Hobby’s Deli, located just across the street from the Prudential Center, has many recommended items by its regulars, but its ‘corned beef’ will be the most popular from the hockey-goers attending Thursday night’s home game against the Minnesota Wild. Though it’ll take more than festive cuisine for New Jersey to rebound from its largest defeat of the season.
The Devils are coming off what would otherwise be a successful California road trip, shutting out San Jose a week ago and closing out Los Angeles in overtime on Saturday. Then came Monday night in Anaheim. Keith Kinkaid making his fourth-consecutive start, allowed six goals in the team’s 7-1 loss. While all appears lost on the 2015-16 season for New Jersey, they have yet to be mathematically eliminated from the post-season. Currently, the Devils are seven points out of the final wild card spot occupied by the Flyers. Philadelphia has one game in hand on New Jersey.
Thursday’s meeting with the Wild will be just their second home meeting in seven games. And while holiday meals taste better home-cooked, the Devils have struggled mightily at the Rock. Their 15-15-4 home record is fourth-worst in the NHL and includes 15 games where the Devils were held to one or no goals. The Wild, meanwhile, enter 9-5-0 since dismissing Mike Yeo as the team’s head coach on Feb. 13.
The Wild will be wearing their road jerseys which have included a touch of green since their inception in 2000, but the Devils too will be sporting green, as they will wear their inaugural jerseys, worn from 1982 to 1992—part of its annual Retro Night, often colliding with the St. Patrick’s Day holiday. And it’ll take some luck of the Irish for the injury-depleted Devils to get a crucial victory over a team with just as much desperation.
Minnesota is just one point out of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, currently occupied by Colorado. They sport a road record just above .500 (15-14-7) and have won their last three road games.
Even if the hour glass is slowly pouring away at the season, the Devils and its home crowd will have an extra incentive to pull out a victory. Former Devil Zach Parise, who played his first seven seasons in New Jersey before signing a 13-year, $98-millon dollar contract with the Wild in the summer of 2012, was held pointless in his only other visit to the Prudential Center as a visitor—Mar. 20, 2014. He did manage five shots on goal, but failed to convert in the Devils’ 4-3 overtime victory. His last time around saw the former captain booed by the home crowd. The 30-year-old and Minnesota native is second on the team in goals scored (19) and third in points (41).
For New Jersey, it’ll be Keith Kinkaid looking to bounce back with his fifth-straight start. The netminder surrendered six goals against Pittsburgh in his first start of the stretch but responded well with a shutout of the high-powered Sharks four nights later.
Mike Cammalleri and Patrik Elias remain ‘status quo’, according to Devils’ head coach John Hynes. Jordin Tootoo, Jacob Josefson and Cory Schneider remain out with injuries. Mike Sislo (ill) missed Devils’ practice on Wednesday and remains a question mark for Thursday.
The Devils can take solace in the fact that team captain and 11-year NHL veteran Mikko Koivu has no points in his four career visits to New Jersey (1 game played at the Continental Airlines Arena, three at Prudential Center).
Maintaining two of the best offensive players in the league will be key—but so too will be manufacturing their own. The Devils—ranked dead last in scoring—have found some offensive help in newly-acquired Devante Smith-Pelly, who has goals in five of his last seven—four in his last six with NJ—has been a surprising hot hand as of late.
First-year Devil, Joseph Blandisi has been held scoreless in his last thirteen games, but has recorded nine of his 15 points at home. The 21-year-old has found himself off the team’s top line, but will be tested by the coaching staff to be a key contributor down the stretch, especially if Cammalleri is lost for the season.
Meetings with Minnesota have lost a certain degree of specialty amongst the Devils personnel. With players including Parise, Ryan Carter, Paul Martin, Jamie Langenbrunner and Brian Rolston elsewhere in the league or retired, the Land of the Lakes has been under represented as of late.
One exception though is defenseman Seth Helgeson. The Fairbault, Minn. native made his NHL debut last season on Nov. 11 when the Devils hosted the Wild. He recorded a primary assist for his first career point in the Devils’ 3-1 win. While he’s spent long stints both this year and last in the Albany, the organization’s AHL affiliate, he’s done a good job making an impact on the team’s back end—even keeping Damon Severson out of the lineup in favor of the 6-foot-4 inch defenseman’s size and grit. With some contracts expiring at season’s end, he’s providing a strong case that he can be a regular in New Jersey.
Offense has been hard to come by on many nights, but one source that has been fairly consistent has been first-year Devil, Kyle Palmieri. The ex-Anaheim Duck has bested career-highs in every offensive category with 25 goals, 20 assist and 45 points to lead all Devils. He might be the easy frontrunner for the team’s Masterton nominee—the voting of which began this week.
He and the rest of the Devils will be looking for some luck on St. Patrick’s Day as they try and rebound off one of their worst performances of the season—but they might want to save the corned beef for afterward.
Featured photo by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers