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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Columbus Blue Jackets:
1. A deceiving record
Many are poking fun at the Blue Jackets these days and it's easy to see why. They pushed all their chips into the middle of the table at, and leading up to, the trade deadline yet they are 4-6-0 over the last 10 and currently sit outside of a playoff spot.
While that's obviously concerning, the numbers suggest they've played much better than their recent record indicates. During that 10 game stretch, the Jackets have controlled 53.22% of the shot attempts (4th) and 54.31% of the scoring chances at 5v5. They've consistently out-played teams. They just can't get anything to go offensively, and everything is going in on Sergei Bobrovsky.
If they continue to dictate play at 5v5, that will change sooner than later. I'd bet on that happening tonight against a poor, injury-depleted Devils team.
2. The best of the best
A date with the Blue Jackets means a date with the Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cam Atkinson line, which is never fun.
While they don't get as much attention as some of the lines in Toronto, Colorado, Calgary, Pittsburgh, etc., it's not because they don't deserve it.
On the year, this trio has controlled 54% of the attempts, 56% of the chances, and been on for 46 goals at 5v5 (tied with COL1 for most in the NHL).
They give the Devils – like most teams – trouble at the best of times, so I don't imagine things will be any different playing primarily against a top-6 featuring the likes of Drew Stafford, Nick Lappin, and Kenny Agostino.
3. Doing damage at 5v5
The Devils have struggled mightily to generate offense in that game state for weeks, if not months. That will have to change if they're going to find success tonight.
Simply put, the Blue Jackets don't take penalties. They've spent fewer minutes on the PK than any team in hockey. They're also very good at killing off minors when they do get into trouble, ranking 1st in attempts against/60, 2nd in chances against/60, and 4th in goals against/60. They've allowed just 27 power play goals in 65 games. Suffice to say, the Devils can't bank on much PP success in this one.
4. A strong impression
Connor Carrick has appeared in four games since the Devils brought him over from Dallas. In those games, he has recorded a pair of assists, a team-leading 16 shot attempts, and ranks 3rd to Will Butcher and Damon Severson in Corsi For%. Though not large in stature, he's provided some needed bite as well. If he continues to play as he has thus far, he should feel pretty good about his chances of sticking with the team come October.
5. Taking on a bigger role
Michael McLeod has showcased his speed, work ethic, and tenacity in recent games but not so much the playmaking ability that helped him lead Binghamton in assists. With Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier and co. out of the lineup, the Devils are severely lacking forwards who can help create quality looks for teammates. McLeod is one of the few with that potential so it'd be nice to see him flash it vs the Blue Jackets.
Here are the projected lineups.
New Jersey Devils
Jesper Bratt - Travis Zajac - Drew Stafford
Kenny Agostino - Blake Coleman - Nick Lappin
Blake Pietila - Michael McLeod - Joey Anderson
Stefan Noesen - Kevin Rooney - Kurtis Gabriel
Andy Greene - Damon Severson
Will Butcher - Connor Carrick
Egor Yakovlev - Steven Santini
Columbus (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Ryan Dzingel - Matt Duchene - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Lukas Sedlak - Alexander Wennberg - Brandon Dubinsky
Scott Harrington - Seth Jones
Zach Werenski - David Savard
Markus Nutivaara - Dean Kukan
Puck drop is just after 7:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on MSG+2 and FS-O.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com
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