1. DEVILS ADVOCATE
When the Blackhawks and Devils finish off their two-game season series on Thursday, Chicago will be looking to correct their mistakes from the first meeting, a 4-2 loss in Newark last Friday. Their home record is one of the best in the league, but they've relied on their goaltending to bail them out of tough periods, as they did in Sunday's 4-2 win over Edmonton when Corey Crawford was called upon to make 22 saves in the second period and 34 overall. The Devils were last in action on Tuesday, when they dropped a 2-0 decision to the St. Louis Blues, but they've quietly kept up with the rest of the Metropolitan Division, where they are just three points out of second place.
2. PALM OF HIS HAND
Kyle Palmieri was New Jersey's biggest offseason addition, acquired in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks. The 2009 first-round draft pick has provided crucial secondary scoring for his hometown team, accruing 12 points (5G, 7A) in 15 games this season, including two goals and three helpers in his last three outings. Palmieri recorded a tally and an assist last Friday against the Blackhawks, and he netted an overtime power-play goal to give the Devils a 4-3 win over Vancouver on Sunday. His 12 points share second on the team, and he ranks second with 38 shots on goal.
3. BREAD ARMY
Chicago's win over Edmonton was driven by the reunited second line of Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, which accounted for all four goals in the contest, 11 combined shot attempts at even strength and dominant possession numbers (over 70 percent SAT). Kane tied a career mark with a goal and three assists—a total first set during his rookie season—and now has a league-long 10-game point streak.
Anisimov reached the 200-point milestone with an assist before sniping his sixth goal of the season late in the game to quell the Oilers' comeback attempt. Panarin posted his first multi-goal game and became the first Blackhawks rookie to score twice in the first period of a game since Jonathan Toews in 2008; his 15 points and 11 assists are all NHL bests among rookies. Chicago will need their best offensive line to crack the Devils' defense, which relies on tying up sticks and bodies, in order to gain two points on Thursday.
4. SEVERSON PACKAGE
This season is an important one for defenseman Damon Severson, who is trying to avoid a sophomore slump after making a positive impression in 2014-15, posting 17 points (5G, 12A) in 51 games during his solid rookie campaign and finishing with the highest possession numbers among team blueliners. While the 21-year-old does have six helpers so far—including two against the Blackhawks last Friday—his possession numbers are slightly lower, and he's averaging 4 minutes less per game, playing 17:56 compared to 21:57 last year. Head Coach John Hynes has been using Severson in way more offensive situations, evidenced by a nearly 40 percent jump in relative zone starts (per war-on-ice.com), so the hope is that the youngster can develop into a driving force for a team that's not known for offensive fireworks.
5. MASH UP
The early-season winger carousel continues for Chicago as Rockford IceHogs captain Brandon Mashinter prepares to take his turn after being recalled on Thursday morning. The 27-year-old shares second on Rockford with seven points (4G, 3A) through 12 games, and crossed the 200-point plateau in the AHL last weekend. Since being acquired from the New York Rangers in 2013, Mashinter has not appeared in a game for the Blackhawks, but he previously compiled 23 games of NHL experience. In practice on Thursday, Mashinter was skating on the fourth line alongside Marcus Kruger and Andrew Desjardins; additionally, Andrew Shaw moved up to the top line, while Teuvo Teravainen slotted next to fellow Mashinter's fellow IceHogs callups, Marko Dano and Tanner Kero.
Games against the Devils aren't typically action-packed, but last Friday's clash produced a rare fight between Toews and New Jersey star Adam Henrique, which could fan the flames for Thursday's return matchup. The visitors are generally a risk-averse team, a trait the Blackhawks used in their favor when they vacated their net with over 6 minutes left in New Jersey in an attempt to make up a three-goal deficit. The Devils didn't log a single shot attempt in that span, preferring to focus on defending their own net, and it's that conservative attitude that can frustrate high-scoring teams. New Jersey has enough speed and skill on its roster to take advantage of defensive missteps, so playing a clean, focused 60-minute game will be the key for the Blackhawks.