New Jersey Devils begin push for the playoffs

After nearly a three week layoff as a result of the 2014 Winter Olympics the NHL is back in full swing.  The New Jersey Devils will resume their regular season schedule tonight at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets (29-24-5, 63 points).

The Devils have a record of 24-22-13 (61 points) and currently sit in seventh place in both the Metropolitan Division and the Wild Card standings.  They trail the Philadelphia Flyers in the Metropolitan Division and Detroit Red Wings in the Wild Card, each by five points.

New Jersey has one of the easier schedules to finish the season out of the teams contending for a playoff berth, with their opponents having a combined .534 points percentage.  Of their 23 remaining games 14 will be played at home where the Devils are 13-7-7 on the year, including 5-0-1 in their last six games.  They also have 10 games against teams that they will be battling for a playoff spot, starting with tonight’s contest versus Columbus.brodeur, martin (useable)

It is crucial for the Devils to come out of the Olympic break playing at a high level.  They should be a well-rested team, having only had four players (Jaromir Jag, Patrik Elias, Marek Zidlicky, and Damien Brunner) play in the Olympics.  On the flip side, one can argue that not playing a game for nearly three weeks can cause the team to come out flat and play poorly.  There really isn’t any sure fire way to tell how the break will affect the Devils, and every team in the NHL has to deal with this issue for the most part.  The best way the Devils can overcome some of the rust is to simplify their game.  They can’t be focused on trying to make the perfect pass and go for the highlight reel plays, just dump pucks in, fore-check hard, and take shots every chance they get.  Fortunately for the Devils that has basically been their game plan for the entire year.  They don’t play a flashy game and that can benefit them greatly as they get back into game action after the long layoff.

The Devils are also shaking up the line combinations a bit for the start of tonight’s game.  As reported by Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record, the Devils forward line combinations in practice Tuesday were as follows:

Dainius Zubrus-Travis Zajac-Jaromir Jagr

Adam Henrique-Patrik Elias-Damien Brunner

Ryane Clowe-Andrei Loktionov-Michael Ryder

Ryan Carter-Jacob Josefson-Stephen Gionta.

Steve Bernier missed practice for personal reasons and is expected to take Jacob Josefson’s spot on the fourth line.  The main changes in the lines are Adam Henrique being moved up to play with Elias and Brunner, and Loktionov sliding into Henrique’s spot centering the third line.

Jacob Josefson, Anton Volchenkov, and Peter Harrold will be healthy scratches for tonight’s game. The recently recalled Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill will be in the lineup on defense, in an effort to try and give the Devils some extra offensive production.

Cory Schneider will be the starting goaltender tonight against the Blue Jackets, and it will be his ninth start in the team’s last ten games.  Martin Brodeur, who hasn’t played since being pulled in the 7-3 Stadium Series loss against the New York Rangers, is expected to play in one of the Devils’ two games this weekend.