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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Tampa Bay Lightning:
1. Tampa's top line
The Lightning have reunited one of last year's trade deadline additions, J.T. Miller, with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov on the top line, which is bad news for the Devils.
They have been absolutely dominant together generating nearly 70 shot attempts and 35 scoring chances per 60 minutes.
For perspective, Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri have been on for ~62 shot attempts and ~29 scoring chances per 60 dating back to last season and we know how good they are.
New Jersey has done a good job of limiting the damage of opposing team's top lines thus far but it'll be very tough to bottle up this trio.
2. Special teams
The Devils' special teams play has been very good this season. Their power play – well, the top unit anyway – has been good and their penalty kill even better. They've won the special teams battle more often than not as a result (they're +4 through eight games). That'll probably need to be the case if they're going to pick up another win tonight as the Lightning lead the league allowing just 1.89 expected goals per 60 at 5v5. Even without Victor Hedman, it's pretty tough to generate much against them and I don't see the Devils being the team to buck the trend considering the lack of firepower beyond the top line.
3. 3rd pair struggles
Will Butcher works well with a lot of different players. Early returns suggest Eric Gryba is not one of them. In their limited time together, the Devils have been out-attempted 24-11 (31.43 CF%) and out-chanced 12-8 (40 SCF%). Don't be surprised if they run into some trouble against a very deep Lightning forward group.
4. Attacking on the PK
Through 10 games the Lightning have allowed two short-handed goals. They rank 29th in expected goals against/60 and 30th in raw xGA. In other words, it's not a fluke teams have been able to generate some opportunities against them while down a man. The Devils are not conservative on the PK – it feels like Blake Coleman generates a Grade A chance every night – so don't be surprised if they are able to create a couple good looks.
5. Pavel Zacha's shooting
There was a lot of talk heading into the season about how Zacha worked on his shot and wanted to be more of a shooter/scorer this year. That hasn't been the case at all.
He hasn't found the back of the net and his rate stats are not at all better than a year ago. In 2017-18, he averaged 10.83 shot attempts and 6.28 shots/60. This season he has averaged 11.03 shot attempts and 5.19 shots/60.
I'd like to see him put more pucks on net, especially playing alongside a plus playmaker like Marcus Johansson. The latter will create opportunities.
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 - Blake Coleman
Brian Boyle - Kevin Rooney - Stefan Noesen
Mirco Mueller - Sami Vatanen
Andy Greene - Damon Severson
Will Butcher - Eric Gryba
Tampa Bay (via DailyFaceoff.com)
J.T. Miller - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Yanni Gourde - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Mathieu Joseph
Adam Erne - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan
Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev
Slater Koekkek - Dan Girardi
Puck drop is just after 7:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on MSG+ and SUN.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey.
On limiting high-danger chances, the bottom-9 holding its own, and Hischier's penalty drawing skills
On Johansson, Severson, and 5v5 play
On Dea, Hischier's strong start, and Boyle's PK usage