It’ll be the season opener for the Devils, a team that finished seventh in the East last season, missing the postseason for the third season in a row and eight of the last nine. The last time the Devils won a postseason series was during their 2012 run to the Stanley Cup Final. It’s been mostly downhill ever since, but some optimism is building in New Jersey thanks to some burgeoning young talent and a massive offseason acquisition.
The Devils landed the biggest free agent prize of the summer, throwing seven years and $63 million at defenseman Dougie Hamilton — a player who would’ve looked nice skating around at 1901 W. Madison but that milk has been spilled and any more tears shed aren’t going to change that so we might as well move along. Ryan Graves was also added to the blue line in the offseason, joining PK Subban on a back-end that looks decent overall.
Up front, the Devils have the No. 1 overall picks from the 2017 (Nico Hischier) and 2019 drafts (Jack Hughes) carrying the mail, while other youngsters like Pavel Zacha (35 points in 50 games last season) and Yegor Sharangovich (30 in 54) also have a healthy amount of NHL games. Toss in a few more seasoned-but-still-younger players like Miles Wood and Jesper Bratt, and there’s a good amount to like about New Jersey’s young talent. Wood will not play tonight, though, with head coach Lindy Ruff saying on Friday that Wood could be back on the practice ice shortly.
Behind all of this is goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood, who’s been in the news for the last month or so due to his initial refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine for ... reasons, I guess? It appears he’s softened on that stance in recent days, although New Jersey certainly has another capable option with Jonathan Bernier also on the roster. And they’ll need that other option as Blackwood is still recovering from heel surgery in the offseason won’t be on the ice this evening.
As for the Blackhawks, lineup changes are afoot following Wednesday’s debacle of an opening period that Chicago never recovered from in a 4-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
Gaudette in for Carpenter on the fourth line. Gustafsson in for Mitchell. Lankinen starts.— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) October 15, 2021
Don’t read anything into the decision to switch goalies, though. That’s due to the back-to-back schedule and a homecoming for Marc-Andre Fleury on Saturday night.
There’s no need for any elaborate discussion related to Chicago here. They just need to be better. Shouldn’t be too difficult considering how low the bar was set on Wednesday. Although this New Jersey team has improved with offseason additions, it’s hard to find any projections that have it as part of the postseason. So a team with obvious playoff aspirations needs to get two points to send this ship in the proper direction.
And for the sake of our collective mental health.
Let’s go Hawks!
Blackhawks — Statistic — Devils (numbers from last season)
45.85% (30th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 50.50% (13th)
43.96% (31st) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 53.19% (18th)
2.84 (16th) — Goals per game — 2.59 (26th)
3.29 (24th) — Goals against per game — 3.38 (27th)
46.9% (27th) — Faceoffs — 49.9% (16th)
21.7% (11th) — Power play — 14.2% (28th)
76.8% (28th) — Penalty kill — 71.0% (31st)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
Kubalik — Toews — Kurashev
Debrincat — Johnson — Kane
Borgstrom — Dach — Hagel
Khaira — Gaudette — Entwistle
de Haan — Jones
McCabe — Murphy
Stillman — Gustafsson
Sharangovich — Hughes — Kuokkanen
Zacha — Hischier — Bratt
Johnsson — Mercer — Tatar
Studenic — McLeod — Vesey
Graves — Hamilton
Siegenthaler — Subban
White — Jaros
How to watch
When: 6 p.m. CT
Where: Prudential Center, Newark
TV: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network
Live stream: ESPN+