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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Nashville Predators:
1. A breakthrough from Nico
Nico Hischier has been a chance machine to start the year. He leads the league in high-danger opportunities per game (3.0) and it honestly feels like those numbers are underselling him, especially when looking at his shot map. Almost *everything* has come from the slot (see other players here
Despite the abundance of opportunities generated, he has just one goal to his credit. Nashville may not be the best Get Right spot – their defense is fantastic, as is Juuse Saros – but the floodgates have to open sooner than later.
2. Another elite trio
It feels like the Devils are going through a death row of elite top lines to start the year. The train rolls on tonight when they take on the Predators.
Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson may not get talked about as much as most marquee lines but they certainly are one.
In ~620 5v5 minutes together since the beginning of 2017-18, Nashville's top line has controlled nearly 56% of the shot attempts and out-scored opponents by 23 (42-19).
This will be another stiff test for the Mirco Mueller - Sami Vatanen pairing, which has held up surprisingly well thus far (their xGF% is above 50%).
3. More from L2
After a strong start to the year, the Pavel Zacha and Marcus Johansson duo has disappeared. They've combined for just five 5v5 chances over the last four games and the Devils are controlling less than 40% of the chances with that duo on the ice. They haven't had the best cast of characters to work with on the right side but, even so, their performance simply hasn't been good enough. John Hynes has said he's not going to break up his elite top line to get more scoring throughout. It's on others, like them, to step up.
4. A good spot for the PK
The Devils rank 3rd in Corsi Against/60 and 1st in Expected Goals Against/60 while down a man. They've conceded only three times in better than 42 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Predators rank bottom-10 in Corsi For/60 and Expected Goals For/60. They have scored just three power play markers in almost 55 minutes and have actually given up a shorty in that time.
Taking penalties is obviously never a positive, however, the Devils should be confident they can limit the damage if discipline becomes an issue.
5. A big game for JQ
John Quenneville's on-ice numbers have been solid – particularly with Miles Wood and Travis Zajac by his side – but there's no production to show for it. With the Devils starving for secondary scoring, he could really solidify a spot in the lineup if he can chip in offensively. Unfortunately for him, he's running out of time to do so. Jesper Bratt will be back sooner than later and it'll be Quenneville's spot he takes if the latter doesn't start to produce.
Here are the projected lineups.
New Jersey Devils
Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri
Marcus Johansson - Pavel Zacha - J.S. Dea
Miles Wood - Travis Zajac - John Quenneville
Brian Boyle - Blake Coleman - Stefan Noesen
Mirco Mueller - Sami Vatanen
Andy Greene - Damon Severson
Will Butcher - Eric Gryba
Nashville (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Filip Forsberg - Ryan Johansen - Viktor Arvidsson
Kevin Fiala - Kyle Turris - Craig Smith
Calle Jarnkrok - Nick Bonino - Ryan Hartman
Zac Rinaldo - Colton Sissons - Miikka Salomaki
Roman Josi - Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm - P.K. Subban
Dan Hamhuis - Yannick Weber
MoneyPuck.com win probabilities
Nashville - 53.9%
New Jersey - 46.1%
Puck drop is just after 7:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on MSG+ and FS-TN.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick and Corsica.com.
On Dea, Hischier's strong start, and Boyle's PK usage
On the top line, 2nd pairing, and Zacha's slow start
On lineup decisions when Bratt returns, 5v5 dominance, and Butcher
On Johansson, Butcher, and a clear matchup pairing