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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Edmonton Oilers:
1. Matching up vs Connor McDavid
The Devils are considered the home team, which means they'll have the luxury of using last change to help them with the matchup game.
John Hynes has said the Devils won't have a true shutdown pairing – at least to start – but, based on the lineup and preseason usage, I think the Mirco Mueller - Sami Vatanen duo is likely to see the most of the opposition's best.
McDavid led the league in goals, points, and scoring chances at 5v5. He is legitimately the toughest draw in the NHL so it'll be interesting to see how well, if at all, the Mueller - Vatanen pairing holds up. My guess is not very.
2. Heavy lifting
The Devils weren't overflowing with secondary scoring options to begin with and the Jesper Bratt injury only makes matters worse.
That means the Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri line must be productive and do the heavy lifting as long as they're together.
They had no problem doing so last season – only three of 79 eligible trios (200+ 5v5 minutes) were on the ice for more goals per 60 minutes – and that will have to be the case against Edmonton.
One way to get the most out of them would be giving them plenty of ice against the Kris Russell - Ethan Bear pairing. They weren't exactly stout last season as they gave up more than 65 shot attempts and 3.00 expected goals against per 60 minutes at 5v5.
3. A favorable power play matchup
Though there may be some kinks to work out under new power play coach Rick Kowalsky, this is a spot where the Devils should be able to take advantage.
Edmonton was a train wreck while down a man last season. They ranked in the bottom half of the league in terms of chance suppression and just five teams gave up more power play goals.
Not only did the Oilers struggle to kill penalties; they took a lot of them. Only Anaheim (-60) had a worse penalty differential than Edmonton (-34) and the latter is returning a similar cast of characters this season.
Don't be surprised if the Devils are able to pot one or two on the PP.
4. Which Cam Talbot shows up?
Talbot is a massive key to this game, and year, for the Oilers.
He was excellent in his debut season with the team posting a .929 save percentage at 5v5, which was good for 11th among 36 goaltenders to log at least 1,500 minutes.
Last season his game fell off a cliff. Talbot posted a .916 save percentage at 5v5, which slotted him 31st among (again) 36 goaltenders to meet the 1,500+ minute criteria.
The Oilers really need the 2016-17 version to show up.
5. Miles Wood
Despite sitting out most of the preseason, Wood did not miss a beat when he finally re-signed and returned to the lineup. He was flying around the ice a mile a minute, he generated a lot of chances, and I thought he was one of the best players on the ice.
He looks ready to take another step forward and, starting today, he'll be given consistent opportunity to do so as a regular in the top-9. I'm really excited to see what he can contribute this year.
Here are the projected lineups.
New Jersey Devils
Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri
Marcus Johansson - Pavel Zacha - Stefan Noesen
Miles Wood - Travis Zajac - John Quenneville
Blake Coleman - Brian Boyle - J.S. Dea
Mirco Mueller - Sami Vatanen
Andy Greene - Damon Severson
Will Butcher - Ben Lovejoy
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Connor McDavid - Ty Rattie
Milan Lucic - Leon Draisaitl - Kailer Yamamoto
Tobias Rieder - Ryan Strome - Jesse Puljujarvi
Jujhar Khaira - Kyle Brodziak - Zack Kassian
Oscar Klefbom - Adam Larsson
Darnell Nurse - Matt Benning
Kris Russell - Ethan Bear
Puck drop is just after 1:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on MSG+, NHLN (U.S.) and SN.
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