COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two teams battling for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division standings meet Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena in the first of two games between them this week.
The Columbus Blue Jackets (17-9-1) lead the division with 35 points. The Devils (15-7-4) are just a point behind. The clubs will turn around and play again Friday night in New Jersey.
The Devils are wrapping up a three-game road swing. They were beaten soundly on Saturday night, falling 5-0 to the Arizona Coyotes, after opening the trip a night earlier with a 2-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche.
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“It’s a good opponent, an opportunity for us to bounce back from a performance that we really didn’t like against Arizona,” Devils right winger Drew Stafford said Monday, according to the team’s website. “Make sure that we get back to our compete level as a group. It’s about focusing on our game and attention to detail, getting back to our game.”
Cory Schneider will start in goal for the Devils. He sat out the loss to the Coyotes, which was the second game of a back-to-back, after picking up the win against the Avalanche.
“We haven’t seen a lot of our division yet,” Schneider said. “It will be good to get some of that intensity and fire back against teams you are familiar with and there’s some dislike there. From that standpoint, it will be energizing.
“We’re going to have to be at our best because they’ve been one of the hottest teams in the league. They’re one of the best teams in the league. They showed it last year, so it’s going to be a good measuring stick for us.”
Taylor Hill leads the Devils with 27 points, and Brian Gibbons has a team-leading 11 goals. Schneider is 10-5-3 with a 2.68 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.
The Blue Jackets bring a five-game home winning streak into the matchup with the Devils. Columbus is 8-2-0 in its last 10 games overall but was tripped up 4-3 by the Capitals on Saturday night in Washington.
“They’re in our division, and Columbus is a very good team,” Devils coach John Hynes said. “They’re at the top of the division right now. We are playing a very formidable team that’s playing well right now.”
Columbus coach John Tortorella has tinkered with his forward lines trying to find the right combinations and might have found a top line that includes Artemi Panarin, rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Anderson. The trio has combined for 18 points in the past six games.
Dubois nearly scored the tying goal Saturday night against the Capitals, and Anderson had seven shots on goal in the loss. Anderson leads the Blue Jackets with 10 goals, and Panarin has a team-leading 20 points.
“I think he’s been our best player so far this year, consistently, so we need him to keep doing what he’s doing,” Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones said of Anderson. “He needs to be that player for us, not for 25 or 30 games, but for years to come.”
The game in Washington was the first of five in a seven-game span against Metropolitan Division opponents for the Blue Jackets.
“You look at the standings now and everyone’s right there,” Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson said. “We’ve been winning, but the Devils are winning as well. They have a pretty good team.
“First place to wild card is only separated by three or four points. That’s how strong our division is. It’s always exciting playing those games.”