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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the New York Rangers:
1. A smash spot for the top line
The Rangers have a couple nice pieces on their blue line but, with the way the defense is currently constructed, there isn't a pairing worth avoiding. There is, however, a pairing worth targeting. That would be the Marc Staal - Neal Pionk duo.
They have been really bad. Check that, they've been terrible. In 272 minutes with them on the ice, the Rangers have controlled 40.49% of the shot attempts and are expected to score just 42.9% of the goals. Among 162 eligible pairings (200+ 5v5 minutes), that ranks them 159th and 148th respectively. Not good.
Staal's best days are long behind him and Pionk is still finding his way in the league. If I'm John Hynes, I'm attacking them with the Taylor Hall line every chance I get.
2. 4th line struggles
Over the course of New Jersey's last 10 games, Brian Gibbons owns a 34.1 Corsi For%. Miles Wood owns a 40.7 Corsi For%. Brian Boyle owns a 41.7 Corsi For%. Tonight they'll be stuffed on the same line against a Rangers team that, despite its struggles, possesses a pretty deep and talented forward group. I wouldn't be surprised if they cause the Devils' 4th line some problems.
3. Filip Chytil
The 2017 1st round pick had a small taste of NHL action in October. Understandably, two games while seeing very limited ice made it difficult to produce.
Since being recalled a couple weeks back, Chytil has been given more opportunity and he's making the most of it.
In four games, he has 14 scoring chances and 16 shots on target to go along with a goal and an assist. All but one chance and one shot have come during 5v5 play, too.
He's still getting his feet wet at the NHL level but, make no mistake, he is dangerous.
4. The temporary 2nd pairing
John Moore and Mirco Mueller played together in Montreal and lived to the tell the tale. That was against an offensively inept and shallow team, though. The data sample on these two together isn't massive. That said, the early returns are far from encouraging. In just under an hour with them on the ice, the Devils have been out-attempted 64-39 (37.8 CF%), out-chanced 33-22 (40 SCF%), and out-scored 5-2 (28.57 GF%). I'd imagine the numbers will improve at least a tad over a bigger sample. Still, I can't say it's too surprising they haven't had much success. The Devils are desperate for points so you don't want to see them struggle *but* if they do, it'd probably keep us from seeing that in a playoff series (assuming they get in). That'd be a good thing.
5. Keith Kinkaid
It doesn't always look pretty but he continues to get the job done. He has won 13 of his last 17 starts and posted a .930 save percentage during that span. He's unquestionably playing the best hockey of his NHL career. If he stays hot tonight, the Devils should have a great opportunity to win the game and all but clinch a playoff spot. According to SportsClubStats, going 1-2-0 over the final three games still gives the Devils better than a 90% chance of getting in.
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 - Mirco Mueller
Will Butcher - Ben Lovejoy
New York (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Will update with new lines when they become available.
Chris Kreider - Mika Zibanejad - Jesper Fast**
Kevin Hayes - Filip Chytil - Mats Zuccarello*
Jimmy Vesey - Lias Andersson - Ryan Spooner
Cody McLeod - Vladislav Namestnikov - Pavel Buchnevich
Marc Staal - Neal Pionk
Brady Skjei - Ryan Sproul
Rob O'Gara - John Gilmour
Puck drop is just after 7:00 p.m. Eastern and can be seen on MSG+ and MSG2.
Note: data via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey.
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