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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Pittsburgh Penguins:
1. A breakout spot for L2
After a poor showing in Detroit, Marcus Johansson, Travis Zajac, and Miles Wood played very well against New York. They didn't find the scoresheet but it certainly wasn't for a lack of opportunity. In ~11 5v5 minutes together, they out-attempted the Isles 18-6 and out-chanced them 9-2.
Pittsburgh is not exactly stingy defensively – the Pens rank bottom-5 in 5v5 shot attempts and expected goals against per 60 – so L2 should be able to generate some good looks again. They just need to capitalize.
2. Team discipline
Staying out of the box will be even more important than usual. Pittsburgh is consistently elite on the power play and they simply don't take penalties. No team has been given the gate fewer times than the Penguins, which means the Devils probably can't bank on getting much from their power play. If they parade to the box against a disciplined team more than capable of capitalizing on man-advantage opportunities, it will be very difficult to win the special teams battle and, thus, the game. They have to stay disciplined.
3. Will Butcher's struggles
Simply put, Butcher is not playing well right now. I don't know if he is still dealing with an injury, teams are adjusting to him, or a combination of the two, but he is really laboring out there. Butcher is yet to record a 5v5 point through 11 games, his shot rate is down (he said he worked on his shot all summer and wanted to use it more), and his on-ice numbers have not been good – particularly of late. Over the last seven games, the Devils have controlled just 39% of the shot attempts with him on the ice. That's horrendous considering he gets a lot of offensive zone starts against soft competition. The Devils really need him to step up.
4. Lots of rubber
Pittsburgh recorded more than 30 shots once in five games to start the year. They have done it in seven consecutive games since and averaged 34.4 per during that stretch. They've put a ton of pucks on net and that will likely continue vs a Devils team that has been leakier defensively of late. Keith Kinkaid will need to be on his game for the Devils to have a shot.
5. An exploitable pairing
Bad things tend to happen when Jack Johnson's pairing is on the ice. Shocking, I know. In almost 40 minutes with Juuso Riikola, they're rocking a 42.03 xGF% and have been out-scored 3-0. As a whole, Johnson has a ~43 xGF% and minus-8 goal differential on the year. He is #NotGood and pretty easy to take advantage of. Though the Devils are really shallow up front right now, I won't be surprised if they're still able to cause Johnson some problems.
Here are the projected lineups.
New Jersey Devils
Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri
Marcus Johansson - Travis Zajac - Miles Wood
Blake Coleman - Brett Seney - Drew Stafford
Brian Boyle - J.S. Dea - Joey Anderson
Mirco Mueller - Sami Vatanen
Andy Greene - Damon Severson
Will Butcher - Ben Lovejoy
Pittsburgh (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Dominik Simon
Carl Hagelin - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Bryan Rust - Riley Sheahan - Patric Hornqvist
Derek Grant - Matt Cullen - Daniel Sprong
Brian Dumolin - Kris Letang
Olli Maatta - Jamie Oleksiak
Jack Johnson - Juuso Riikola
Puck drop is just after 7:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on MSG+ and ATTSN-PT.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey.
Five observations from another poor showing in Detroit
On Johansson, Severson, and 5v5 play