After opening their season on October 15, the Devils haven’t played since . That ends tonight as the Devils take on the Kraken and start a stretch of four games in seven days. Here is what to expect.
The short break has allowed the Devils sometime to get slightly healthier since the season opener last week. The Devils opened the season with Damon Severson, Ty Smith, Miles Wood and Mackenzie Blackwood all out with injuries. That is changing tonight and is expected to change again in the next few days. Damon Severson will be back in the lineup tonight and Ty Smith is not far behind, meaning that in the next few games, the Devils will have a significantly deeper and more talented blue line.
While the defense is getting healthier, Mackenzie Blackwood does not appear close to returning as the team moved him to IR today when Severson was activated. He can be activated at any time but he is still not skating as he recovers from a heel surgery so for the time being, Johnathan Bernier will be asked to carry the load as the undisputed number one goalie. If he plays like he did against Chicago, that should not be an issue for the Devils. However, there is no denying that Bernier and Blackwood are a stronger tandem than Bernier and Wedgewood, and Blackwood is apparently not all that close to being game ready.
With all that being said, what can Devils fan expect in the next four games in the next seven days, all of which are at home? First up, Seattle. The Kraken are starting their season on a long road trip and are struggling a bit, going 1-2-1 so far. Last night, they played in Philadelphia and were dismantled 6-1. The rested Devils playing at home against a team on the second half of back to back while in the middle of a long road trip should be contributing factors to a convincing win tonight for New Jersey. If I were a betting man, I would place a wager on the Devils to win by 2 or more, I think that is free money.
On Thursday night, the Devils will have a tougher test against a divisional rival, the Washington Capitals. This game is also at home but both teams will be rested after having an off day. Washington may not be the machine they were in years past anymore but they still have Ovechkin, Oshie and Kuznetsov so this team can score in bunches, even without Nicklas Backstrom in the lineup. This game will be a big test for Bernier and the Devils defense. Can they hold off some of the NHL’s best scorers? Or will they be overwhelmed by the skill of the Capitals? Personally, I have faith that the improved Devils defense will be able to hold their own against the Caps fire power and the Devils will be able to put the puck past Ilya Samsonov enough to win a close game.
Next, the Devils welcome the Sabres to the Rock on Saturday night. The Sabres were predicted, understandably so, to be one of, if not the, worst team in the NHL this season. However, they are 2-0-0 so far. That being said, water almost finds its level and the Sabres just do not have many good players on their roster and they are hosting the Bruins in Buffalo on Friday night. This is another case of the Devils playing at home against a less talented team who is coming off game the night before and traveling while the Devils are rested. I would expect the Devils to win this game as well.
The Devils wrap up their home stand by welcoming Calgary to Newark on Tuesday the 26th. Calgary is a middle of the pack western conference team that is yet to win this season. (0-1-1) Calgary will also be facing off against the Devils just 24 hours after playing the Rangers. So, yet again, The schedule favors the Devils as they welcome a visitor playing the second half a back to back. This will be yet another winnable game for New Jersey.
It is very possible that the Devils could end their first home stand of the season with a 5-0-0 record. The schedule is in the favor of New Jersey and important players are returning to the lineup. Obviously it is still early in an 82 game season, but these points count just as much as the ones up for grabs in February, March and April so urgency needs to be there and New Jersey absolutely needs to take advantage. I think the Devils need to capitalize on this home schedule and go on the road for the first time this season with a record no worse than 4-1-0.
(Follow me on Twitter @PatBoooooth)