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Behind Enemy Lines: New Jersey Devils Face an Uphill Climb

The Devils make their second trip to Raleigh tonight in a much different position than they were two months ago when they swept a home-and-home.

NHL: Boston Bruins at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The New Jersey Devils enter 2017 on the wrong side of .500, and dealing with a very difficult division which will require a serious uphill climb to contention. After losing Taylor Hall for almost a month, the Devils proceeded to go on a 0-8-1 skid which leaves them in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division, and squarely behind the eight-ball.

Head Coach John Hynes now is dealing with injuries to John Moore (a concussion thanks to a brutal head shot by the CapitalsTom Wilson), Vernon Fiddler (lower-body), and could be without Travis Zajac who is dealing with an illness and is questionable for tonight’s game. True to form for the Devils, scoring has been at a premium, as they currently rank 27th in the league with 89 goals in 38 games. Standouts offensively have been the aforementioned Hall and Zajac, with Hall still leading the team with 25 points despite missing close to a month of play. Against the Hurricanes, one name to follow is Mike Cammalleri, who you’ll remember from his hat trick in the first game between these two teams in November, a 4-1 Devils win.

One of the biggest disappointments in the start this season for the Devils has been the performance of star goaltender Cory Schneider, and to an extent their defense in general. Schneider’s .906 save percentage is .17 points below his career average, and his 2.80 goals against would be more than half a goal more per game than his career numbers. Compounding the problem, the Devils’ defense is allowing 31.4 shots per game, the fourth-highest total in the league, giving Schneider and backup Keith Kinkaid even more headaches.

On special teams, the Devils sport a solid penalty kill at 83.5%, good for tenth best, but have the second worst power play at just 13.4%. In fact, they are 0-12 in their last 12 opportunities on the man advantage. The Hurricanes will look to continue that trend, as winning the special teams battle continues to be a huge formula for success with the Canes.

What to Watch For

  • With the Devils playing their second of a back-to-back, it is possible that the Devils look to Kinkaid in goal. He was the winner in net the last time these two teams faced off in Raleigh. That said, Schneider shut out the Bruins at home last night, and Hynes may go with the hot hand.
  • Zajac’s potential absence would be a big deal for the Devils, as his presence as the team’s second leading scorer would leave an already low-scoring offense even more starved for goals.
  • Revenge. The Hurricanes are in a position where every night matters, and having two losses on the schedule already to the Devils is not good. They cannot afford to add to that misery.
  • Who will fill in for Elias Lindholm? The penalty kill already suffered in Tampa, perhaps due to his absence. Who will step up to take his role, if he remains out this evening?