Earlier in the week, the New Jersey Devils faced some adversity and passed their next test with flying colors following some tough love from coach John Hynes. The Columbus Blue Jackets hope to find success with the same formula on Friday night when these two teams meet in the second game of a home-and-home set at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
The Devils (16-7-4) thumped the Blue Jackets (17-10-1) 4-1 on Tuesday night in Columbus after Hynes held a stern meeting with team veterans the day before. Coming off a lackluster 5-0 road loss to the last-overall Arizona Coyotes, Hynes demanded better from his team in no uncertain terms -- and it responded, taking back first place in the Metropolitan Division in the process.
"It's black and white when he communicates with us," Devils center Brian Boyle told nj.com. "We have to start making a big difference in these games because you know how they go into December, New Year, after the All-Star break, after the trade deadline. It gets tighter and tighter."
New Jersey received 41 saves from goaltender Cory Schneider on Tuesday, along with a goal and assist apiece from Taylor Hall, Jasper Bratt and Stefan Noesen, and two assists from rookie Nico Hischier. Travis Zajac scored his first goal since returning from pectoral surgery 10 games ago.
"For us to play well against them is important," stated Schneider. "Last year, that was sort of our undoing. We had a good start, but ... once we got into divisional play, we just couldn't keep up with the rest of our division."
The Devils are 2-1-0 in only three games against Metropolitan Division opponents following Tuesday's victory. The trick now is to do it all again, this time against an even more motivated Blue Jackets squad.
"It's a good challenge for us," Hynes said after practice Thursday. "Are we going to be the team that gets better from that game to this game? That's the objective."
Immediately following Tuesday's game, Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella canceled a scheduled day off while calling out several of his struggling veteran players. A lack of effort and production is at the heart of what makes Tortorella angry with his club, even though Columbus is 8-3-0 in its last 11 games.
"My biggest concern is, we simply have to get our core guys playing harder and better," Tortorella said, according to the Athletic. "Sometimes, instead of pointing the finger outward, you have to point the finger inward."
Tortorella hinted at a lineup change or two, though the lines and defense pairings Thursday seemed to indicate otherwise. Still, Alexander Wennberg (one goal in 22 games, none in 17), Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner (three goals each), and even Cam Atkinson (pointless in his last five games) are struggling mightily.
Fortunately for the Blue Jackets, the top line consisting of Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Anderson has 20 points in the last eight contests.
"We have to step up and take some ownership and get our individual games better," Dubinsky told The Athletic.
The sting of Tuesday's home-ice loss to a division opponent and getting knocked back into second place resonated even two days later at practice for the Blue Jackets.
"That's the first time I actually felt embarrassed, toward the end of the game, in a while," said defenseman Zach Werenski, who recorded 10 shots on goal Tuesday. "We didn't play hard enough. They ran away with it."
Friday offers Columbus the chance to rinse the bad taste out of their mouths and move back into first place. It also provides New Jersey the chance to double down on one of its best efforts of the season.