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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Pittsburgh Penguins:
1. Stoppable force vs moveable object
New Jersey's 5v5 offense is horrendous. I've talked about this time and time and time again in recent weeks/months and nothing has changed. They almost always look lifeless and the numbers are just as bleak. Over the last 10 games, the Devils rank dead last averaging 45.25 attempts/60 and 19.52 chances/60.
The good news is something may finally give tonight against Pittsburgh. Why? Their 5v5 defense is as bad as New Jersey's 5v5 offense right now. Over the last 10, the Penguins rank 31st allowing 65.95 attempts/60. They also sit near the bottom of the league in chance suppression giving up over 29 per 60.
If the Devils are going to show some life offensively against anyone, you'd think it'll be at home to this Penguins team.
Since January 19th against Anaheim, Marcus Johansson has recorded five goals (1st), 10 points (t-1st), and 11 high-danger chances (2nd) while being one of three Devils regulars to post a positive on-ice chance differential at 5v5. He really is playing his best hockey leading up to the trade deadline, which is good news considering it appears quite possible, if not likely, the Devils move him.
With the way Johansson is playing, he's as likely as anyone to take advantage of Pittsburgh's defensive issues. That'd only help his trade value.
3. NJ2 vs PIT1
Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby, and Bryan Rust have played nearly 350 minutes together at full-strength. In that time, the Pens have controlled 53% of the attempts, 55% of the chances, and out-scored opponents 22-9 (70.97%). Really impressive numbers.
Travis Zajac generally does a good job slowing down top offensive players, and lines, but I can't help but wonder if he'll struggle to do that tonight with a pair of wingers (Kyle Palmieri and Miles Wood) better at generating shots than preventing them.
4. One last impression?
Keith Kinkaid has posted a sub .900 save percentage in nine of his last 12 appearances and allowed a total of *checks notes* *double checks notes* 46 goals during that span. His value has certainly plummeted but if there's any hope of a team looking at him as a potential upgrade at backup, as opposed to a lost cause, he really needs to get back on track and show something positive. The Devils only have two more games prior to the deadline, and Cory Schneider looks to be trending upwards, so it's possible this is Kinkaid's last chance to do so.
5. Starting strong
It's early but a change of scenery sure seems to be paying off for Nick Bjugstad.
Through nine games, he ranks 4th on the Pens in 5v5 scoring chances (behind all three members of the top line) and sits 3rd on a per 60 basis. We know Bjugstad has finishing talent – he has scored 15+ four times, and once potted 24 goals while shooting at a reasonable 11.6% clip – so he can put the puck in the net if the chances are there. And there's no reason to believe they won't be given he's playing alongside Evgeni Malkin.
Here are the projected lineups.
New Jersey Devils
Marcus Johansson - Nico Hischier - Jesper Bratt
Miles Wood - Travis Zajac - Kyle Palmieri
Kenny Agostino - Blake Coleman - Joey Anderson
Brett Seney - Kevin Rooney - Drew Stafford
Andy Greene - Damon Severson
Will Butcher - Ben Lovejoy
Mirco Mueller - Eric Gryba
Pittsburgh (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Phil Kessel - Evgeni Malkin - Nick Bjugstad
Teddy Blueger - Jared McCann - Patric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-Reese - Matt Cullen - Dominik Simon
Brian Dumoulin - Kris Letang
Jack Johnson - Justin Schultz
Marcus Pettersson - Chad Ruhwedel
Puck drop is just after 7:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on MSG+, ATTSN-PT, SN1, SNE and SNP.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com
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