The New Jersey Devils are among the league’s early-season surprises, battling for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. That didn’t stop New Jersey from swinging a three-player trade with Anaheim for defenseman Sami Vatanen, who is expected to be in the lineup Friday when the Devils open a three-game road trip at the Colorado Avalanche.
New Jersey traded longtime forward Adam Henrique along with Joseph Blandisi and a 2018 condition third-round pick to the Ducks in exchange for Vatanen. “Obviously he’s a very good friend, a very good teammate for a few years, we’re going to miss him,” Devils captain Andy Greene said. “But we get another good player coming back, you have to give up good people and good players to get good players in return.” Colorado also is off to an unexpected start and is already more than halfway to last season’s league-worst total of 48 points. The Avalanche dropped a 4-1 decision at New Jersey in the second game of the season, but they are 8-2-0 at Pepsi Center as they continue a five-game homestand.
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ABOUT THE DEVILS (14-6-4): Vatanen’s acquisition overshadowed the homecoming of rookie defenseman Will Butcher, who won the Hobey Baker Award while leading Denver to the national title in April. General manager Ray Shero said Henrique was initially shocked by the deal but noted Vatanen fills both a short- and long-term need. “In acquiring Sami, we bring on a right shot, top-four defenseman who can play in all situations,” Shero said. “This move also gives us contract certainty on the back end for the next two-plus years.”
ABOUT THE AVALANCHE (12-9-2): Nathan MacKinnon put the finishing touches on a superb November by delivering the decisive goal in overtime in Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Winnipeg. MacKinnon’s strike came 30 seconds after he had the apparent game-winning tally waved off and pushed his total for the month to five goals and 15 assists for 20 points -- the latter two league highs. Starting netminder Semyon Varlamov returned for the lineup for the first time in 11 days and turned aside 31 of 33 shots.
1. Colorado has won six straight at home in the series, limiting New Jersey to six goals.
2. Vatanen scored a career-high 12 goals in 2014-15, with seven coming on the power play.
3. Varlamov is 4-1-0 with eight goals allowed against the Devils.
PREDICTION: Avalanche 3, Devils 2