New Jersey Devils at Columbus Blue Jackets: Game Preview #32

Andy Greene should be considered by Team USA. Jack Johnson should not be. - Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sport

A three game road trip through the Metropolitan Division for the New Jersey Devils continues with a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. This preview goes over what Columbus is currently about and notes about the Devils.

The road trip continues to a place where we'd like to forget the last time they were there. Better luck tonight.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 880 AM WCBS

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (12-13-6) at the Columbus Blue Jackets (12-15-3; SBN Blog: The Cannon)

The Last Devils Game: Our favorite team had to go into the gilded land known as Rangerstown to play Our Hated Rivals. The Devils actually played a game of hockey, which was much appreciated to see after Friday's debacle. The Rangers got up first on their first shot of the game; a 2-on-1 rush led by Brad Richards. While the Devils attacked, the Rangers hit back again early in the second period when Martin Brodeur sent a Ryan Callahan-created rebound way out. Mats Zuccarello was in a perfect place to fire it right back into the net and did so. But the Devils got a great break from Cam Janssen of all people. His lack of balance managed to get a loose puck in the net and put the Devils on the board. In the third period, Jaromir Jagr muscled past Ryan McDonagh and put a little shot off Henrik Lundqvist. Travis Zajac was in the right place and at the right time to tie up the game. Later on, Michael Ryder torched John Moore before sliding a hard shot through Lundqvist's legs. Yet, there would be another late equalizer. The Rangers pulled the goalie and Zajac cleared a puck over the glass. The Devils tried to hold on but Chris Kreider knocked in a loose puck amid traffic to make it 3-3 late. In overtime, Callahan managed to top Zajac's error by high-sticking Andy Greene in the face. He drew blood for it to be a 4-minute minor. Eric Gelinas saw to it that it wouldn't take long for him to pay the price. His shot was true yet again when he fired from distance; it went off Lundqvist and in to make it a 4-3 OT win. My recap of the Devils' third win in three games against the Rangers is here.

The Last Blue Jackets Game: On Monday night, the Blue Jackets visited the Pittsburgh Penguins. Columbus decided to do more of the attacking early, but a scoreless first period was the result. Pittsburgh upped their shooting and the returning Evgeni Malkin stuck. He torched Fedor Tyutin and then Curtis McElhinny's five-hole for a goal. A nasty altercation between Robert Bartuzzo and Brandon Dubinsky ensued early in the third period, which got them both misconducts. Dubinsky even got a game misconduct too. Still, as Columbus pushed for an equalizer, out-shooting the Pens 13-6 in the third, the Penguins got a second goal off a crazy bounce off Nick Foligno's skate and then Sidney Crosby's leg to make it 2-0. Columbus would get on the board late thanks to Matt Calvert. But it was a goal too far, to take the teaser headline from Matt Wagner's recap at The Cannon. The Blue Jackets lost 1-2; but Wagner thinks that if the team can play like that, then they will get results.

The Last Devils-Blue Jackets Game: Back in October, the Devils went into Columbus fresh off their first win of the season against Our Hated Rivals. They did not build on the victory whatsoever. After a scoreless first period, the Devils struck first in the second. Michael Ryder, who had a good game, converted on a power play. Then the errors mounted. Jaromir Jagr head-locked a Jacket to give them a power play that ended when Brandon Dubinsky beat Cory Schneider. Mattias Tedenby made a blind clearing attempt right to Cam Atikinson, who threw up a really hard backhander that beat Schneider. In the third period, Peter Harrold fired a stupidly hard pass to Andrei Loktionov such that it bounced off his stick, went right to James Wisniewski for a shot that possibly went off Mark Fayne's stick and past Schneider. While Columbus was scoring, the Devils' response left a lot to be desired. An empty netter ended a sad, 4-1 loss for the Devils. Back then, things looked bleak and I think that accounted for the tone in my recap of that defeat. For the other side, Dan P said it wasn't pretty but it was important in his recap at The Cannon.

The Goal: Play with discipline. And I don't just say that because offensive zone penalties tend to be silly ones to take, Mr. Damien Brunner. One of Columbus' positives this season is their power play. Prior to Monday's games, their success rate sits in eighth in the league at 20.6%. According to Extra Skater, they are right around the top-third of the league in shots for and shots through for (a.k.a. Fenwick for) per sixty minutes. While the team will be without James Wisniewski, many of Columbus' top power play producers will be in action tonight. Leading scorer Ryan Johansen has nine (3 PPG, 6 PPA) of his 22 points from power play situations and he's well supported by R.J. Umberger (3 PPG, 4 PPA) and Fedor Tyutin (1 PPG, 5 PPA) among others. The Blue Jackets aren't a good possession team so giving them two minutes of offense-first hockey only helps them. The Devils would be wise to limit their calls whenever possible.

A Driving Unit: The Blue Jackets have a 46.3% FenClose% in 5-on-5, which ranks ahead of only Toronto and Buffalo. In terms of all attempts, the Blue Jackets have a 48.4% Corsi% in 5-on-5 situations, which rates them higher in the league but still in the bottom third. The Jackets regularly get out-shot in the most common situation in hockey. Given that the Devils are a top-ten possession team, it appears they have an advantage.

