Today’s NHL Prediction features the first rematch from last year’s Eastern Conference Semi-Final between the New Jersey Devils and the Carolina Hurricanes. The Devils (24-18-3), are coming off of what might be their biggest win of the season – a 6-5 OT win against the Vegas Golden Knights. After blowing a 3-1 lead to go down 5-3, goals from Tyler Toffoli and Curtis Lazar rescued the game.
Tonight marks the first meeting of the season between New Jersey and Carolina. The rivalry between the two clubs was reignited last spring in the playoffs. The Hurricanes took down the Devils in five games; clinching the series on a Jesper Fast OT winner. Turning to the 2023-24 season, this time playoff positioning is on the line. The Devils will look to keep the vibes high as they travel down to Raleigh, North Carolina for tonight’s matchup.
NHL Predictions: New Jersey vs. Carolina
Three Keys to Victory for New Jersey
Calling the Devils “Road Warriors” may be premature, but in comparison to their home record, they may as well be undefeated. At 14-7-1, the Devils have the second-best road record in the Eastern Conference behind only the Florida Panthers. For comparison, the Devils have one of the worst home records in the East at 10-11-2. In 22 road games this season the Devils have a +9 goal differential, per StatMuse. Meanwhile, at home, their goal differential is -11. Where the Devils also find more success on the road than at home is on the power play. Their PP, which is currently ranked fifth in the NHL, is firing at a 31.8% clip. While at home it’s a middling 21.4%. The biggest obstacle against the Hurricanes is their strong home record. Their 13-5-4 home record is amongst the top in the East and they have a +11 goal differential themselves. The Devils have been able to simplify their game which has led to their road success, and against the stingy Hurricanes, they’ll need to do just that.
Toffoli Time Again?
After going silent for nearly a month, Tyler Toffoli has made a resurgence. After a six-game goalless streak, Toffoli scored a meaningless goal late in a 6-2 defeat to the Dallas Stars. However, the goal now seems more meaningful than it did at that moment. Toffoli is a notoriously streaky goal scorer, and his garbage time goal looks to have kickstarted something. In their previous game against Vegas, the Devils road a Tyler Toffoli hat trick to an OT victory. He now leads the team in goals (20) and has crept his way to third in the team in points (33). Fans were rightfully upset with his lack of production, especially given the injuries to key forwards. But if his scoring touch can return, then the Devils have a fighting chance with players still out. The Hurricanes are one of the best defensive teams, particularly at home, so Toffoli will need to make the most of his shot attempts.
Be The Best Worst Goalie
Stop if you’ve heard this before – the Devils have bad goaltending. It’s nothing new. However, one of the unicorn occasions is occurring where the Devils will be playing a team with almost equally bad goaltending. The teams are almost mirror images of each other. Both teams are being anchored down by poor goalie play. Vitek Vanecek still sits near the bottom of the NHL with a -13.2 GSAx. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have their own bottom-dweller in Antti Raanta, who has a -12.4 GSAx. Also, both teams are being propped up by young goalies playing bigger roles than intended. For the Devils, it’s Nico Daws, who has a 0.6 GSAx. Not great but not a negative. And for the Hurricanes, they have Pyotr Kochetkov, who has a -4.6 GSAx, but a 2.58 GAA. Neither team is in a great spot in the net, and it may come down to which goalie makes the last mistake.
The Devils have been a bad place for a little while now. Every time they get a big win they tend to disappoint the next night. The Hurricanes have started to find life, and have a 7-2-1 record in their last 10. In theory, the Devils should come in the more hungry and desperate of the two teams. Unfortunately, they’re icing a borderline AHL defence-core, and are still missing pieces. Two points would go a long way in getting the Devils back on track, but the Hurricanes pose too big of a problem for them.
Prediction: Hurricanes win 4-1
Main Photo: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports