Two teams fighting to stay alive in postseason contention go at it tonight at the United Center. The New Jersey Devils (21-27-8, 8th Metropolitan) head to the “Windy City” to take on the Chicago Blackhawks (23-25-9, 7th Central).
Even though both of these teams find themselves in the bottom of their divisions, they are each trending in opposite directions. The Devils are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games, and at 50 points, are three points ahead of Ottawa for the worst record in the league. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are coming off of a seven-game winning streak, which was finally snapped on Tuesday. They are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games, and four points behind the Wild for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
These two clubs have faced off once this year, when the Devils won 8-5 back on January 14th. Chicago is the considerable favorite at home tonight, listed at -170.
A Hellish Season
The Devils were once off to a promising start, beginning the season with four straight wins. Since then, they have won more than two in a row just once, but have had several moderate losing streaks in that same time. Since sitting just one game under .500 on New Year’s Eve, they have gone 6-11-1 to move firmly into last place in the Metropolitan.
Statistically, New Jersey has struggled on both ends. They score an average of 2.88 goals per game, 20th in the NHL. They are also 20th in shots on goal and 19th in shooting percentage. Defensively, the Devils are 28th with 3.41 goals allowed, and 19th in shots allowed. They do, however, boast the league’s fourth-most effective penalty kill.
All-Star Kyle Palmieri leads the team with 24 goals to go along with 42 points. Former first overall pick Nico Hischier is not far behind him with 40 points. But a huge reason for New Jersey’s fall this year has been the absence of Taylor Hall. Last year’s Hart Trophy winner has 37 points, third on the team, despite only appearing in 33 games due to injury. Hall has been out since December 23rd with a lower body injury, and has still yet to resume skating.
Tonight, Cory Schneider is expected to start for the Devils. Injuries have limited Schneider to just 11 games this season, but he has struggled mightily in those appearances. He is 0-6-2 with a 4.12 goals against average and .868 save percentage.
A recent seven-game winning streak, their longest of the season, has brought the Blackhawks to the thick of the playoff hunt. But at one point, this team looked like they were in the thick of the Jack Hughes sweepstakes instead. After earning a point in their first five games, Chicago endured the firing of Joel Quenneville, plus two separate eight-game losing streaks, to fall to 9-18-5 by December 11th. Since then, under interim head coach Jeremy Colliton, they’ve gone 14-7-4, and are back in the race.
Chicago has had no problem scoring goals this season. The Hawks are 10th in the league with 3.23 goals per game, and 10th in shooting percentage. Even though they rank 19th in shots, they also carry the 12th-best power play. But it is fair to wonder how sustainable their recent success is when you consider their porous defense. Even with the winning streak, the Blackhawks are 30th in goals allowed at 3.65, 30th in shots allowed, and dead-last in penalty kill percentage.
The Blackhawks can thank one man for almost single-handedly carrying them back to relevancy. Patrick Kane is in the midst of a career season, leading the team with both 33 goals and 49 assists. His 82 points are tied with Connor McDavid for the second most in the league, just six behind the leader Nikita Kucherov. While Kane has been consistently good all season, the 30-year old has shined during their recent winning streak, putting up 6 goals and 10 assists.
Behind Kane, captain Jonathan Toews is having a strong season with 56 points, followed by Alex DeBrincat and his 54 points. After those three, there’s a fairly steep drop-off, with defenseman Erik Gustafsson coming in next at 36.
The rookie Collin Delia is expected to start in goal tonight for Chicago. The 24-year old, who recently signed a three-year extension with the Blackhawks, is 6-3-3 with a 3.22 GAA and .916 save percentage.
The Blackhawks, based on recent play and the fact they are at home, are the favorite to win. But I think the Devils will steal one on the road tonight. New Jersey is not a good road team at all (7-18-3), but they have a solid enough offensive game to make things difficult for a bad Blackhawks defense. Remember, the score was 8-5 the last time these teams played a month ago. Plus, Schneider has to finally get a win at some point or another. I’ll pick the Devils to win +135.