While surging in the Western Conference certainly means a bit more than surging in the Eastern Conference, both the Chicago Blackhawks and the New Jersey Devils have been playing very good hockey lately, if not all season. A win before the NHL mandated, Christmas Break, will do wonders for both teams.[table “31” not found /]
While the Blackhawks are towards the top in most categories, the Devils are right there with them, in several categories. Somehow the Devils have had a hard time consitently getting the puck in net, which is shocking considering how high their Corsi For percentage is. The Devils don’t allow many goals, which is also a product of the high Corsi For, and have excellent overall special teams units. The Blackhawks win far more faceoffs than the Devils do, which could be a huge factor, in tonights game, with two teams that excel at controlling the puck. The Hawks have a huge advantage offensively, as they by far and away lead the league in Goals For Per Game.
The Devils were expected to struggle this season, after the sudden retirement of Ilya Kovalchuck, but New Jersey has played good hockey, and are finally starting together results. New Jersey is currently sitting in 3rd place, in the Metropolitan Division, and are 4-4-1, in their last 10 games, but their performances have still been superior to their results. They are very much within the playoff picture, in the Metro, and if their luck turns around a bit, they should be sitting even prettier.
With the unexpected loss of Kovalchuck, the Devils have been relying on well-seasoned veterans Jaromir Jagr and Patrick Elias to shoulder the offensive load. Jagr is getting lots of attention because he is likely playing his final season, and he is putting up big numbers, as he climbs several all-time NHL statistical ranks. Defenseman, Andy Greene has also been a big offensive threat, this season.
In net, Corey Schneider was supposed to take over the starting job, but injuries and a slow start have yielded more starts to long-time Devil, and arguably the greatest goaltender to ever play, Martin Brodeur. Both have played well, this season, with Schneider playing slightly better than the veteran, Brodeur.
The Blackhawks have been leading the league pretty much all season, but their recent 5-3-2 stretch is a little below where they are used to being, not exactly dire straits, which the fact that it’s looked at as a colder than normal streak pretty much tells the story for how great the Hawks have been, this season. The Hawks are still leading the highly competitive Central Division, but the St. Louis Blues aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. After the shootout loss to Vancouver, on Friday, a win, going into the Christmas Break would be huge, to reverse any troubling trends.
Patrick Kane is having his best season, to date, as he is 2nd in the NHL in points scored, even with different linemates, on a nightly basis. The other Patrick, Patrick Sharp also continues to have a career-year. Jonathan Toews always brings his all-world, two-way style of hockey, as he continues to put up high-level points. Duncan Keith is ahead of most forwards, in points scored, this season, and has puck stealing, and puck moving abilities, that are other-worldly. In net, Antti Raanta has played well, in his rookie season that wasn’t supposed to happen, as he was the 3rd goaltender, on the depth chart, on opening night.
A win before any break, is ideal because it prevents a single loss or losing streak from lingering longer than normal. A win also lingers longer than normal, going into a break, and can increase confidence, which can go a long ways, in the NHL, and result in many more wins. Tonight should be a great game!