the Oilers, has a 49.72% faceoff win percentage this season.
“I think it’s just going to be a really special moment for us and our parents,” Ryan said yesterday. “It’s kind of the hard work paying off, but it’s going to be a really surreal moment for me. First shift or whenever it’s going to be. I’m really looking forward to it, and I had a lot of fun playing with him. It’s going to be a fun challenge playing against him.”
The Devils Looking for Second Win in a Row
There is a lot for the Devils to build on after their game against the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night. Their penalty kill was perfect, and they converted on the power play. For the first time in weeks, they celebrated a victory, which was led by Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt, who has four points in his last five games. Ruff put both players with Yegor Sharangovich, and the line combined for seven points against the Sabres. Though the lines have not yet been confirmed for this afternoon, there is a good chance Ruff keeps the trio together.
Players to Watch
New Jersey Devils: Michael McLeod
McLeod will have the difficult task of facing off against either McDavid or Draisaitl in the dot. Even though the 23-year-old plays on the fourth line, he has been one of the best centers in the league this season. With his parents in the stands and his brother as an opponent, expect a big game from McLeod.
Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid
Is there ever a moment to take your eyes off McDavid? He scored the goal of the year against the New York Rangers earlier this season and does not need a lot of time or space to make something happen. He has 50 points (17 goals, 33 assists) in 30 games and is making an argument to walk away with his second consecutive Hart Trophy in June.
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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.