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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Colorado Avalanche:
1. Monkey off the back?
Through four games Nico Hischier leads the team with 17 scoring chances, 13 of which are high-danger (that is an insane percentage).
Taylor Hall is not far behind Hischier in scoring opportunities having already recorded 14 himself.
Despite the two most talented players on the roster combining for 31 chances thus far, they have zero goals.
The top line has been generating a lot (clearly) but Kyle Palmieri is the only one with something to show for it. That is bound to change sooner than later – perhaps tonight.
2. Colorado's top line
Since the beginning of the 2017-18 season, the Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan Mackinnon - Mikko Rantanen line has been on the ice for 53GF at 5v5. That's good for 1st in the NHL. Only Vegas' top line has posted a better goal differential (+25) than Colorado's (+24) in that span. They may not dominate territorially, but they like to trade chances and have the raw talent to come out on top much more often than not.
The Mirco Mueller - Sami Vatanen pairing has held up in a shutdown role so far but they have gotten into trouble at times and Keith Kinkaid's been able to bail them out. This is going to be a really stiff test.
3. Colorado's PP vs New Jersey's PK
No team has scored more power play goals than Colorado over the last year and change. Drawing a lot of penalties helps – only Calgary has been better in that regard – but you also need a lot of talent to consistently make teams pay. They have that.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Devils currently rank 1st in shot suppression and 2nd in expected goals against while down a man. Though it's still very early, they've already taken on great PP teams like Washington, Dallas, and San Jose *and* the best player in the league in Connor McDavid. To perform as well as they have is impressive.
I'm really interested to see which team wins this battle tonight.
4. Quietly elite
Since 2016-17, 53 goaltenders have logged at least 2,000 minutes at 5v5. The following have posted a better save percentage than Philipp Grubauer:
Yep, he is No. 1. His sample size (60 games) isn't as large as others at the top of the list – such as Sergei Bobrovsky, John Gibson, and Antti Raanta – but it's no fluke he's keeping that kind of company. I'm thinking the Devils will have a tough time matching their average goal output (4.25) in this one.
5. 2nd line changes
In the first couple games of the year, the 2nd line looked great and couldn't capitalize on their chances. In the last two games, they simply haven't had them.
Marcus Johansson and Pavel Zacha combined to record two (2) chances at 5v5 vs San Jose and Dallas. Stefan Noesen looked completely out of place alongside them and Drew Stafford will be skating on the 2nd line as a result.
The MoJo-Zacha-Stafford trio enjoyed some success, albeit over a very small sample, last season. Let's hope they can pick up where they left off because the Devils need that 2nd line to get going.
Here are the projected lineups.
New Jersey Devils
Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri
Marcus Johansson - Pavel Zacha - Drew Stafford
Miles Wood - Travis Zajac - Blake Coleman
Brian Boyle - J.S. Dea - Stefan Noesen
Mirco Mueller - Sami Vatanen
Andy Greene - Damon Severson
Will Butcher - Ben Lovejoy
Colorado Avalanche (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Alexander Kerfoot - Tyson Jost - Colin Wilson
Matt Nieto - Carl Soderberg - Matt Calvert
Vladislav Kamenev - Sheldon Dries - Gabriel Bourque
Sam Girard - Erik Johnson
Ian Cole - Tyson Barrie
Nikita Zadorov - Patrik Nemeth
Puck drop is just after 7:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on MSG+ and ALT.
Five observations from New Jersey vs Dallas
On lineup decisions when Bratt returns, 5v5 dominance, and Butcher
On Johansson, Butcher, and a clear matchup pairing