For the first time in almost a decade, the New Jersey Devils emerged from their Western Canada road trip able to attain points in all three matchups (they went 2-0-1). After having virtually no hope of reentering the playoff race, things have taken an unprecedented turn as the Devils currently sit just five points out of the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey still faces stiff odds, but the recent momentum they’ve accumulated the past few games has given plenty of fans enough reason to hope that things might be looking up after an abysmal showing over the past two months.
After defeating the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, the Minnesota Wild currently sit atop the Western Conference and are one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They’re 5-0-1 in the month of January, and haven’t lost in regulation since their New Year’s Eve clash with the Columbus Blue Jackets, which halted their 12-game winning streak. Since the month of December, the Wild lost just once in regulation, and have won nine out of their last ten contests at home. While the Devils have shown some slight improvement on the road (4-1-2 in their last seven away matchups), it pales in comparison to the Wild’s track record on their home turf, which will be a test for the Devils in itself tonight.
These two teams last met back in October when the Devils bested the Wild 2-1 thanks to Taylor Hall scoring the overtime game-winner. Cory Schneider gets the nod between the pipes, while Kalinin, Gazdic, and Helgeson will be healthy scratches. Both Andy Greene and Vernon Fiddler skated today, however neither will play tonight. Devan Dubnyk will start in goal for the Wild, who has been one of the league’s best goaltenders this season. He’s 14-1-1 since December, and has a league-best 1.78 GAA and .940 save percentage. While the Wild and Devils are neck-in-neck in shots for and against, Minnesota is currently tied for least goals against (90), and is fifth in goals scored (137). Their penalty kill is slightly better than New Jersey’s, which is a huge disadvantage for the Devils who struggle on the power play to begin with.
Who to watch
Taylor Hall…In terms of offensive output, he’s been very streaky this season and appears to be on one of those rolls going into tonight. He has two goals and three points in his last three matchups, and scored the game winner the first time these two teams met.
Travis Zajac…After going 17 games without a goal, Zajac broke that streak last week in New Jersey’s overtime loss to the Oilers. He has one goal and four points in his last five games, and shares the team scoring lead with Taylor Hall. Zajac (like Hall) has had very streaky offensive production this season, and could make an astronomical difference if he continues his recent production spree.
Keys to the game
Physicality…While the Devils are only 18th among NHL teams in hits (924), the Wild are 30th in this category (702). While Minnesota matches up much better against New Jersey in most game-related categories, the Devils have a shot at controlling the game’s momentum if they can step up their physicality tonight.
Continue the shooting streak…New Jersey has been notorious for being severely outshot on a gamely basis and are among the league’s lowest-shooting teams. New Jersey exceeded Calgary and tied Vancouver in shots on goal, which factored largely in their last two victories. It’s going to be a stretch to continue that success against an offensive juggernaut like Minnesota, but will definitely boost New Jersey’s odds in prevailing if they can pull it off.
Where to watch
When to watch