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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Los Angeles Kings
1. A bounce-back effort from Taylor Hall
Hall's performance against the Lightning legitimately warranted a benching. He posted a 13.13 Corsi For% (worst as a member of the Devils), made a couple key mistakes defensively, and could not create anything happen with the puck on his stick. It was just one of those nights. Hall fully acknowledged that in his post-game press conference. The thing about great players like Hall is they rarely have bad games. When they do, they almost always follow it up with good ones. Hall is an elite talent and as driven as anyone. You can bet he'll come out with some extra pep in his step tonight.
While a head-to-head matchup with Anze Kopitar is hardly mouthwatering, the latter has not been himself this year owning a 47.78 CF% and 47.71 SCF% to date. This is the first time since 2007-08 either number has dipped below 50% so he's a little more vulnerable than in years past. We'll see if Hall can take advantage.
2. A pace-down game
The Devils play a very eventful style of hockey. They're top-10 in total Corsi/60 (for + against) and sit 3rd in total Expected Goals/60. They may struggle finishing chances but they usually generate quite a few and aren't exactly stout at the other end. Los Angeles is the exact opposite. They play a very slow, groggy, uneventful game ranking 30th in total Expected Goals/60. They don't generate much offense and there aren't many defensive breakdowns. Their style really hasn't changed much from the Cup years. They just don't have the personnel to come out on top as often as they used to.
If New Jersey can push the pace, I think it'll favor them greatly. Unfortunately, that may be tough to do on the road without the ability to control matchups.
3. Abysmal power plays
To say New Jersey's has gone cold would be an understatement. They have converted twice in nearly 65 minutes of work over the last 14 games. Put another way, 30 of their last 32.5 power plays were unsuccessful. And yet the Devils (somehow) might be the better team on the man advantage in this game.
The Kings have scored just 11 times on the PP through 28 games. They rank 30th in goals, 30th in goals/60, and 28th in expected goals/60. They are awful. Making matters worse is the fact they're currently without the services of Ilya Kovalchuk, who is tied for 2nd on the team in PP points.
I wouldn't expect much from the power plays in this one.
4. Jesper Bratt's return
Bratt ranks 2nd on the Devils in 5v5 points, 1st in on-ice Corsi For/60, and 1st in on-ice Scoring Chances For/60 since making his season debut. He has been a big-time spark plug and injected some life into a 2nd line that desperately needed it. Getting him back in the lineup will provide a huge boost.
5. Will Butcher's usage
Over the last seven games – arbitrary cutoff, I know – Butcher owns a 62.5 CF%, 76.79 SCF%, and 85.71 GF% (+6/-1) at 5v5. Despite this, he ranks 5th among Devils defenders in time on ice per game during this stretch. With the defense struggling – and Butcher clearly one of the most talented blueliners on the roster – it might be smart to give him a little more ice. Even if he's not as sheltered, it's worth taking a chance.
Here are the projected lineups.
New Jersey Devils
Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri
Marcus Johansson - Pavel Zacha - Jesper Bratt
Miles Wood - Travis Zajac - Blake Coleman
Brian Boyle - Brett Seney - Stefan Noesen
Andy Greene - Damon Severson
Mirco Mueller - Sami Vatanen
Will Butcher - Ben Lovejoy
Los Angeles (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Alex Iaffalo - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown
Kyle Clifford - Jeff Carter - Tyler Toffoli
Austin Wagner - Adrian Kempe - Matt Luff
Brendan Leipsec - Nate Thompson - Mike Amadio
Derek Forbort - Drew Doughty
Jake Muzzin - Alec Martinez
Dion Phaneuf - Oscar Fatenberg
Puck drop is just after 10:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on MSG+ and FS-W.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey
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