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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Blue Jackets and Devils

Carolina rests up before a busy divisional weekend at PNC Arena.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at New Jersey Devils Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Blue Jackets

Saturday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: New York Rangers at Columbus Blue Jackets Jason Mowry-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets enter this week’s action in first place in the Metropolitan Division and riding a points streak of five consecutive games. Their success has been driven lately by a better defensive game, but on the season they have uncharacteristically been led by an offensive attack that includes Artemi Panarin (18 points), Cam Atkinson (14 points), and Pierre-Luc Dubois (13 points). Those three are the three highest point totals thus far, but a deep and dangerous team that boosts a dozen players with seven points or greater continues to relentlessly attack opponents with all four lines.

While Sergei Bobrovsky has not been spectacular, his solid .913 save percentage has been good enough to steady the Blue Jackets and have them in the Metro lead as we approach the quarter point for the season, despite consistent trade rumors in the lead up to the season. While Bobrovsky has only managed 12 starts, Joonas Korpisalo has disappointed greatly in his stead with a .875 save percentage and 3.78 goals against average in seven starts, while curiously managing a 4-0-2 record despite the poor numbers.

Assuming Bobrovsky is in net with no back-to-back for the Blue Jackets surrounding Saturday’s matchup, the task for the Canes will be the same they always face against Columbus: Convert any high-end chances that you are given and play tight defensively, as Bobrovsky never yields much to Carolina. While Columbus is currently 26th in the NHL in Goals Against, expect that by the time these two teams meet again just after the New Year, the Blue Jackets will have some positive regression to the mean and be at least in the middle of the pack in terms of goal prevention.

What to Watch For

  • While Columbus does have one more contest against Florida (tonight) prior to their trip to Raleigh, Artemi Panarin is in a bit of a goal-scoring slump. Goal-less in his last eight games, the leading scorer is potentially a ticking time-bomb that the Carolina must handle with care so that he doesn’t explode offensively against them. Keep an eye on his game.
  • Neither team has been particularly adept on special teams, falling 21st or worse in each category collectively. Whoever can put their best foot forward in those situations will likely have a big upper hand in what should be a tight divisional contest.

New Jersey Devils

Sunday, 5:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Winnipeg Jets James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

After a surprising playoff berth and true breakout for the Hart Trophy-winning Taylor Hall a season ago in New Jersey, the Devils have dug themselves a bit of an early hole this season as they currently sit at 7-8-1 and last place in the Metro Division. They will enter PNC Arena on Sunday at the end of what will be a very busy week. After falling to the Jets in Winnipeg this past Sunday, the Devils will play four games in three different cities through this Sunday in Raleigh. This includes a back-to-back this weekend that will see the Devils host the Red Wings in a home matinee on Saturday before arriving in Raleigh for the late afternoon affair on Sunday.

While Hall has struggled to find the back of the net this far with only three goals in 15 games, he has been able to remain productive as he has fed linemate Kyle Palmieri who leads the team in goals and points. Outside of Palmieri, however, the Devils have had issues finding the net, lagging behind at 27th in the league in goals scored to date. Combined with an injury-filled campaign from starting goalie Cory Schneider, who recently returned from offseason hip surgery, the Devils season has not followed the same script that made them one of the surprise teams in the NHL a year ago.

With such a full schedule this week, and the Devils in the danger zone at the bottom of a highly competitive division, this is something of a make-or-break early season stretch for John Hynes’ squad. If Carolina and the rest of the division is given an opportunity to put real distance between themselves and a returning playoff team, it would behoove them to do so. Regardless, we should know a lot more about the Devils’ season by Sunday evening.

What to Watch For

  • The Devils will be on a back to back, while Carolina will be as well. Will Petr Mrazek be back, or will the Canes look at this weekend as an opportunity to get Curtis McElhinney in net again in one of these matchups? Expect Keith Kinkaid (who has given Carolina fits) and Schneider to share the weekend load for Jersey.
  • Former first-overall draft pick Nico Hischier left Sunday’s game with an undisclosed injury. His speed and skill have become important for a goal-starved team. With a very busy week, the Devils could use his young legs back in the lineup by at least this weekend. Keep an eye on his status.