NHL Game Day: Blackhawks look to rebound against Devils as we preview today’s action

NHL Previews!

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Oct 13, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) defends his net in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago entered this season aiming to take the next step in an extensive rebuilding project. On Friday night, the Blackhawks hope that facing a team in a similar spot will yield better results than Wednesday’s opener against a Stanley Cup contender.

The Blackhawks continue a three-game road trip Friday by visiting the New Jersey Devils in the first game between the teams in almost 22 months.

Blackhawks, Devils preview

Chicago, which missed the playoffs last season for the third time in four years, spotted the Colorado Avalanche three goals in the first 10 minutes of a 4-2 loss Wednesday night.

The Devils will be making their season debut Friday in Newark. New Jersey missed the playoffs last season for the third straight time and the eighth time in nine years since their most recent trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012.

“We got better as the game went on, but it’s hard to dig yourselves out of a hole,” Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said. “Overall, the start did us in. We need to be better. We will be better. We’ve got good players and the stuff that happened is very correctable.”

The Devils, whose 45 points last season were the third fewest in the NHL, will be looking to build off a promising preseason (4-1-0) with one of the youngest cores in the league. Among the team’s top seven scorers last season, only Miles Wood (26 years old) and Damon Severson (27) are older than 25. Jack Hughes, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, had eight multi-point games as a 19-year-old.

The Devils added a pair of playoff-tested veterans to their blue line by signing former Carolina Hurricanes star Dougie Hamilton in free agency and acquiring Ryan Graves from the Avalanche.

“When you’re talking about meaningful games, it’s that we’re giving ourselves a real good chance to be in that postseason position,” said head coach Lindy Ruff, who is beginning his second season in New Jersey. “That’s the next step for us.”

The two teams did not face each other during the pandemic-shortened 2021 season. The Devils won the most recent meeting on Dec. 23, 2019, when New Jersey set season highs for goals and margin of victory in a 7-1 win.

Flyers, Canucks preview

In the offseason, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher tweaked the roster quite a bit with the obvious goal of returning to the postseason.

The biggest trade was acquiring Cam Atkinson from the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jake Voracek. The Flyers also added defenseman Ryan Ellis and center Derick Brassard. There were other key moves as well, but the changes will be noticeable when the puck drops in Friday’s season-opening home game against the Vancouver Canucks.

“Two years ago, we felt like we took a big step forward,” captain Claude Giroux said. “Last year, we took a few steps back. Everything happened pretty quick last year, and it is not the team we want to be. That is not the team we believe we are. We are going to learn from that last year.

“This year the guys already look focused and look like they are ready to go. It’s really exciting.”

Their opponent, the Canucks fell 3-2 in a shootout to the Oilers in Edmonton in their season opener on Wednesday.

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Oct 13, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) carries the puck around Vancouver Canucks defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Vancouver rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period to earn a point in the first game against a quality opponent.

“It’s always important to get off to a good start, and last year we didn’t get off to a good start,” said Quinn Hughes, who scored a goal. “And it’s always tough when you’re struggling, so to get a point in our first game, it’s encouraging.”

While they hardly played a perfect game, Canucks coach Travis Green was more than pleased to earn a point.

“They obviously have some fast players and I thought we played a hard-working game,” Green said. “To come in on the road and battle back and get a point, I was pretty happy with our effort.”

Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko was sharp in the opener with a 32-save performance.

If the Canucks hope to spoil the Flyers’ opener, strong goaltending will be vital once again.

Ducks, Wild preview

After opening the season on a positive note, the Anaheim Ducks look to end their lengthy winless stretch against the Minnesota Wild.

The Ducks will aim to avoid an eighth straight defeat to the visiting Wild on Friday night.

Anaheim burst out of the gate with Wednesday’s 4-1 home victory over Winnipeg. Mason McTavish, the 18-year-old third overall pick in this year’s NHL draft, had a goal and an assist and John Gibson stopped 33 shots for the Ducks, who are looking to open 2-0-0 for the third time in four seasons.

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Oct 13, 2021; Anaheim, California, USA; Anaheim Ducks center Mason McTavish (37) celebrates with defenseman Cam Fowler (4) and defenseman Josh Manson (42) his goal scored against the Winnipeg Jets during the first period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

“Last year, we seemed to struggle with, if we’re up one, getting that next one and the next one to put the game away,” forward Adam Henrique, who also scored Wednesday, told the Ducks’ official website.

“That’s something we need to grow into and be able to do.”

What Anaheim also needs to do is right the ship against Minnesota. The Ducks posted a 1-0 home win over Minnesota in the teams’ first meeting last season, then were outscored 24-13 while going 0-5-2 against the Wild the rest of the way. Each of the last four meetings were decided by one goal, with the two most recent ending in overtime.

Gibson went 1-2-1 with a 3.01 goals-against average versus Minnesota last season. Anaheim’s Max Comtois failed to record a point Wednesday, but he will look to extend his goal-scoring streak against the Wild to four games.

Minnesota opens the 2021-22 campaign coming off their second straight playoff berth, and eighth in the last nine seasons. Though longtime Wild stalwarts Ryan Suter and Zach Parise have departed, Minnesota returns reigning Calder Trophy winner Kirill Kaprizov, who topped all 2020-21 rookies with 27 goals and 51 points.

“I’m confident in these guys,” Wild general manager Bill Guerin told the club’s official website. “I like our group. Like I’ve said all along, I’m confident in them. They’re all super excited to get the season going, and I like this group a lot.”

Minnesota opens on the West Coast for a second straight season after going 3-1-0 against Los Angeles and Anaheim in its first four games of 2021-22.

–Field Level Media