However, Columbus does have one forward line that has been a cut above the rest. Their top three skaters in terms of Corsi% all play on the same line and they do well: Matt Calvert, Brandon Dubinsky (assuming he plays), and Cam Atkinson. Dubinsky was always a good player. Atkinson has been a real find. He leads the team in shots (89) and those shots can be really good. He had one of the harder backhanders I've ever seen in the last Devils-Blue Jackets game. Calvert wasn't in that game, but the smaller-sized winger has been a good fit. While the top scorers are on a different unit, these three have been the ones pushing the play forward. If there's one line the Devils should slow down, then it's that one. They could try going hard at Dubinsky. As he he's tied for the team lead with eleven minor penalties, the Devils can not only keep him off the ice for a bit but also get a power play, which has a slight hope of something happening on it. And if he's subjected to additional discipline - who knows? - then that can benefit the Devils from a match-up perspective.

And A Productive Unit Too: Ryan Johansen has been the breakout player on this season's team. In addition to his nine power play points, he also leads the team with 22 points overall. He's been positive in possession, he plays in all situations (though not a lot on the PK, but the Devils' PP will see him), and he has a four game point streak. His 22 points exceeds his rookie total and he did it in just 29 games this season. He'll likely be seen with R.J. Umberger and Nick Foligno. Umberger and Foligno have been defending more often than attacking at evens, but they've got points. Umberger has seven goals and nine assists; Foligno has eight goals and eight assists. Surely, Johansen has played some role in that. Similar to Dubinsky, the Devils may want to consider antagonizing Foligno a little bit. He's right behind Dubinsky with nine minor penalties.

Black Hole Johnson: Shawn Mitchell reported at the Columbus Dispatch's Blue Jackets Xtra site on Monday morning that James Wisniewski is expected to be out this week. That's a big blow to their blueline since it appears he's been their most effective defensemen. He's second on the team in scoring with two goals and 16 assists and he's one of two regular-playing Columbus defenders not below 49% in Corsi%. Needless to say, the Devils should be thinking "attack, attack, attack" against this defense.

They should try to do it the most against the pairing of Jack Johnson and Tyutin. Johnson has long since been a negative on possession. I was impressed to find that Tyutin's been worse, though I wonder if that's because he's playing with Johnson. But Johnson's contributions have been worse than Tyutin. While Johnson has more shots, he's got half of Tyutin's points: two goals and three assists. He's tied with Dubinsky for most minor penalties with eleven. Somehow, he averages just over 23 minutes per game to lead the team. I don't get it. I hope Dainius Zubrus, Travis Zajac, and Jaromir Jagr see a lot of him since Columbus hasn't learned that black holes are bad on defense.

McGoalie: With Sergei Bobrovsky out due to injury (a list that includes Marian Gaborik, Nathan Horton, and Wisniewski - four big losses), the Blue Jackets will rely on Curtis McElhinney and Mike McKenna. Jeff Little has a very good overall view of the team in light of Bobrovsky's injury, and he brought up how these two goalies need to be helped out by the team.

McElhinney is similar to Jonas Gustavsson in that he has superior numbers than the #1 goalie in his few appearances this season. Also like Gustavsson, his current overall save percentage of 93.2% is way higher than any of his other seasons except for the two games he played with Phoenix last season. In the long run, it appears McElhinney may be due for a fall but this isn't a long run situation. He just needs to stay hot and that could also happen. The Devils organization should be somewhat familiar with McKenna given his time in Albany and that game John MacLean gave him for reasons unknown. He hasn't played in a NHL game since. While that may change tonight given that McElhinney played against Pittsburgh, I wouldn't be surprised if he gets back-to-back starts if only because he's been in the NHL.

Whoever they decide will have to see Martin Brodeur in the other net. Truthfully, I don't see how one goalie does at one end affects the other, but it's a nice segue so let's roll with it. Tom Gulitti noted that he will start this game according to this Monday report at Fire & Ice. Brodeur had an OK but not great game against the Rangers on Saturday night. I just hope he holds positions well and doesn't cheat off his short-side. Honestly, that's not my concern as much as the play of the skaters in front of him. If they can attack like they did against NY and not concede possession such that there are many counterattacks, then I think he'll be fine.

Possibly One D Change: Peter Harrold was inserted into the lineup in Rangerstown as Marek Zidlicky had the dreaded "upper-body" injury. He didn't play all that good of a game in my opinion, though that may be partially due to not playing in so many games. Harrold didn't practice with the team, but he did skate according to this Monday report by Gulitti. His "minor thing" he's dealing with might be a result of one of the big hits he took on Saturday night. Or maybe not. In any case, Zidlicky's feeling better and could be in tonight. I would think it would be in place of Harrold. I'd expect everyone else to be the same.

What Else I'd Like to See Besides the Obvious: I'd like to see no penalties from Damien Brunner, assuming he plays. I'd like to see more action from Adam Henrique in both ends. I think he can play out of his recent struggles. He pretty much has to, given his role on the team. I'd like to see the Zajac line put up at least another goal in the hopes of going on another tear. I'd like to see Patrik Elias make more happen on offense, too. I'd like to see more good things from Andrei Loktionov. I'd like Andy Greene to show why USA Hockey made a big mistake to not consider him other guys like, say, Jack Johnson. I'd like to see Eric Gelinas hit Columbus with The Truth. You know, the usual.

Your Take: Now that you gone through all this, I want to know what you think. Will the Devils at least play better in Columbus tonight than they did back in October? Who on the Devils do you think will have a good game? Can the Devils quell the Dubinsky line? Can they slow Johansen down? Can they beat whoever will be in net for Columbus? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.

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