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After winning seven of ten, the Devils snapped back to reality after a brutal 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Wild. With fifteen games remaining, New Jersey is 12 points out of the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Although there were opportunities served on a silver platter that they didn’t capitalize on, you’re just kidding yourself if you think the Devils have more than a slightly remote chance of making the postseason. The Colorado Avalanche also took seven of ten games before suffering a 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings the other night. Colorado has 15 games remaining and are seven points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference. Since their playoff chances are more realistic than New Jersey’s, tonight’s matchup is going to be more meaningful to the Avalanche.
Offense…Despite being among the ten least offensively productive teams this season, Colorado’s offense is the complete opposite of New Jersey’s. They have a proportionate integration of youth and speed up front that’s paying dividends. To give a little perspective, Colorado has five forwards with 40 or more points with Nate MacKinnon needing two more points to reach that marker…Adam Henrique leads the Devils with 35 points. It’s also worth noting the Avalanche have scored at this rate from an average of about 28 shots per game, the 25th-most in the league.
Defense…Their blue liners have accounted for half of the 16 power play goals the Avalanche scored this year, which says a lot about the blue line corps efficiency on the man-advantage, but not so much about their power play as a whole. Tyson Barrie is enjoying another career year and enters tonight’s game with a goal and five points over his last four games. Former first overall pick Erik Johnson has reached a new career-high in goals (12), and combines with Barrie for five power play goals. It’s worth noting that despite the Avalanche having the fourth-most blocked shots in the league, only Nate Guenin is among the top-30 defensemen in that category (18th).
Goaltending…All signs indicate the Devils will face Semyon Varlamov tonight, who bested the Devils in their initial matchup this season. Although he’s barely faced the Devils since breaking into the league, Varlamov has been somewhat of a bit of a nemesis to them, going 3-1-0 in his career, posting a 1.72 GAA and .936 SV%. Varlamov’s play has been on an upswing over the past month, having gone 8-3-0. He’s averaged 2.09 goals against over that span and posted a .926 SV%. He’s only given up two goals in his last three games, having faced 101 shots over that span.
Who to watch
Steve Bernier…His play has come alive lately with six assists over his last four games. Although he hasn’t scored in 11 games, seven of Bernier’s ten goals came on the road this season, and his last goal was about a month ago when the Devils visited Nashville. Since then, nine of the last 11 games Bernier has played in have been home. If anything, Bernier could fly under the radar tonight if Colorado’s defense is distracted by New Jersey’s more formidable offensive threats like Cammalleri, Henrique, and Elias.
Jordin Tootoo…It sounds like a random choice, especially considering he doesn’t have any type of stat correlations to keep an eye on. This is more situational. The Avalanche are an efficient shot-blocking team, but their play down low leaves a lot to be desired. It’s a region on the ice where the Devil’s small speedy forwards have thrived. Just as is the case with Bernier, while the Avalanche will be primarily preoccupied with players like Cammalleri around their net, Tootoo could wind up unexpectedly cashing in.
What to watch
A mirror image…Special team-wise, the Avalanche are neck-in-neck with Minnesota, who gave the Devils their 6-2 beat down on Tuesday. That is a strong penalty kill and inconsistent power play. This combination clearly did not work in the Devil’s favor on Tuesday and considering they’re coming up against a younger, faster, and offensively deeper Avalanche team than the Wild are (most of Colorado’s core forwards being homegrown I might add), we could see a lot of five-on-five action and possibly more if the Devils suffer the various breakdowns we saw on Tuesday.
The turnover rate…The Avalanche are actually a very opportunistic team, which has contributed strongly to their offensive output. They rank fifth in the league in takeaways and have the sixth-least giveaways amongst team, a lethal combination of stats that don’t appear directly on the score sheet but are certainly reflected. This could work against the Devils, a team that’s had trouble breaking out of their own zone throughout the season, and gives them another reason to play a tight defensively responsible game tonight.
Where to watch
When to watch