If the Devils can't upend the upstart Oilers, who lost their previous two games to the Carolina Hurricanes and Detroit Red Wings by a combined score of 13-3, it's becomes entirely and instantly rational to wonder which NHL teams New Jersey can beat. Here are three keys to watch for in tonight's battle for the league basement.
The Devils put up four goals against Buffalo Wednesday, their second highest total of the season. Tonight they'll face the NHL's worst defensive team, with the porous Oilers allowing a whopping 3.7 goals per game. Jamie Langenbrunner, who scored Wednesday, will sit out tonight and Alexander Vasyunov will join Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk on the top line. But if Mattias Tedenby can again spark the second line, you have to like New Jersey's chances to break out tonight. Especially considering the returns of ...
With Martin Brodeur and Brian Rolston in the lineup, the Devils get two big pieces back from injury and should enjoy a little confidence boost as a result. Johan Hedberg hadn't exactly been in top form while Brodeur was out. Add in the veteran boost on the blue line the Devs got with the return of Anton Volchenkov two games back and this should be the best defense New Jersey has enjoyed since the season opener ... not that it looked that great against the Dallas Stars, but still ..
What if ...
If the Devils lose tonight, something has to give, right? I mean, I'm no NHL GM, but if you can't beat the league's (other) worst team in the middle of a five-game road trip, how can you expect to succeed during the rest of your schedule without some tinkering? And get a load of the upcoming schedule: at Boston (No. 3 in goals allowed per game), at Toronto (okay, that one's not so threatening), at St. Louis (tied for No. 1 in goals allowed per game) and then home vs. the Caps (No. 1 in goals for per game with 3.56).
I'm not sure what would change, but a loss tonight would easily mark the low point in an abysmal early season. If you legitimately believe that this roster, as it exists right now, is capable of making the playoffs, you have to win this game. Period.