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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Montreal Canadiens:
1. An elite top line
Montreal has accumulated 26 points through 21 games, which has them comfortably holding a playoff spot and ahead of teams like Boston, Florida, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia – ones that entered the year with much higher expectations.
Among the biggest reasons for their early success is the play of the Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher line. On paper, they may not be scary. On the ice is a different story.
In just under 220 minutes together, this trio has out-attempted opponents 290-160 (64.44 CF%), out-chanced them 137-78 (63.72 SCF%), and out-scored them 15-8 (65.22 GF%). They'll be extremely difficult to slow down, especially considering the Devils are still missing one of their better defenders in Sami Vatanen.
2. High-danger hockey
Though neither team is overflowing with elite talent, both are surprisingly good at breaking teams down and generating Grade A looks. The Devils average 12.39 high-danger chances per 60 at 5v5, which is good for 4th in the NHL. The Canadiens aren't far behind averaging 12 of their own. If early season returns are any indication, there should be quite a few excellent opportunities in this one.
3. A fall from grace
Remember when Carey Price was one of the best goalies in the league? Well, times have changed.
Since the beginning of 2017-18, 43 netminders have spent at least 2,000 minutes between the pipes.
Price ranks 39th with a .900 save percentage – ahead of only Craig Anderson, Petr Mrazek, Chad Johnson, and Scott Darling. Yes, even Cam Ward, Jake Allen, Mike Smith, and Cory Schneider, who has lost 16 consecutive starts, have fared better than Price.
If the Devils are able to generate a good dose of high-danger chances, like they usually do, they should be able to put up a decent number.
4. Damon Severson vs Jeff Petry
Tonight two of the more underrated defensemen in the NHL will go toe-to-toe. Severson ranks 4th – only behind Thomas Chabot, Morgan Rielly, and Brent Burns – with 11 points at 5v5 this year. The Devils have been dominant with him on the ice controlling better than 60% of the high-danger chances.
Meanwhile, Petry is tied with Mark Giordano for 5th with 10 points and leads Canadiens defensemen in time on ice and Corsi For%.
Both players will see a lot of ice in all situations and are likely to be very impactful in deciding the outcome.
5. Blake Coleman's usage
Coleman ranks 3rd on the Devils in points/60 and 2nd in scoring chances/60. He's also one of the better defensive players on the team. Despite that, he ranks *checks notes* 11th among rostered forwards in 5v5 ice time per game. I think he deserves more ice and now is as good of a time as any to give it to him.
Here are the projected lineups.
New Jersey Devils
Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri
Marcus Johansson - Pavel Zacha - Jesper Bratt
Blake Coleman - Travis Zajac - Joey Anderson
Miles Wood - Brett Seney - J.S. Dea
Mirco Mueller - Damon Severson
Andy Greene - Egor Yakovlev
Will Butcher - Ben Lovejoy
Montreal (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Tomas Tatar - Phillip Danault - Brendan Gallagher
Jonathan Drouin - Max Domi - Andrew Shaw
Kenny Agostino - Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Artturi Lehkonen
Nicolas Deslauriers - Matthew Peca - Charles Hudon
Jordie Benn - Jeff Petry
David Schlemko - Xavier Ouellet
Mike Reilly - Victor Mete
Puck drop is just after 7:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on MSG+, SN1, and RDS.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com
On Severson's penalty killing, a power play tweak, Bratt, and more
Shots there, goals not as Devils fall to Hurricanes
On Anderson's shooting, Coleman's strong play, and Bratt's defensive issues
The Devils have big problems
Predicting the Metro Division standings in 2018-19