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NHL: New Jersey Devils @ Carolina Hurricanes preview

It's tight at the top of the Metropolitan Division and the leading two go head-to-head for the third time this season at the PNC Arena.

The Hurricanes (25-8-7) hold a four-point lead over the Devils (25-12-3) and head into the crucial fixture in better form after going 7-2-1 in their last ten games, while the Devils have cooled from their red-hot start and gone 4-5-1. 

Carolina are 12-4-1 at home this season and 10/23 to finish top of the division. The Devils are 14-2-1 away from home and 5/1 to win the division. 

WhatNew Jersey Devils @ Carolina Hurricanes 
WherePNC Arena, Raleigh, North Carolina 
When00:00, Wednesday 11th January
How to watchNHL.com/ Viaplay.com
OddsNew Jersey Devils 13/10, Carolina Hurricanes 4/6 

Pacioretty boost

Forward Max Pacioretty was acquired by the Hurricanes in the off-season from the Vegas Golden Knights to bolster an attack which lost Vincent Trocheck to New York Rangers and Nino Niederreiter to Nashville Predators.

However, before the six-time 30-goal scorer was able to even make his Carolina debut, he tore his Achilles and was ruled out for six months.

The beginning of the New Year has seen 34-year-old Pacioretty come into the Hurricanes' line-up and he has made an instant impression scoring two goals in two games to take his career tally to 325 goals, plus 316 assists for 644 points in 852 regular season games. 

His presence will no doubt help Carolina improve on their average of 3.10 goals per game which ranks 20th in the NHL and boost a powerplay which has fired at just 19.7% (23rd).

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Hughes on way to superstardom 

The Devils have had no such issues scoring goals, averaging 3.40 per game, which ranks eighth in the NHL. 

21-year-old Jack Hughes is the key reason for New Jersey's offensive success scoring 26 goals and 23 assists for a team leading 49 points in 40 games. 

Eight of the goals and ten points have come in the past five games and the first overall pick in 2019 is quickly proving to be a superstar in the NHL and with Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier, both 24, is leading the Devils' resurgence to contention. 

Bratt has 15 goals, 25 assists for 40 points and Hischier 18 goals, 20 assists for 38 points.

Hughes is an intriguing 60/1 bet to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league's most valuable player this season and 14/1 to lift the Stanley Cup with New Jersey. 

Defensive platform 

Both Carolina and New Jersey have based their first half success on defence with the Hurricanes conceding an average of 2.68 goals per game (sixth) and the Devils 2.63 (fourth). 

Coaches Rod Brind'Amour and Lindy Ruff have played a major role in that and in doing so have put themselves in contention to win the Jack Adams coach of the year award. 

Brind'Amour is 14/1 and Ruff 6/1 and both have taken their teams on a major upward trend since taking over, for Brind'Amour in 2018 and Ruff in 2020. 

When 52-year-old Brind'Amour was hired by the Hurricanes they had missed the playoffs for nine straight seasons but since have qualified four consecutive times.

After a recent franchise best 11-game winning streak, the Hurricanes are 9/2 to win the Eastern Conference and 9/1 to win the Stanley Cup, which they won for the first and only time in 2006 with Brind'Amour as Captain. 

The Devils have made the playoffs just once in the last ten years, but in his third season in charge, 62-year-old Ruff has them in prime position to end a four-year drought of which they are 1/10 to do. 

Following a sensational start to the season which included a joint-best franchise record winning streak of 13-games, expectations for Ruff and the Devils have risen exponentially and they are 15/2 to win the Eastern Conference and 14/1 to win the Stanley Cup, which would be their third and first since 2003. 

Hurricanes find a way

Despite the Devils holding a season advantage over all key stats including goals scored, goals against, powerplay (20.6% compared to Hurricanes' 19.7%) and penalty kill (81.8% compared to 79.4%), Carolina has found a way to win each of the previous two meetings. 

Just ahead of Christmas, the Hurricanes won 4-1 at New Jersey's PNC Arena and then 5-4 via a shoot-out at Prudential Centre to begin the New Year. 

In the first game, Carolina had just 20 shots but scored three on Vitek Vanecek before the end of the first period and he was replaced by Mackenzie Blackwood. Rookie Pyotr Kochetkov was magnificent at the other end for the Hurricanes and made 37 saves. 

In the second game, it was the Hurricanes who heavily outshot the Devils and they scored the only powerplay goal across the two games. Antti Raanta recorded the victory in the shoot-out with Andrei Svechnikov the only scorer. 

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