So far in this first round series, the Tampa Bay Lightning are dominating. The New Jersey Devils have had moments of good play, but nowhere near enough to threaten the Lightning so far in this series. Going back into the Prudential Center for game 3 today, the Devils need to find a way to right the ship or their time in the postseason will be short-lived.
Head coach John Hynes has many decisions to make for his team to get back into the series. First, he needs to decide which goaltender to use. Keith Kinkaid was stellar for the team down the stretch in the regular season, but has struggled in the playoffs so far. Cory Schneider came in during game 2 and stopped 10 of 10 shots after Kinkaid was pulled. Schneider, however, has had an unusually bad season, sporting a .907 save percentage and a 2.93 goals against average. Hynes has said he has already made the decision, but will wait to tell the goalies.
UPDATE: Schneider confirmed starting
Marcus Johansson’s status is also in question. He has practiced with the team recently, but hasn’t been cleared for play just yet. After being without the forward for 36 games to a concussion at the hands of Brad Marchand, the team could use his offensive skill.
Johansson’s status bring into question how the lineup will shift before the puck drops at 7:30. The Lightning have blazed past the Devils on almost every line. Hynes attempted to correct it somewhat by adding in Damon Severson and running with seven defensemen. However, he kept Ben Lovejoy in the lineup almost exclusively to kill penalties and Lovejoy continued to look out of his league against the best offense in the league.
Brian Boyle is a great veteran presence on the Devils, but he has not been an impact player so far in this series. Hynes will have to balance out what Boyle’s playoff experience adds with his insufficient speed. Unfortunately the Devils lack in the depth department both offensively and defensively. Jesper Bratt and Brian Gibbons are the best options to add to the forward core, but neither has scored much in their recent games.
Hynes will definitely be changing around the lineups in some way. After game 2’s loss he commented, “I think there are some guys that just haven’t performed well enough to warrant a stay in the lineup.” Who exactly that was aimed at can only be assumed until we see the new lineups, but expect some radical changes to the lineup.
Being down 2-0 in the series is not a death knell, but the Devils have a lot to improve. The team needs to collectively play better defense, get some more key saves, and decrease the penalties. Offensively the team is hard to decipher. The shots have come easily, putting up 31 and 44 in the first two games, but the goals haven’t followed. Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier have carried the offense, but they need help. Others on the team need to find a way to get shots through Andrei Vasilevskiy, who showed shaky play late in the regular season. If Hynes and the team can win the first game in New Jersey this series becomes competitive again.
UPDATE: Michael Grabner has been scratched in favor of Drew Stafford, and Mirco Mueller has been dropped from the defense in order to get Johansson in the lineup since the Devils ran seven defensemen in game 2.