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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Toronto Maple Leafs:
1. Keith Kinkaid's struggles
Since November 22nd, 44 goaltenders have spent at least 500 minutes manning the crease. Kinkaid ranks dead last in both save percentage (.876) and goals saved above average (-13.34). The only thing Kinkaid blocks these days is Devils fans on Twitter.
Tonight he gets to go up against a Maple Leafs team that ranks top-5 in shot attempts/60, chances/60, and goals/60 at 5v5. This despite spending extended periods without Auston Matthews and/or William Nylander. They're lethal offensively and they should have no problem generating looks consistently against the Devils. Assuming that's the case, Kinkaid will have to take his game up 500 notches for them to have any chance of coming out on top.
2. The wrong side of regression
William Nylander has been dumped on for his lack of production since returning to the lineup. While it is fair to expect more from Nylander given his lucrative contract, the disappointing point totals are related more so to a string of bad luck than poor play. At 5v5, he leads the Leafs averaging 16.9 shot attempts/60. He sits 2nd – behind only John Tavares – in scoring chances piling up 10.48/60. The percentages simply aren't working in his favor. That's going to change sooner than later. Combine poor defensive play with Kinkaid's struggles and tonight could be the night.
3. Discipline is imperative
Toronto averages 114.36 attempts/60 and 10.18 expected goals/60 on the man advantage. Both totals have them sitting in 1st comfortably. Much like Nylander, the production isn't there right now, however, that's bound to change if they keep piling up shots and chances at such an impressive rate. New Jersey's penalty kill is very good but it'd be best not to test fate too often tonight. If they play with fire, they're going to get burned.
4. Blake Coleman is heating up
Over the last five games, Coleman ranks 1st on the Devils in chances (13), shots (15), and attempts (23) at 5v5. He's been perhaps the best offensive player on the team. With Taylor Hall and Marcus Johansson out of the lineup, they need some of the middle-6 guys to step up and produce. Coleman is doing that. He's one of the only bright spots on the Devils right now.
5. High-event hockey
The Devils haven't played quite as fast without Hall and Johansson but they still rank 3rd in xG pace. Their opponent tonight is right behind them sitting 4th.
If you like high-event hockey with lots of chances, this should be the game for you. Given the goaltending matchup (Kinkaid vs Michael Hutchinson), there's reason to believe those chances could result in plenty of goals.
Here are the projected lineups.
New Jersey Devils
Jesper Bratt - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri
Miles Wood - Travis Zajac - Blake Coleman
Blake Pietila - Pavel Zacha - Stefan Noesen
Brian Boyle - Brett Seney - Drew Stafford
Andy Greene - Damon Severson
Steven Santini - Sami Vatanen
Will Butcher - Ben Lovejoy
Toronto (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Andreas Johnsson - Auston Matthews - Kasperi Kapanen
Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - William Nylander
Par Lindholm - Fredrick Gauthier - Connor Brown
Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev
Travis Dermott - Igor Ozhiganov
Puck drop is just after 7:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on MSG and TSN4.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey
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