It’s been a rocky road for the New Jersey Devils over these past few games, and that may be an understatement. The team has lost five in a row, and they will try to remedy that against the Carolina Hurricanes at 7:00 at PNC Arena in Raleigh. While they are struggling, the Devils still lead the Metropolitan Division with a 21-8-2 record and 44 points. Carolina also has 44 points, but their record of 19-6-6 means that New Jersey has the tiebreaker and highlights how important this matchup is in a tight Metro.
The Florida Panthers came to Prudential Center on Dec. 17, and they left with a 4-2 victory. The two Devils that found the back of the net were due for goals, as John Marino scored his third off a feed from Jack Hughes. Late in the third period, with the Devils trailing by two, Erik Haula put the puck past Sergei Bobrovsky, but the Panthers iced the game with an empty-net goal. Despite the loss, it was another strong effort from Akira Schmid, who saved 23 of 25 Panthers shots.
“We have a game plan, and we were lacking again just executing it,” Nico Hischier said post-game.
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Entering the road trip, the Devils made one crucial move: they called up goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood from his conditioning stint in Utica. Blackwood has a 4-2 record on the season, with a .880 save percentage and a 2.79 goals-against average, but he has not played since Nov. 3 against the Edmonton Oilers. The team is going to need him, as December is a particularly tough month for the Red and Black, who have a tough slate of games. Following tonight’s matchup with the ‘Canes, the Devils travel to Sunrise to take on the Panthers again on Dec. 21 before two home games against the NHL’s best team: the Boston Bruins. They end 2022 with a game on Dec. 30, traveling to the Steel City to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Devils Projected Lines:
Tomas Tatar – Nico Hischier – Jesper Bratt
Yegor Sharangovich – Jack Hughes – Dawson Mercer
Miles Wood – Erik Haula – Fabian Zetterlund
Erik Haula – Michael McLeod – Alexander Holtz
Jonas Siegenthaler – Dougie Hamilton
Ryan Graves – John Marino
Brendan Smith – Damon Severson
The Hurricanes Projected Lines:
Seth Jarvis – Paul Stastny – Martin Necas
Andrei Svechnikov – Jesperi Kotkaniemi – Teuvo Teravainen
Jordan Martinook – Jordan Staal – Jesper Fast
Jack Drury – Derek Stepan – Stefan Noesen
Jaccob Slavin – Brent Burns
Brady Skjei – Brett Pesce
Calvin de Haan – Jalen Chatfield
What’s Happening in Carolina:
While the Devils were the hottest team in the Metropolitan Division to start the season, that honor has now shifted to the Hurricanes, who have collected a point in nine straight games and are now tied with New Jersey atop the division. Their most recent victory came against the Penguins, another streaking team in the division, winning 3-2 on Dec. 18. Former Penguin Jordan Staal sealed the victory, and goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov collected his sixth win in seven games.
“It’s a lot of games, and we’re missing a lot of pieces, but we’re getting a lot of contributions now,” head coach Rod Brind’Amour said after the win. When it comes to the players, Martin Necas is the Hurricanes’ leading scorer and is in the midst of a breakout year with 30 points in 31 games. Andrei Svechnikov’s 29 points and Sebastian Aho’s 27 are not far behind.
Carolina is in the midst of a home stretch where seven of eight games are played at PNC Arena. From Dec. 15 to the end of the year, every game will be in Raleigh except for the Dec. 22 matchup against the Penguins. The ‘Canes and Devils will meet again on New Year’s Day; however, that will take place at the Prudential Center.
Keep an Eye On:
New Jersey Devils: Erik Haula
It felt good to see Erik Haula back on the scoresheet against Florida. His goal came off a feed from Michael McLeod, who found the journeyman center right in front of Bobrovsky, who was able to pot it in. He also had the secondary assist on the Marino goal to open the Devils’ scoring. “Haula has had a bunch of chances throughout the year … nice to see him get one,” Marino said. He also had three shots on goal, tied for second among New Jersey skaters. He was a plus-2 on the game, and he was not on the ice for any of the four Florida goals.
Haula’s first season with the Red and Black has gone rather well, with 14 points in 31 games. Despite a rough night in the face-off circle against the Panthers, he’s still on pace for a career-high, with a 58.5 win percentage in the circle. While Haula has had rough luck finding the back of the net, he’s still contributing offensively and has solidified his spot on the second line.
Carolina Hurricanes: Stefan Noesen
Stefan Noesen’s story is one of the most interesting this season. The former Devil has 15 points in 30 games with Carolina, which is already the second most of his career. He has three points in the past three games, including two goals. While Noesen is known for his 2017-18 season with New Jersey, in which he had 27 points and scored a crucial goal in Game 3 of the playoffs. With the Hurricanes, he has become an important role player, and he would love nothing more than to score against his former team.
Where to Watch:
This division matchup between the Devils and Hurricanes will be shown on MSGSN, with Bill Spaulding and Ken Daneyko on commentary. Spaulding is returning after a one-game absence, as he felt under the weather and was replaced by Matt Loughlin. Chris Wescott and Chico Resch will once again call the action on the Devils Hockey Network.