RECORDS: Hawks 11-12-5 Devils 9-14-4
PUCK DROP: 6pm
TV: NBCSN Chicago
WHAT AM I DOING IN NEW JERSEY: In Lou We Trust
The NHL schedule is a cruel beast. So even after putting forth a pretty good effort against the Bruins who have yet to lose at home in regulation this year, the Hawks do not get to bask or linger as they’re immediately on display in Newark to take on the Devils. And two days later they’ll be back at home to see the Coyotes and play every other day after that. No time for love, Dr. Jones. And in the Devils, they may be getting a glimpse of the future.
The Devils, after being completely embarrassed in Buffalo on Monday and surrendering a touchdown with the PAT, fired their coach John Hynes, even though they had a game the every next day agains Vegas at home. Alain Nasreddine took over the helm, but now he’ll have had a couple practices to make whatever changes he’d like. As he’s always been Hynes’s assistant, no one’s entirely sure what those are.
There is some desire among the red and black faithful to see the Devils play a little faster and a little more aggressive, as they had a tendency to simply sink into their own slot to defend, which didn’t leave them in a position to spring forward with the abundance of speed they do have. Or at least they’ve looked to had when they were scorching the Hawks the past couple seasons. Remember this is the team that put up eight on the Hawks in this fixture last year.
Another complaint is that players haven’t been put in the best spots to succeed. Like the amount of time Travis Zajac has been spending centering Taylor Hall. Or Jack Hughes on the fourth line (funny what’s going on with the top three picks so far). Or that Nico Hischier isn’t higher in the lineup. So these might be changes you see Nasreddine make.
Then again, it’s a mystery what any coach can do when the goaltending has been this bad. The Devils have the third-worst SV% at evens and the second-worst overall. Last year, Cory Schneider looked like he might not be quite dead and might actually have every piece of him attached. Those were quickly proven to be mirages this season, and now he’s off to the land of wind and ghosts and quite possibly never to return. McKenzie Blackwood, while in need of a first name, has flashed in the past being at least a serviceable goaltender. The only thing flashing this year so far is the light behind him. Louis Domingue was brought in to replace Schneider after some decent seasons backing up Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s currently doing a fine impression of Murray Bannerman. When no goalie can even eyeball a .900 SV%, your team is going to blow (unless you’re last year’s Sharks).
In front of that, the Devils had retreated to the more defensive team you remember from decades of nearly killing the sport. They don’t give up a ton in their own end, but their goalies have still found a way to let more than enough of those chances in to kill their season. They sure as hell don’t create much, and Hughes’s and Hischier’s deployment isn’t going to make up for that alone. They just need more.
With their season already being borked, they may get it via firesale. The winds are already blowing on Hall, who is going to be the deadline gem for a host of teams chasing parades. Other candidates to hit the bricks: Travis Zajac, who could be a pretty good checking center for someone. Sami Vatanen could boost just about any power play. Maybe Andy Greene would go to steady a second or third pair, but he’s been the longtime captain and that’s harder to see. If they really get ambitious, Meat Train Simmonds could probably fool someone again into thinking he brings playoff grit, even though he’s seen the second round exactly once in his career. Kyle Palmieri can provide secondary scoring for a host of teams, but he’s got another year left on his deal as well. How brave does Ray Shero want to get to try and surround Hughes and Hischier with players?
For the Hawks, minimal changes for tonight you would think. Olli Maatta was sick yesterday but might be better enough to go tonight, which would relieve us of the burden of watching Dennis Gilbert doing whatever it is he does. Drake Caggiula was making noise about playing tonight as well, which would probably sit Anton Wedin. Andrew Shaw and Duncan Keith are most certainly not going to play. Corey Crawford will get the start.
As stated above, the Devils have been a handful for the Hawks the past couple seasons. That’s back when they played a little more adventurously, so if they get back to that or not will determine how hard this one gets. The Devils have the capability to turn any turnover up the ice quickly, especially when you’re as plodding as the Hawks’ blue line is without Keith.
Still, the goalies have been so weak and this has to be a fragile team at the moment, even if they’re new-coach inspired. Get some shots on net and see if you can’t get a weak one or two. The Devils head off on a long road trip after this one, so maybe you catch them dreading that. Last night was a good start, but it’s only that if you build on it.