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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Pittsburgh Penguins:
1. Shadow Crosby's line
With Patric Hornqvist on Sidney Crosby's wing, rather than Evgeni Malkin's, using the top pairing to shadow the top line seems like the easy choice.
Hornqvist ranks 2nd to only Nathan MacKinnon in 5v5 scoring chances over the last 15 games and Sidney Crosby is arguably the best player on the planet.
Deciding who to match top pairings and/or shutdown lines on vs Pittsburgh is often a tough task – they usually give Malkin better wingers than Crosby, which makes the decision more difficult – but it's pretty black and white tonight.
2. Another edge in goal
I never envisioned a scenario where a Keith Kinkaid vs Matt Murray matchup would give the Devils the advantage between the pipes but that just may be the case – at least with the way each guy is trending.
Kinkaid is as hot as any goalie in the NHL right now. He has won 11 of 14 starts since February 14th and posted a ridiculous .936 save percentage in that span.
Meanwhile, Murray has allowed at least three goals in nine of his last 13 starts and has been in a year-long struggle.
At 5v5, 50 goaltenders have logged at least 1,000 minutes this season. Murray ranks 47th among them in save percentage.
He's clearly not on his game so the Devils should throw pucks on net every chance they can get and hope he makes a mistake.
3. Sami's shooting
In mid-February Sami Vatanen went through a stretch where he attempted just 10 shots in the span of five games. It may not seem like *that* low of a total but it is when you factor in a) how many minutes he plays; b) he frequents on the power play and; c) he has a good, powerful shot.
Since that time he has been shooting the puck. A lot. He has piled up 91 attempts in 16 games (5.68 per) and is tied with John Carlson for 17th in attempts during that span.
I'd expect him to be quite involved today vs Pittsburgh in what should be a fast-paced, high-event game between two teams that still have a lot to play for.
Pittsburgh has scored more power play goals than all but Tampa Bay. They score more goals/60 minutes on the man advantage than anybody and no team has a higher PP shooting percentage, which isn't at all surprising given the wealth of talent they ice.
If the Devils aren't discipline, they'll be in tough to get anything out of this game.
5. A faulty 4th line
Pittsburgh's 4th line doesn't look good on the paper and the numbers suggest it probably won't be on the ice. There is no data available with Tom Kuhnhackl, Dominik Simon *and* Josh Jooris together but the first two haven't exactly garnered encouraging results on the same line.
In a little less than 20 minutes together at 5v5, the Penguins have been out-attempted 24-10 and lost the high-danger chance battle 7-0. Small sample size, I know. I doubt it is a fluke, though.
Here are the projected lineups:
Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri
Michael Grabner - Pavel Zacha - Patrick Maroon
Blake Coleman - Travis Zajac - Stefan Noesen
Miles Wood - Brian Boyle - Brian Gibbons
Andy Greene - Sami Vatanen
John Moore - Damon Severson
Mirco Mueller - Will Butcher
Pittsburgh (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Patric Hornqvist
Carl Hagelin - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Conor Sheary - Riley Sheahan - Phil Kessel
Tom Kuhnhackl - Josh Jooris - Dominik Simon
Jamie Oleksiak - Kris Letang
Brian Dumolin - Justin Schultz
Olli Maatta - Chad Ruhwedel
Puck drop is just after 7:00 p.m. Eastern and can be seen on MSG+ and ATTSN-PT.
Note: data via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey.
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