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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Vegas Golden Knights:
1. Quietly elite
Their record may not show it yet – though it is trending in the right direction – but the Golden Knights are once again a good team. Very good. Nate Schmidt sat 20 games due to suspension. Paul Stastny and Erik Haula have both missed significant time due to injury. Despite this, the Golden Knights currently hold a playoff spot and, analytically speaking, are one of the best 5v5 teams in the NHL.
They're tied for 2nd in Corsi (54.82%) and sit 3rd in Expected Goals (55.79%). Their xG numbers (70 for, 56 against) are a far cry from their actual numbers (63 for, 71 against), suggesting they've dealt with very poor luck and are due for some positive regression.
With the way things have gone for the Devils, some of that will surely come tonight.
2. Cory Schneider's start
He is prone to conceding goals very early in games; at least he has been over the last year and change. The defense plays a role in that, of course, but he hasn't done himself any favors either. Schneider really needs to start on time in this one because Vegas is extremely good at bottling teams up and squeezing the life out of teams. At 5v5, they rank 2nd in chances against/60 and 3rd in high-danger chances against/60. They don't give up much. If the Devils spot the Golden Knights a couple early goals, it'll be very difficult to muster up enough opportunities to complete a comeback.
3. A tough power play spot
The following teams have taken fewer penalties per 60 than Vegas this season:
That's it. That's the list. The Golden Knights are as disciplined as they come. They're also excellent at killing penalties when they do take them, sitting 4th in xGA/60. This is anything but a Get Right spot for a Devils power play that has struggled mightily in recent weeks. They'll have to find a way to take care of business at 5v5.
4. No. 37's offense
Pavel Zacha put together a few good games after being recalled from Binghamton. Since then, he's reverted back to his old, ineffective self. Over the last 10 games, he's mustered up just one point and eight shots at 5v5. Eight! This while playing with two playmakers in Jesper Bratt and Marcus Johansson. Through 11 tracked games, Bratt has assisted on 28.33% of on-ice shot attempts at 5v5. That leads the team. Johansson sits 3rd (just behind Taylor Hall) assisting on 20.72%. These are certainly pass-first guys who like to create for teammates. They'll get you the puck in good spots. Shoot it.
5. Blake Coleman is due
The feisty two-way winger has generated a lot offensively of late. Over the last 10, he ranks 3rd on the Devils in shot attempts (39), 2nd in chances (22), and 1st in high-danger chances (14) at 5v5. His reward is zero (0) goals. If he continues to get good looks, they'll start to go sooner than later. The Devils are hoping that proves true tonight, especially if Taylor Hall is unable to play or remotely limited.
Here are the projected lineups.
New Jersey Devils
Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri
Marcus Johansson - Pavel Zacha - Jesper Bratt
Miles Wood - Travis Zajac - Blake Coleman
Brian Boyle - Brett Seney - Drew Stafford
Andy Greene - Damon Severson
Will Butcher - Sami Vatanen
Mirco Mueller - Ben Lovejoy
Vegas (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Jonathan Marchessault - William Karlsson - Reilly Smith
Max Pacioretty - Cody Eakin - Alex Tuch
Oscar Lindberg - Tomas Nosek - Ryan Carpenter
Will Carrier - P.E. Bellemare - Ryan Reaves
Brayden McNabb - Nate Schmidt
Shea Theodore - Deryk Engelland
Nick Holden - Colin Miller
Puck drop is just after 7:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on MSG+ and ATTSN-RM.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey
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