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G28 New Jersey Devils vs Chicago Blackhawks: Jack Hughes returns

December 6, 2019, 12:52 PM ET [1 Comments]
Todd Cordell
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Here are five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Chicago Blackhawks:

1. Jumpstarting the offense

It sounds like the plan is to play a little faster, and more aggressive offensively, under Alain Nasreddine. The Devils certainly did in his debut behind the bench, recording 54 shot attempts and 24 scoring chances at 5v5. That was their highest attempt output of the season and 2nd highest when it comes to chances. They did it against a good Vegas team, too.

The Devils have a golden opportunity to build on that tonight against Chicago. They’re a trainwreck defensively. In fact, the only team allowing chances at a higher clip this season is the New York Rangers.

Chicago is also playing in the latter half of a road back-to-back so the stars are really aligning for the Devils to have a good offensive night.

2. Jack is back

Guess who’s back, back again
Jack is back, tell a friend
Guess who’s back, guess who’s back
Guess who’s back, guess who’s back
Guess who’s...okay, I’m done.

Jack Hughes is returning to the lineup tonight after missing the last three outings due to injury.

His welcome back gift is a spot on the 4th line alongside Miles Wood and Wayne Simmonds, the two Devils regulars with the worst 5v5 Goals For% on the team. What a gift!

I know everyone will freak out but I think there are a few reasonable explanations for doing this:

a) Nas has some old school in him. He probably wants to make sure the future star is protected;

b) Wood is on the block and Simmonds will be traded as a rental. Putting them with a No. 1 overall pick who is really starting to play well could help prop them up;

c) As mentioned above, the Devils just put forth one of their better offensive performances of the season. Maybe they want to reward that group with another chance before blowing things up.

3. Secondary scoring

Blake Coleman leads the Devils in 5v5 points over the last 10 games. Nikita Gusev ranks 2nd during that span, and Travis Zajac sits tied for 3rd. The top line is really clicking right now while secondary lines, featuring scrubs like Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri, are not.

That needs to change sooner than later, especially considering several of those struggling to produce at 5v5 (Hall, Wood, Simmonds, etc.) are likely going to be traded. It’d be really nice for them to get going and allow the Devils to sell high.

4. A goaltending edge

One big advantage the Blackhawks have – at least if you’re going off this season’s numbers – is between the pipes.

Corey Crawford has been really good. At 5v5 he owns a .928 save percentage and .857 SV% on high-danger shots. Crawford comfortably ranks top-10 in both categories among 28 goaltenders with 700+ minutes.

The numbers aren’t as kind to Mackenzie Blackwood, who is sporting a .908 SV% (23rd). His high-danger numbers are good but he has some work to do on the low-to-medium danger stuff.

With the Blackhawks playing horrendous defense, and in a B2B situation, they need a really strong performance from Crawford to have a shot. We’ll see if he can provide one yet again.

5. Snap the streak

We are more than two months into the season and the Devils still haven’t gotten a single goal from their 2nd power play unit. Not one. I don’t even need to dig up any other stats to put into perspective how awful they’ve been.

Luckily for PP2, the Blackhawks’ defensive issues at 5v5 leak into the penalty kill. They unsurprisingly bleed chances in that area as well.

The Devils have had a few days off to practice, learn new systems/strategies, and rest up their bodies and they couldn’t ask for a better matchup. Now let’s see some results and put this ridiculous funk to bed.

Here are the projected lineups:

New Jersey

Jesper Boqvist - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri
Taylor Hall - Pavel Zacha - Jesper Bratt
Blake Coleman - Travis Zajac - Nikita Gusev
Miles Wood - Jack Hughes - Wayne Simmonds

Andy Greene - P.K. Subban
Sami Vatanen - Damon Severson
Will Butcher - Mirco Mueller

Mackenzie Blackwood

Chicago

Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Alex Nylander
Alex DeBrincat - Dylan Strome - Patrick Kane
Anton Wedin - David Kampf - Dominik Kubalik
Ryan Carpenter - Kirby Dach - Zack Smith

Olli Maatta - Connor Murphy
Calvin de Haan - Brent Seabrook
Erik Gustafsson - Slater Koekkoek

Corey Crawford

Puck drop is just after 7:00 p.m. and can be seen on MSG+, NBCSCH+, and NHLN.

Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com

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