Welcome back to another edition of NHL Predictions. Today’s matchup features the second meeting of the season between the New Jersey Devils and the Calgary Flames. These two teams first met on December 9, where the Devils went on to win 4-2.
The Devils (25-20-3) enter tonight off the backs of a thrilling 5-3 win against the Colorado Avalanche. Meanwhile, the Flames (23-22-5) recently pulled off a 4-1 upset over the Boston Bruins. In their last game, the Devils just eked out a win after blowing a 3-1 lead in the third period. They now look to build off a big win and gain some momentum in the final stretch of the season.
NHL Predictions: New Jersey vs. Calgary
Three Keys to Victory for New Jersey
For all the bad we’ve seen of Vitek Vanecek this season, last night was not one of those performances. Against one of the league’s top offenses, Vanecek made 35 high-quality saves. His 0.24 GSAx doesn’t tell the full story. He made a few point-blank saves on Nathan MacKinnon, and one in particular on Mikko Rantanen late in the game. The first two goals he gave up were mainly a product of poor defensive play, while the third was one he’d probably like to have back after being beaten low glove side. Entering tonight, Vanecek should look to carry all positive momentum against a Flames team he already beat this season. In the first meeting, Vanecek stopped 23/25, posting a 0.920 SV%. For the Devils to go on a run, it starts in the net, with Vanecek in particular.
Return Of The Jack?
After missing the last 11 games with an upper-body injury, Jack Hughes‘s return is imminent. He recently returned to practice in a non-contact jersey, before quickly switching to a full participant the next day. With one more practice under his belt, Hughes looks ready to return to action. Stating the obvious, but the Devils need him back. In the 16 games he’s missed this year they have a 6-9-1 record. In what’s been an injury-riddled season, Hughes still sits second on the team in points (45) and assists (30). Where the team misses him in particular is on the power play. With Jack Hughes in the lineup, the Devils power play clicks at 29.6% rate, compared to just 15.6% without him. Other than the offence he provides, Hughes will also give the Devils some much-needed depth, particularly at the centre position. A Hughes return couldn’t come at a better time as the team looks to generate momentum.
Revenge For Former Devils
Just two nights removed from welcoming Miles Wood back to the Prudential Center, tonight marks Yegor Sharangovich’s first trip back. The former fifth-round pick had an overall successful three-year stint with the Devils, scoring 106 points in 205 games. However, he’s been a revelation since going to Calgary. Sharangovich is third on the team in points (35) and is tied for first on the team in goals (20), with you guessed it, former Devil Blake Coleman. Both players are having tremendous seasons and have carved out top-six roles with Calgary. Sharangovich already had the pleasure of scoring in the first meeting with the Devils, while Coleman looks to score his first versus his former team. The Devils were able to keep Wood off the scoresheet the other night, hopefully, they’ll be able to do the same with Sharangovich and Coleman.
Both teams enter tonight off of massive upset wins. Much of the Devils hopes of winning come with blind faith that Vanecek can stay hot, and Hughes is playing at full health. If both those prove to be true then the Devils should like their chances. However, this season has shown that Vanecek can’t stay consistent, and in Hughes’s first stint back from injury he didn’t look right. Meanwhile, the Flames themselves have struggled for consistent results all season long, and are in the midst of a metropolitan area road trip. Like the first game, it should be a pretty tight contest, likely decided by one goal.
Prediction: Devils Win 3-2
Main Photo: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports