NEWARK -- The Detroit Red Wings know that their best bet against the New Jersey Devils tonight will be to jump on them early.
The Devils played in Pittsburgh Friday night and left with a 4-1 loss.
"I think it starts with us actually being battle-ready right off the drop of the puck.," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I think generally the team that plays the night before lots of times has a little bit of an advantage in the sense that they're battle-tested already. As the game goes on, sometimes the team that played prior is tired. I think you got to do an unreal job of starting on time because if not you end up looking and they've kind of run you over a little bit, so we got to make sure we're ready to go right off the bat."
Wings center Dylan Larkin believes an early lead could point to a successful night.
"We have to get the puck and possess it for at least the first 20 minutes and try and get the first goal," Larkin said. "I think it's gonna be huge tonight, especially with them traveling and a tough game for them last night. If we get the first goal tonight it'll be huge for our team."
Tonight will mark the first time that the Wings face rookie Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in last summer's draft.
"He's going to be a great hockey player because he loves to compete, he loves hockey, he believes in himself, he wants to be a great hockey player, he's going to be there," Blashill said of Hughes. "He's got a skill set to be that, there's no doubt about it. He's already a good hockey player in this league. He's got a great coach in John Hynes who's going to help him keep getting better at the things he's got to get better at, but he's got a great inner drive and great competitiveness. No question, he's going to be a great hockey player."
Many fans in the state of Michigan are familiar with Hughes and his brother, Quinn, who plays with the Vancouver Canucks, as both played for the U.S. National Team Development Program there.
Quinn Hughes also played for the University of Michigan.
Larkin has played with both Quinn and Jack Hughes, most recently for Team USA at last spring's world championships.
"My first World Championship with Quinn I roomed with him," Larkin recalled. "It was pretty cool. He's a great kid and a great family. I know his mom and dad are both passionate about hockey. They're a big hockey family. I've got nothing but the best things to say about the family and both of the guys. They work extremely hard and love the game. I think it's exciting for both of them to come into the league at the same time. They've already played each other twice. It's exciting for them. They're doing a great job so far."
Larkin said he couldn't imagine making the jump from the U.S. National Team Development Program right to the NHL, as Jack Hughes has done.
"I know you're playing against colleges and you're playing in the U18 championship," Larkin said. "He was much more advanced than I was at that time. And then, playing in the world juniors and the men's World Championship. It's still as an 18-year-old to come in and come from that program, I think it speaks for the development there and the program we have there, and it also speaks to American hockey, so it's exciting for that. It's exciting to see how well he's doing so far."
Blashill cautioned that everyone has to have patience with Hughes, who is still just 18 years old.
Hughes has just one assist in his last seven games.
"I think the league is extraordinarily hard," Blashill said. "It's a hard league to learn in and young players that come in like him have to learn in the league and it's really, really difficult for anybody. I think there's some guys that are considered great players in this league that were high high picks that are still learning how to be winning hockey players. And that's guys that have been in this league 4-5 years. It takes a while, so it's just a process and everybody has to have patience, the player, organization and the fanbase."
RETURN OF NEMETH: Veteran defenseman Patrik Nemeth is expected to return to the lineup after missing the last five games with an infection.
"Great defender, great PK guy," Blashill said. "He's been one of our top defenders. Certainly, DK (Danny DeKeyser) has been out lots this year, so he's been one of our top defenders. We got him as that in free agency. He knows exactly what he is and he's good at it. So we certainly missed him with him out of the lineup."
Nemeth has one goal, three assists and is plus-2 in 19 games this season.
At 6-foot-3, 228 pounds, he provides a big presence on the back end.
"He's a great shot blocker, he's a great defender," Larkin said. "I think he adds size to our lineup and he adds experience, too. He's someone the young guys can look up to and someone that plays the right way. We're excited to have him back and it's gonna help our blueline a lot."
INJURY WOES MOUNT: Although the Wings are getting Nemeth back and possibly forward Darren Helm, there was a new injury during the team's morning skate at RWJBarnabas Health Hockey House.
Adam Erne was hit with a shot in the hand and Blashill said after the skate that he did not know whether Erne would be able to play.
Helm participated in the morning skate, which he also did Thursday in Columbus, and is a game-time decision.
Blashill said Mike Green, who skated very briefly but then left the ice, was definitely out for the New Jersey game.
He also said Taro Hirose, a healthy scratch Thursday, would return to the lineup against the Devils.