By Jeff O’Connor
New Jersey Devils (10-5-4) at Winnipeg Jets (9-9-1), 8:00 pm MTS Centre, Winnipeg, MB
Not a do-or-die game, but boy does it feel like it. The Devils have dropped to sixth place in the Eastern Conference over the last few days. Now they must take on a team that beat them up pretty soundly on Sunday. The Jets have been hot of late and the Devils have been the exact opposite. Five points separate the Devils from sixth place and being on the outside looking in. A win is a must tonight.
Here are some thoughts/questions coming into today’s game:
1. New face. Tim Sestito joins the lineup for tonight’s contest. He’ll play on the bottom line with Stefan Matteau and Bobby Butler. This is a fourth line I can get used to seeing. Sestito has a bit more speed and skill than Krys Barch and arguably the same amount of toughness and physicality. Like this move by Pete DeBoer.
2. Volchenkov sits. Even though he sits in favor of Devils Insiders’ whipping boy Henrik Tallinder, this move makes a lot of sense. Let him get a physical and mental rest and watch the game from the suite level. Perhaps he can pick up on some things he should be doing better. Volchenkov was fine last year and I think he will be again, he just needs that one strong performance and I think he’ll be on his way.
3. Hedberg? Can he at least turn in a decent showing? He’s been smoked for 14 goals in his last three games. He has to turn in a two-goal performance or less tonight. He has it in him. We know he doesn’t get flustered or frustrated much and that needs to show this evening. I’m expecting a really sharp game from the Moose.
4. Letdown loss coming for Winnipeg? I think so. It has all the ingredients. Go on the road and take care of business in dominant fashion against the Devils, Rangers and Carolina. Come back home to a Devils team who is struggling? Yea, I see a letdown game in the making tonight. This very much resembles when the Devs beat up the Pens two games in a row and then came home to play the Hurricanes and mailed in a dismal performance which, funny enough, got the Devils on the bad roll they are currently riding.
5. No Kane or Ladd sightings. With a team that doesn’t have much depth, make their secondary players beat you. The Devils and their coaching staff know that Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd are their big guns. Don’t let them burn you. If the Devils are going to lose, they need to get beat by a second or third line forward. Kane had the game-winner on Sunday while Ladd pumped in the insurance marker.
Prediction: Devils 3, Jets 2
This is a must-have game for New Jersey and I think they’ll get it. I don’t think it’ll be easy, though. Expect another sluggish first from the Devils and for them to give up an ugly, garbage goal. I think they might need some time to get back in a rhythm after having a few days off.
In the second, I think they’ll get a trio of goals, perhaps one to get the power play going. Two different lines score goals and heck, let’s give one to a defenseman as well.
In the third…come on…you know the deal by now. Give up a goal in the first five minutes. Kill off a few penalties. Narrowly avoid disaster and hang on for the victory. Come on…wouldn’t be any fun if it was an easy win, right?
I think they’ll play well in spurts; a solid building block for the rest of the road trip before they come back home early next week. It’s a big one and I have to say…I’m a bit nervous. Let’s Go Devils!!!