NEWARK, NJ - The Devils had an optional morning skate ahead of tonight's game against the Chicago Blackhawks. One of the players who made sure he was on the ice, however, is Jack Hughes, who will make his return to the lineup after missing three games due to injury.
"He's ready to go tonight. Jack will be in. He made sure that I knew that yesterday," said Devils interim head coach Alain Nasreddine. "That's what's great about him. He's young, wants to play every game and compete. He's ready to go."
Hughes will play with Miles Wood and Wayne Simmonds tonight.
"We have him with Woody and Simmonds," Nasreddine stated. "The leadership can complement him pretty good. I expect that line to have an impact tonight."
Hughes talked about having the opportunity to watch some games from the press box and how he gained a different perspective by doing so.
"See the game from above, see it slowed down a little bit. It was good for me to study it a little bit and learn some things from it," he noted. "From up there, the game looks a lot slower. You can see the play develop. For me, it was good to see that."
OTHER LINEUP UPDATES
Nasreddine didn't go into the full lineup, but did say that Mackenzie Blackwood would get the start in goal.
Matt Tennyson was injured last game and placed on IR which means Mirco Mueller draws back into the lineup. The Devils also called up Colton White from Binghamton but he won't play in this one.
Connor Carrick, who's been out for over a month with a fractured finger, was assigned to Binghamton on a conditioning stint.
Over the past few days, Nasreddine has taken the time to meet with every player on the team one-on-one as he looks to instill his own coaching philosophy.
"I touch base with every guy and tell them my expectations. I've dealt a lot with the defensemen so I have a deeper relationship with most of them. It's not like I don't know the forwards but maybe not having spent s much time with them as I did with the defensemen," he began.
"Trying to create a better, bigger relationship with everyone. The biggest thing for me was to express how I feel about the situation and the expectation is how everybody's gotta be better in similar situations."
Nasreddine recognizes the need for adjustments as the team looks to get back in the playoff race.
"We're not where we want to be in the standings. Everyone has more to give, to a man. The coaches, players. That was basically the message. The style of play that we want to have and what each guy that I met with can bring."
NEED FOR SPEED
As for what that style of play is, Nasreddine felt like the team should play more to its strength, which is speed and moving the puck.
"It's execution. X's and O's. We're looking to maybe make a few tweaks. Maybe not tonight because you'd like to practice if you're going to make some system changes but it's something that we definitely look into," Nasreddine said.
"It's as simple as play fast. We've talked about it. That was the message that first day. We have a lot of speed on the team up front. We have good puck moving D."
Jack Hughes agreed with his coach.
"We have a speed skating team. That fits our playing style pretty well. We're not the biggest team but we're a fast, skating team. We have to use that to our advantage."
Nasreddine added that speed is also the solution for making the team harder to play against.
"Our biggest strength, especially up front, is speed. We've got to utilize that. That goes on both sides of the puck. So there's different ways of being tough to play against. You can be physical, you can be on top of players on the team. That's what we're trying to do is use our speed and play fast.
"I thought against Vegas in the first period we used our speed. I thought we were on top of people."
-- Marc Ciampa, NewJerseyDevils.com
DEVILS (9-14-4) vs. BLACKHAWKS (11-12-5)
TV: 7:00 p.m. ET; Televised on MSG+
Tonight's game is the first of two meetings between the two teams this season.
Last season, the teams split their two games with the Devils winning big 8-5 at home and the Blackhawks winning 5-2 in Chicago.
Travis Zajac led the way for the Devils last season, registering two goals and four points in the two games.
The Devils are 3-0-1 at Prudential Center and 5-1-2 overall against the Blackhawks since the 2015-16 season. The Devils last regulation loss at home versus Chicago was Jan. 3, 2014.
Devils team scope:
The Devils have dropped three straight games with the most recent being this past Tuesday, 4-3 loss to Vegas. That game was the team's first under interim head coach Alain Nasreddine after John Hynes was relieved of his duties earlier that day.
Kyle Palmieri scored his 10th of the season last game as he leads the Devils in goals. Taylor Hall with 22 points in 27 games remains New Jersey's leader in points.
Blackhawks team scope:
The Blackhawks are playing their second game in as many nights after a big 4-3 overtime win against the Bruins in Boston on Thursday. Prior to that, they had only won one of their past seven games.
Chicago sits five points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Patrick Kane leads the club with 34 points in 28 games and is also tops on the team with 14 goals. Goaltender Robin Lehner is having a strong season with a 2.71 goals-against average and .929 save percentage but is only 6-5-3 in those starts. Lehner has split the net evenly with Corey Crawford with 14 starts apiece. It's likely Crawford gets the start tonight after Lehner played in Boston. Crawford is 5-7-2 on the season with a 3.04 GAA and .909 save percentage.
By the Numbers:
Taylor Hall has had a lot of success over his career against the Blackhawks. In 22 career games, he has 11 goals and 27 points. Patrick Kane leads all Blackhawks with 20 points in 18 career outings against the Devils.
Blackhawks are 1-5-1 in seven games against the Metropolitan Division this season while the Devils are 1-1-1 against Central Division opponents.
Devils have allowed 38 goals in the third period this season whch is third-worst in the NHL. Blackhawks have allowed 37, right behind New Jersey.
When leading after two periods, the Blackhawks are 10-0-3 and when trailing after two, they're 0-11-0.
Tonight's contest opens New Jersey's eighth of 16 sets of back-to-back play. The club looks to improve their 1-4-2 record in first games. The Devils head to Nashville to face-off against the Predators on Saturday night.
Devils - Connor Carrick (fractured finger) is questionable; Jack Hughes (lower body) is questionable; Matt Tennyson (upper body) is on IR
Blackhawks - Drake Caggiula (concussion) is on IR; Duncan Keith (groin) is day-to-day; Andrew Shaw (concussion) is day-to-day; Olli Maata (illness) is day-to-day