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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Edmonton Oilers:
1. Another stiff test
Though Calgary's top line was not playing its best hockey heading into last night's game, they are one of the league's better trios. It showed when – led by a six-point effort from Johnny Gaudreau – they absolutely carved up the Devils from start to finish.
It doesn't get any easier for the Devils tonight when they draw Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in an environment where they can't control matchups.
Dating back to the beginning of 2017-18, the Oilers generate 32.38 chances and 3.93 goals per 60 with that duo on the ice.
For perspective, here's a look at how some of the league's best trios have fared this year in those same two categories:
Gabriel Landeskog/Nathan MacKinnon/Mikko Rantanen – 30.29 chances, 3.28 goals per 60
Brad Marchand/Patrice Bergeron/David Pastrnak – 28.69 chances, 3.55 goals per 60
Tyler Johnson/Brayden Point/Nikita Kucherov – 27.32 chances, 4.05 goals per 60
Okay, you get the point. McDavid and Draisaitl are really damn good and tonight they draw a banged up, tired Devils team. If they don't dial it back in and work their asses off in effort to play defensive-minded, low-event hockey they're going to get cooked by a top line yet again.
2. A clean showing in goal
In order for the Devils to win – or come close to winning – a game these days, they need excellent goaltending. Not good goaltending, excellent goaltending. Cory Schneider has provided that of late, posting a .934 save percentage over his last eight appearances. He's probably going to need numbers in that ballpark tonight if the Devils are going to have a shot.
3. There will be breakdowns
The Devils may not have the talent necessary to finish consistently when they get them, but chances should be there tonight. Over the last 10 games, only Ottawa, Chicago and New York (Islanders) have given up more high-danger looks at 5v5 than the Oilers. This is not a traditional, lock-down defense we see from Ken Hitchcock teams. There will be breakdowns – the Devils just need to capitalize.
4. Shoot the puck
Michael McLeod is a pass-first player. Always has, always will be. That's completely fine. With that said, there's a difference between being a pass-first player and a pass-only player. Right now, McLeod is the latter. He has recorded five shots on goal through nine games. Three of them came in one game against Columbus. In other words, he has taken one shot or fewer in eight of nine appearances. I'd like to see a little more aggressiveness with the puck on his stick. It's not like the Devils are loaded with finishers and stars. He shouldn't feel the need to defer to anybody else.
5. Defend the crease
McDavid, Draisaitl, and RNH aside, the Oilers don't have any forwards in their lineup who can make skill plays, create for others, or score from a distance. It's a bunch of simple, north-south players who have to go to the net to make anything happen. There isn't going to be any trickery. That's why there is absolutely no excuse for the Devils to follow up last night's disastrous net-front performance (see below) in this one. Mark your man, stick with him and don't let the slot turn into a shooting gallery again.
Here are the projected lineups.
New Jersey Devils
Blake Coleman - Travis Zajac - Kyle Palmieri
Kenny Agostino - Kevin Rooney - Drew Stafford
Eric Tangradi - Michael McLeod - Joey Anderson
Stefan Noesen - Blake Pietila - Nick Lappin
Andy Greene - Damon Severson
Will Butcher - Connor Carrick
Egor Yakovlev - Steven Santini
Edmonton (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Leon Draisaitl - Connor McDavid - Zack Kassian
Milan Lucic - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Sam Gagner
Tobias Rieder - Colby Cave - Alex Chiasson
Brad Malone - Kyle Brodziak - Ty Rattie
Oscar Klefbom - Adam Larsson
Darnell Nurse - Kris Russell
Andrej Sekera - Matt Benning
Puck drop is just after 9:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on SN1 and NBCSN.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com
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