This afternoon, The New Jersey Devils announced that Travis Zajac has officially entered the league’s Covid protocol on Friday. That’s why he was not training earlier today. The team has already announced that he will not travel while under protocol and it is expected that he will not play in the Devils’ game in Buffalo this weekend. Zajac joins Mackenzie Blackwood on the list of inaccessible Devils because of Covid. In the light of the announcement Nick Merkley from the taxi squad filled in for training. It remains to be seen if he will travel with Buffalo as his replacement.
This is bad news. First of all, it’s bad for Zajac and those around him. This would include his teammates as well Philadelphia Flyers. Zajac played 17:26 last night against the Flyers, so there were plenty of opportunities for contact. Hopefully this is just a precaution and Zajac will send the minutes in brief.
Second, it’s bad for the devils to go into their weekend set with Buffalo. Zajac has probably been one of the Devils’ best players this season so far. Zajac is either a leader or a team leader in Corsi, expected goals, shots and points percentage in 5-on-5 games per Natural Stat Trick. When Zajac has been on the ice, New Jersey has an expected goal percentage of 60.46% while taking 57.66% of shooting attempts and 55% of shots online. It’s a great set of results. It’s even more amazing when you remember that Zajac has drawn tough match-ups in at least the team’s home matches. He saw a lot of Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, Islanders’ Mat Barzal and Philadelphia’s Kevin Hayes and the Devils either match or win the matches. He was a reason for Wood’s early success and almost every devil has benefited 5-on-5 when they had time with Zajac. While head coach Lindy Ruff will not necessarily be in control of the matchups, it will not be more difficult for Zajac to be available for at least two matches.
It also makes the Devils even thinner in the center. They’re still without Nico Hischier. Jack Hughes has appeared with his offensive play, but the 5-on-5 results have left something to be desired before last night’s line with Jesper Bratt and Andreas Johnsson. (Keeping Kyle Palmieri away from him has obviously helped a lot.) Michael McLeod has proven to be good as a fourth line center so far. It is unclear whether the coaches want to keep Pavel Zacha in the center when they moved him to the wing yesterday in favor of Yegor Sharangovich taking a leading role. Now both may need to play center. Or will Jesper Boqvist (or another center?) Be called up really soon. However, the Devils’ centers will match against a team with Jack Eichel, Eric Staal, Cody Eakin and Reily Sheahan in the middle of the weekend. On paper, it’s not to New Jersey. On the ice, there may not be a lack of massive performances from the Devils’ centers.
Still, Zajac’s health and well-being are important here. We all want Zajac to safely go through the protocol and all of this is ultimately a precautionary measure. His 1000th match will happen in 2021. It just will not be this Sunday.
This was my quick reaction to this bad news. Now I want to know yours. Who will the Devils line up in the middle of the weekend because it looks like Zajac will not be there? Thanks for reading.
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