Follow me on Twitter @ToddCordell
Here are five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Toronto Maple Leafs:
1. High-event hockey
These teams have already squared off once this season and, by all accounts, it was a barnburner. The two sides combined for nine goals and 66 chances in a 5-4 overtime thriller, which ended in rather unfortunate fashion for the Devils.
I think tonight’s game has potentially to be similarly wild. The Devils have played with more life offensively since the coaching change was made while, for the most part, defense continues to be an issue. That lends itself to a lot of action, and throwing the Leafs into the mix will add fuel to the fire.
We all know about their weapons offensively. We also know about their defensive shortcomings. With Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin sidelined, they’re even more susceptible to breakdowns. I’m expecting fireworks.
2. Stuck in a rut
Frederik Andersen is an above average goaltender. He has been for a long time. He’s not playing like one right now, though. His game has fallen off a cliff since a lights out November.
From December 1st onward, Andersen owns a .907 save percentage and has saved -4.78 goals above average at 5v5. Both rank him bottom-3 among 23 eligible goaltenders (500+ minutes).
Expected goals suggest Andersen should have allowed 26 in that span. He’s allowed 36, and only Jonathan Quick has given up goals from a further distance on average (29.64 feet vs 26.11). Put another way, Andersen isn’t just being beaten by quality chances. He’s giving up questionable goals from a distance.
He’s clearly off his game right now so the Devils need to test him every chance they get.
3. Chance machines
Three of the NHL’s top-10 (5v5) chance generators over the last 20 games will be sharing the ice tonight. John Tavares (1st) and Auston Matthews (4th) represent the Maple Leafs at the top of the leaderboard while Blake Coleman (t-9th) also finds himself keeping elite company. We know Tavares and Matthews are going to get their looks. They always do. With the way Coleman is playing right now, and the state of the Leafs’ defense, I expect him to be at the forefront of the action as well.
4. An exploitable pairing
None of Toronto’s defensive duos look overly scary. Travis Dermott and Justin Holl actually have pretty solid numbers together, though. The one I think could really be exploited is Martin Marincin - Tyson Barrie. The former is, ahem, extremely limited with the puck and the latter is often a disaster without it. They should see a lot of the Devils’ middle-6 and I think that group can cause them some problems.
5. Don’t poke the bear
Toronto’s power play is flatout scary. They could have one goal on the man advantage all season and I’d still be terrified of facing a top unit featuring Tavares, Matthews, Barrie, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. The good news is, for whatever reason, Toronto doesn’t get power plays.
Only Dallas spent less time on the man advantage a season ago. Only New York (I) has spent less time on the man advantage this season. In aggregate, they rank 31st in PP time since the beginning of 2018-20.
For the love of all that is right in the world, Miles Wood (and Blake Coleman), don’t make the Devils the *one* team that gives Toronto power plays. They'll pay for it.
Here are the projected lineups:
Pavel Zacha - Nico Hischier - Jesper Bratt
Blake Coleman - Travis Zajac - Nikita Gusev
Miles Wood - Jack Hughes - Wayne Simmonds
Jesper Boqvist - Kevin Rooney - John Hayden
Andy Greene - P.K. Subban
Sami Vatanen - Damon Severson
Will Butcher - Connor Carrick
Toronto (via DailyFaceoff.com)
Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
William Nylander - John Tavares - Alex Kerfoot
Andreas Johnsson - Pierre Engvall - Kasperi Kapanen
Frederik Gauthier - Adam Brooks - Jason Spezza
Travis Dermott - Justin Holl
Martin Marincin - Tyson Barrie
Rasmus Sandin - Cody Ceci
Puck drop is just after 7:00 p.m. eastern on MSG+, SNO, and TVAS.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com
My take on the firing of Ray Shero
Midseason Calder Trophy picks
Midseason Vezina Trophy picks
Midseason Norris Trophy picks
Midseason Hart Trophy picks
New Jersey’s three stars of the month for December
Taking a closer look at the Hall trade
Report: Miles Wood is on the trade block