Phase one of training camp is complete as the Devils hit the road to begin preseason play in Montreal. This is the start of a brutal stretch of four games in five nights, including two sets of back-to-back games. Head Coach Lindy Ruff is not a fan of the condensed exhibition schedule.
"I don't think there is any positive gain for four games in five nights. I think it's overly demanding." Ruff indicated that the situation would force the team to split itself in half, so none of the players are playing back-to-back games. This will impact the ability to try different line combinations and special team groupings for the first week of preseason.
Ruff has been impressed with the additions of veteran players with a history of success and what that brings to his locker room. "You can tell they are from successful programs, (their) details are good, their work habits are good."
The Devils finished the fifth day of training camp with a scrimmage between the A and B practice groups that often featured lines centered by Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier facing off against each other. Goal scorers included Yegor Sharangovich on a breakaway and Alexander Holtz off a crisp pass from Ondrej Palat. Tied at the end of regulation, the teams played a three-on-three overtime period, ending in short order when Hischer beat Goalie Mackenzie Blackwood with a quick snapshot to the stick side, giving Group B a 4-3 victory.
After the scrimmage, Hischier was quick to point out how impressed he has been with the goaltenders in training camp, "I feel like they are working hard...theyre always early out there and I know we got great goalies in here with great character and you can see that with the work ethic they have and that's huge for us."
On Monday, the Devils will send Blackwood and Nico Daws up to Montreal, which means Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid will likely share the net in Tuesday's preseason home opener against the Islanders. Other regulars making the trip include Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Tomas Tatar, who are likely to be placed together on the first line and a new, all-Swede line of Andreas Johnsson, Jesper Boqvist, and Fabian Zetterlund as the second line. The defense pairing of Damon Severson and Ryan Graves remain together and will be joined in Montreal by Nikita Okhotiuk and Kevin Bahl, two players likely in direct competition for one available spot on the final roster.
Sharangovich, who has been aligned with Hischier and Bratt all of training camp, is absent from the travel group. It will be interesting to see where he fits in if he plays against the Islanders, whether on a line with Hughes and Holtz or a new line possibly with likely fourth liners, Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian, who thus far had been paired with Johnsson.
Based on the training camp alignments, it is likely that the Devils' home opener will feature Alexander Holtz playing on Jack Hughes's wing. Ruff believes that if Holtz can demonstrate that he can keep up with Hughes' vaunted pace, he will go a long way to showing that he belongs on the final roster.
"I'd like to see more of the same, keeping pace with Jack, he's a tough guy to keep up with...I think his pace so far is good, so really interested to see him in games."
Tuesday will also likely bring fans their first look at a potential third line of Erik Haula, Dawson Mercer, and Miles Wood, which has been a standout line thus far in camp, flashing the speed and grit sought by General Manager Tom Fitzgerald last off season. Wood and Haula have flashed aggression in practices and scrimmages thus far and when combined, they will make the Devils difficult to match up with. That will be the case even more when they are combined with Mercer, the only player to play all 82 games last season and a player widely regarded as being poised to have a breakout season. The versatility of Haula and Mercer being able to interchange at center and wing, along with the speed and toughness of Wood, makes this a very formidable line and demonstrates the new depth and diversity in the team's style.
Monday's preseason game will be live streamed on the new Devils app and ESPN+. Tomorrow's home opener will be broadcast on cable on the MSG family of networks.