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Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks’ Eye On The Enemy: New Jersey Still In The Hunt

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NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 21: New Jersey Devils defenseman John Moore (2) celebrates with teammates after scoring during the first period of the National Hockey League game between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers on December 21, 2017, at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 21: New Jersey Devils defenseman John Moore (2) celebrates with teammates after scoring during the first period of the National Hockey League game between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers on December 21, 2017, at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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It’s almost inexplicable that the New Jersey Devils are still a postseason contender in late December, but they host the Chicago Blackhawks tonight as the No. 2 team in the Metropolitan Division

If the Vegas Golden Knights were not a team this season, the New Jersey Devils would be the talk of the NHL. I fully believe that. There’s very little reason the Devils should be good this season. Yet there they are, second in the tough Metropolitan Division entering tonight’s game with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks are coming off a 4-0 loss to the Dallas Stars on Thursday, which was preceded by a five-game winning streak. The Devils, meanwhile, have won three in a row to plant themselves a point behind Washington with two games in hand. So this one matters to both parties.

These teams met up on Nov. 12, a particularly silly Sunday game in which the Devils dropped seven on the Blackhawks and still won just 7-5. Miles Wood, who I’m still not sure is an NHL player, tallied a hat trick in that game. It was easily Corey Crawford‘s worst outing of the season.

So, there’s little doubt he’s going to be motivated for this one. Hopefully his teammates feel the same after being worked over by the Stars on Thursday — and knowing they have a four-day break after this game.

But we talk about the Blackhawks plenty here. Let’s instead look at the New Jersey Devils as part of our Eye on the Enemy series.

Looking at the Devils

New Jersey has made a habit of scoring a lot recently. During its three-game streak, it has tallied 14 goals against the New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars. Not exactly the worst group, so the Blackhawks have to take the Devils’ offense seriously.

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Taylor Hall is easily the biggest offensive threat here, with 32 points in as many games. He has produced 11 powerplay points, and while New Jersey’s powerplay ranks just 13th in the league, it’d be ill-advised to leave Hall, Will Butcher (12 powerplay points) or Jesper Bratt (10) open while down a man.

Bratt is second on the team in total points with 23, while former top draft pick Nico Hischier and rookie defensive standout Butcher are at 21 apiece. The Devils thrive on offensive balance beyond Hall, keying an attack that averages 3.21 goals per tilt.

The New Jersey defense is still getting used to the addition of Sami Vatanen, who was acquired from Anaheim for Adam Henrique in late November. Vatanen was a very solid blueliner in Anaheim, but the adjustment to New Jersey has been tough. Despite seeing 50.4 of his shifts start in the offensive end, versus the 41.9 percent he saw in Anaheim this season, Vatanen has one point and a minus-5 rating.

Butcher is the standout of this odd defense, though team captain Andy Greene is also solid. It gets a little wonky after those two and Vatanen. I had no idea Mirco Mueller was here until I looked at their roster.

Cory Schneider is a known item in net for the Devils; Michael Frolik destroyed the man’s groin in 2011. He’s always been a workman goalie, but I’ll guess the Devils carrying a lowly 47.27 Corsi-for rating at evens has contributed to his pedestrian .919/2.61 slashline.

How to beat the Devils

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Well, if you looked at everything beyond the final score, you’d believe it likely the Blackhawks had defeated the Devils in these teams’ first meeting of the season. Five goals while controlling even-strength play at a 60 percent rate? Sign me up for that.

And yet the Blackhawks lost. Part of this was due to a very un-Crawford like performance from Crow in net. That would be the exception more than the norm, so that should help this time, right off the bat.

The Blackhawks need to make sure they don’t overreact to Woods’ output in the earlier game. He’s a third-liner who produced a fifth of his season’s points in that game. Weird things happen in hockey.

What the Blackhawks need to do is continue focusing on possession. Clearly that worked out as far as scoring goals in the previous meeting. Another five-goal outing will almost definitely produce a win, even as the Devils have clicked of late on offense.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks need to pay special attention to the top line of Hall, Hischier and Kyle Palmieri. That’s a trio that will obliterate you if you give it the time of day. If I was a betting man (and I am), I’d say Devils coach John Hynes will try to match that threesome against Brent Seabrook all night long.

So Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville will need to be very aware of quick changes made by Hynes. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks will need to cash in on as many chances as possible. They were extremely active at the net last time against the Devils. More of that should go a long way toward blunting New Jersey’s response.

Next: 5 Thoughts On Blackhawks' 4-0 Loss To Dallas

We’ll be live tweeting tonight’s contest from the @Blackhawk_Up account, so be sure to tune in there for analysis. And be sure to come back to the site tonight for a postgame recap.

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