Two teams enjoying somewhat unexpected levels of success this season meet on Sunday as the Winnipeg Jets travel to Prudential Centre to face the New Jersey Devils.
New Jersey have missed the playoffs for four seasons straight and in nine of the past ten years, but their long re-build period has finally come to fruition with them sitting second in the Metropolitan Division with an impressive 36-14-5 record.
Following four years of making the playoffs consecutively, the Jets fell out last season after long-time head coach Paul Maurice walked away mid-campaign, citing the team's need for a new voice.
That has come in the form of experienced Rick Bowness who has led them to second in the Central Division with a 34-20-1 record which has them just three points off Dallas Stars in first.
|What||Winnipeg Jets @ New Jersey Devils|
|Where||T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas|
|When||7pm ET, Sunday February 19th|
|How to watch||NHL.com, MSGSN, TSN3|
|Odds||WIN Jets +110, NJ Devils -130|
The Devils' resurgence under experienced coach Lindy Ruff has been led by three 20-plus year olds in Captain Nico Hischier (23 goals, 28 assists), Jesper Bratt (22 goals, 32 assists) and the most explosive of all, Jack Hughes (35 goals, 34 assists).
The trio have been a major factor in New Jersey averaging a league sixth best 3.46 goals per game and being 10/1 contenders to win the Stanley Cup, which would be their first since 2003.
Defenseman Dougie Hamilton has also contributed significantly to the Devils' offense and his 16 goals is second among all blue-liners and his career best 53 points ranks fourth.
The 29-year-old has also helped New Jersey record the sixth best defensive record in the NHL, conceding just 2.64 goals per game.
In his second season with the Devils, Hamilton is +3300 to win the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league's best defenseman.
He is second on the Jets for points, behind Kyle Connor who has 62 (25 goals, 37 assists).
Mark Scheifele is the leading goal scorer with 32 and Pierre-Luc Dubois has also contributed well with 23 goals and 54 points.
Winnipeg have scored an average of 3.15 goals per game which is 16th in the NHL, but that has often been enough to earn points, as their defensive record of allowing just 2.60 goals per game is third best in the league.
The Jets' ability to keep the puck out of their net was a key objective for new coach Bowness in the off-season and his structured system has allowed them and goalie Connor Hellebuyck to thrive.
Hellebuyck has a 25-15-1 record, a .924 save percentage and 2.41 goals against average and is 9/2 to win the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goalie, which would be his second time.
A major problem for the Devils over recent seasons has been their instability in net, but in Vitek Vanecek - who was acquired from the Washington Capitals in the off-season - they appear to have finally found a solution.
The 27-year-old has gone 23-5-3 with a .916 save percentage and 2.31 goals against average (GAA) and given room for Mackenzie Blackwood to re-discover his form following a couple of very unsettled seasons.
Blackwood has played 16 times with a .899 save percentage and 3.12 GAA.
If Vanecek gets the start against the Jets, he will be aiming to match Martin Brodeur's franchise record of 14 consecutive games with a point dating back to 30th December.
An area of improvement for both teams is on the powerplay where the Devils have converted 21.1% of their opportunities (18th in the NHL) and the Jets 21.8% (15th).
The Devils have also struggled at times on the penalty kill, registering an 80.6% success rate (13th) and the Jets will no doubt see that as an area to exploit.
Gaining success on the powerplay may prove trickier for the Devils with the Jets' penalty kill performing at an excellent 83.3% (4th).
At 51.1% (12th), New Jersey have a superior winning percentage on the face-off dot compared to Winnipeg's 48.5% (24th) and with home ice advantage as well, that will help them try to control the play and find a way through the Jets' tight back line.
The Devils are 15-10-2 at home and the Jets 14-12-1 on the road.
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