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Game Preview #70: New Jersey Devils vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

By Chris Fieldhouse on March 19, 2023 08:25

The game: The New Jersey Devils (44-18-7) against the Tampa Bay Lightning (42-22-6). Opposition Blog: Raw Charge

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Broadcast: MSGSN

End of the miniseries

As the Devils and Lightning played last night — the Devils versus Florida, with the Canadiens visiting Tampa Bay — the dominant theme of the week was the Devils’ game against Jon Cooper’s Lightning. While the Devils looked much, much better in Game 2, forcing overtime – Lindy Ruff made some interesting roster decisions last night. The first and fourth rows remained together, while Timo Meier and Ondrej Palat were swapped. This left a Boqvist-Haula-Meier line, while Jack Hughes skated with Bratt and Palat. It did not work. Neither line was particularly good, and the Haula line saw two Florida goals.

If Lindy Ruff wants to cobble together a working roster, he should look back on Game 2 against Tampa. In this game, Jack Hughes played his best one-line hockey with Ondrej Palat and Jesper Boqvist, posting a 78.57 xGF%. Bratt, Haula and Meier only played together for 1:33, but they had three scoring chances in that span. So why not go with that?

The priority tonight is to leave with a victory. The Devils don’t want the taste of a four-game losing streak in their mouths. Another key to victory, based on how the defense has been playing lately, seems to have Kevin Bahl in the lineup. But even when Kevin Bahl is in the lineup, Lindy Ruff doesn’t give him the right number of minutes when one of Jonas Siegenthaler or Ryan Graves is bound to have a terrible game. Last night, Siegenthaler had a 15.30 xGF%, as the Devils were outscored 4-12 five-to-five. In a fair and just world, Bahl would have been in the lineup and Ruff could have demoted Siegenthaler in the closing stages of the game. Brendan Smith, however, is not a guy you want to hand over to extra responsibilities.

I would also like to see more of the fourth line tonight. In two games and just 12:34 of ice time together, the Sharangovich-McLeod-Lazar line outshot opponents 8-3 and worked 76.87 xGF%. If no one besides the Nico Hischier line wants to play well, then that line should see more ice time. Sharangovich still has a wicked shot that can get on the scoresheet, but at least that line shouldn’t allow anything against.

Finally, Akira Schmid’s effort lasted last night in Sunrise, Florida. Meanwhile, Jon Cooper rested Andrei Vasilevskiy and played Brian Elliott as the Lightning took on the Canadiens. So tonight should be a match between a well-rested Vitek Vanecek (hasn’t played since Tuesday) and a rested Vasilevskiy. I would have preferred to see Vanecek start last night — especially since the skaters didn’t show up for much of the game and Schmid gave the best chance to beat Tampa, but that’s what it is. The third round is tonight.

Your thoughts

What do you think of tonight’s game? Will the Devils get their win over Tampa Bay? Or will Lindy Ruff be disappointed that he couldn’t beat one of the best teams in the playoffs in three games in one week? What do you think needs to be done with programming? Can Jack Hughes play well with Timo Meier, or should they stay apart? Why is Yegor Sharangovich getting so little ice time when the rest of the lines are struggling? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.

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