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Tonight’s matchup against the Minnesota Wild marks the beginning of New Jersey’s final road trip outside the conference. Currently occupying the first wildcard slot in the west, the Wild were six points out of the playoffs two months ago, so it goes without saying much has since changed for the state of hockey’s team. In their first matchup this season, a 3-1 victory, New Jersey faced a different Wild team that was without Devan Dubnyk between the pipes and Zach Parise in their lineup. This is New Jersey’s only visit to Minnesota this season, and if they’re taking their dwindling playoff aspirations seriously, nothing less than a win is acceptable.
Offense…The Wild scored ten times in four games this March. Although Zach Parise has 12 goals since mid-January, his offense has been scarce as of late with one goal scored in his last seven games. Thomas Vanek has also struggled in that category, scoring just twice in his last ten games. Nino Niederreiter is the Wild’s second leading goal scorer with 21 on the season. Although he has five goals in his last ten, he continues to exhibit stretches of streakiness and hasn’t scored in four games. Minnesota’s 28th-ranked power play hasn’t converted in seven games, but their penalty kill (second in the league), should create a contusive scenario for five-on-five scoring. In four games, recent acquisition Chris Stewart has a goal and two points in four games, while Sean Bergenheim, though pointless, has nine hits and four takeaways in six games.
Defense…Like the Devils, Minnesota’s defense is largely comprised of players under 25. Although Ryan Suter (30) and Nate Prosser (28) have played the most contests this year, Minnesota’s five defensemen 25 or younger have combined for 25 goals and 71 points, compared to the 15 goals and 59 points the four defensemen New Jersey has in this age category. While Minnesota’s young defensemen are more experienced than New Jersey’s, their blue line starts and ends with Ryan Suter, who the Devils will see a lot of tonight as he’s averaging 29 minutes a night this season. Although he has one point in his last ten games, his presence indisputably gives Minnesota the edge when matching up the defenses of both teams.
Goaltending…Some have argued his performance is worthy of Vezina consideration, especially considering how Devan Dubnyk’s arrival to Minnesota prompted the team’s surge up the standings. Currently 18-4-1 in 24 appearances with the Wild, Dubnyk has six shutouts, a 1.66 GAA and .937 SV% since leaving Arizona. Having said that, this will be just the second time the 28-year old has faced New Jersey in his career. When further dissecting Dubnyk’s numbers, the bulk of his losses on the season have occurred at home (12-6-1), which doesn’t say much when taking his overall record into consideration; just that the Devils have a slightly better chance of besting Dubnyk based on those numbers. He’s also gone 7-3 in his last ten home starts.
Who to watch
Jason Pominville…Simply put, Pommer has the best track record among the Wild’s top scorers against the Devils with ten goals and 19 points in 29 games on his career. Although Pominville’s production has been on an upswing with three goals in his last five contests, he’s only scored once in his last ten home games. Considering these circumstances going into tonight, Pominville may be looked upon to jumpstart his team’s offense.
Adam Henrique…Don’t keep an eye on him solely based on his two-goal performance last game, or because he’s averaged a point per game (3 assists, 3 games) on his career against the Wild. Henrique scored 11 goals over his final 18 games of last season, and it was around this time when he was going through that scoring surge. His performance tonight could be indicative of a correlative trend that’s potentially developing in Henrique’s play at this stage of the season. While like last year, it might be too little too late to significantly bolster the Devil’s playoff chances, it’ll be encouraging to see Henrique remind us of his offensive capabilities after a relatively shaky season production-wise.
What to watch
The seven defensemen approach…Since creating room in the lineup to accommodate Damon Severson’s return to the lineup, the coaching staff has used 11 forwards and 7 defensemen the past three games, during which they’ve gone 2-1-0. Average scoring has been above three goals a game, and while this isn’t an unfamiliar tactic the Devils have utilized in the past, it’s had mixed results. While Peter Harrold will probably be designated as the twelfth forward at some points, four of the ten goals New Jersey scored over these three games have come from defensemen, something definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Five-on-five play…We have two squads that are polar opposites on special teams. Of Minnesota’s 186 goals scored this season, only ten have come on the power play. Although 36 of the Devil’s whopping 151 goals scored this season came on the man advantage, Minnesota’s penalty kill will be a formidable obstacle for New Jersey’s power play squad tonight. Disturbingly enough, the Devils have scored only 90 goals at even strength this season. Although they bested Minnesota in their previous match, the Devil’s struggles to score five-on-five have persistently haunted them all season as they prepare to face a much more improved Minnesota squad than what they were earlier this season, which is offensively thriving at even strength.
Where to watch
Fox Sports- Wisconsin
Fox Sports- North
When to watch