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Game 20 Preview: New Jersey Devils @ Nashville Predators - 11/19/2009

The Time: 8 PM EST

The Broadcasting Info: MSG+ for the TV; 660 AM WFAN for the radio

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (14-5-0) @ the Nashville Predators (10-8-1)

The Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils went into Philadelphia with 9 straight road wins and 8 straight wins overall and got outplayed by the Flyers.  A late consolation goal led to a flattering 3-2 score; but from where I stood, the Devils definitely earned that loss.

The Last Predators Game: The Nashville Predators took on the San Jose Sharks and more than held their own against the Western Conference leaders last night.  Their checking line had a big night, Pekka Rinne was solid in net, and they overcame the Sharks 4-3. Dirk Hoag has recapped the game at On the Forecheck, complete with a wonderful table of even strength statistics.

The Goal:  Stay calm.  The Devils had a long winning streak broken on Monday, getting out played by a Philadelphia team that was able to get to Brodeur's crease with ease and prevent Devils to get right in front of Ray Emery.  Perhaps doing better on around the crease in both ends will help.  It's what the Devils worked on practice on Tuesday according to Tom Gulitti.  But I feel keeping a level head is more crucial.  Tonight, they will take on a team who has won 7 of their last 9 and just beat the top team in the West largely due to a power play that has otherwise been miserable.  It may be easy to start getting frustrated or play with a little more desperation in an attempt to make a statement or prevent a slump.   I feel that could be counter-productive against a team that has to be feeling good and playing well.   The Devils have come from behind in so many of their recent wins by not getting frustrated within the game while looking to work harder on the next shift.  That was the key to their success and they can get back to doing that Nashville.  Only if they stay calm, in my opinion.

Read on for a guess at lines, some further thoughts, and some insight into the Nashville Predators as Dirk Hoag of On the Forecheck answers some question about the team he supports.

The recent big news with respect to the lineup is that the Devils have sent Cory Murphy down to Lowell and have called up Tyler Eckford.  The Devils have called up Matthew Corrente earlier this month, so one of the two Devils' top defenseman prospects will be in tonight's game.  Corrente has been highly regarded in the Devils' system since being drafted in the first round in 2006, tonight could be his NHL debut to see how he's developed.  Eckford has had the hot hands in Lowell, with 2 goals and 7 assists in 3 games last week.  Eckford has grown like wildfire since being a seventh round draft pick in 2004, putting up plenty of points in the CCHA before joining Lowell.  With Murphy sent down, the Devils can see how Eckford could do in a similar role as an offensive defenseman.

Either way, in the comments to Steve's Murphy-down, Eckford-up post, I explained why I thought Murphy was sent down.  Regardless of who gets their first NHL game against Nashville, the Devils' current top four defensemen will have to carry the majority of minutes yet again.  Andy Greene, Colin White, Mike Mottau, and Bryce Salvador had unimpressive-at-best games in Philly. If those four can not panic in their own end, not allow Nashville forwards to get behind them, and steady themselves tonight, then it'll go a long way towards a good result for New Jersey.

In any case, here is my guess for the Devils' line up. As usual, expect the forward lines to shift during the game. With respect to who will be in or out, your best bet is to check out Gulitti or Chere later in the day.  Again, this is only a guess:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus - Niclas Bergfors
  Brian Rolston - Tim Sestito - David Clarkson
  Matt Halischuk - Rod Pelley - Ilkka Pikkarainen

Andy Greene - Bryce Salvador
Colin White - Mike Mottau
  Mark Fraser - Matthew Corrente

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

While Eckford was just called up, I'm guessing Corrente will get to make his debut as he's been up with the team already and have been practicing to get himself acclimated to the team.   I'm also guessing Jacques Lemaire will mix up his wingers and give Ilkka Pikkarainen a shot since the Devils may not necessarily need a big, fighting (?) dude like Peters tonight.

Anyway, let's look at the Nashville Predators.  Do you know much about the Predators other than that they beat the San Jose Sharks last night?  Did you know that head coach Barry Trotz aired a beef about the arena clock operator at the Sommet Center after the win (via Puck Daddy)?   Do you know who is the highest played player on the Nashville Predators?  (Just for fun, guess without looking up CapGeek - I think you'll be amazed at the answer)  Well, I had some other questions about how the Predators have been doing and the man to ask about the Predators is Dirk Hoag of On the Forecheck.  I was able to ask him five questions about the Predators and tonight's game.  Keep in mind the questions came before

Question #1.  The big story with Nashville on the surface is their difficulty in scoring goals. Prior to the San Jose game, they have scored only 39 goals in 18 games (2.11 average - second lowest in the league) and their power play is dead last at a 11.6% success rate.  Yet, the Predators average 30.8 shots per game, the tenth best average in the league.  While it's clear to me the Predators are getting shots on net, what has prevented Nashville from scoring goals so far this season?

DH: There are a few reasons for that discrepancy - the first is obviously a lack of finishers, the guys who can take that extra half-second to pick their spot when shooting. The Preds have only had their top line playing together for 3 games now, and the replacement personnel just don't provide that skill. Also, the team is playing a style that dictates firing the puck on net more often and having supporting forwards crash the net for rebounds, rather than circle around and try to set up a perfect shot. As for the power play, that's been a persistent problem for the last three seasons now, and although they scored twice against San Jose on Tuesday, nobody's breaking out the party balloons quite yet.

Question #2.  One team stat that I'm sure you're thrilled with are team's penalties. The Predators average only 9.6 minutes per game and have taken a total of only 158 minutes; leading the league in both categories.  Why are the Predators so disciplined this season?

DH: Barry Trotz has mentioned quite often in recent days that staying out of the box has been a major focus with this team. He's emphasized "checking with your feet", in other words, having players keep hustling to stay with a play rather than tail off and have to hook or hold an opponent. The team is still playing tough hockey in terms of initiating contact and following through on body checks, but avoiding penalties is key. One interesting point there is the return of Martin Gelinas to the organization as Director of Player Development; when he played with the Preds in 2007-8, he is credited with mentoring Jordin Tootoo during his most disciplined and productive season, so perhaps he's providing some advice on that front as well.

Question #3.  Let's talk goalies. Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne have been splitting time so far this season, though Rinne has the better numbers so far.  Does this mean that Rinne has - or should be - the team's starter; or do you not mind the two goalies splitting time?

DH: I don't mind having both split the duty, although the balance does appear to be tipping in Rinne's favor. Both are solid NHL goaltenders, and since they are in the final year of their contracts, each is motivated to make an impact whenever they get the chance. With the compressed schedule this season, all teams will need reliable depth in goal, and the Preds are set up as well as anybody on that front.

Question #4.  Among the Predator players, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter lead the Nashville defense in terms of minutes. While they are certainly impressive players to an outsider like me, who on the Predators should the Devils look out for that hasn't necessarily got the attention (or credit) they deserve?

DH: Up front, the two guys you'll want to watch for are Patric Hornqvist, a second-year Swede who battles around the net like a right-handed Tomas Holmstrom, and Jerred Smithson, a veteran who is usually focused on checking and PK work, but is clicking on a line with Joel Ward and David Legwand. Smitty is a hard worker, and unexpectedly ranks 3rd among Nashville forwards with 4 goals already. On defense, Kevin Klein has grown into a Top 4 role and is playing well after a rocky start, and also look for Cody Franson, a rookie who is getting work on the power play.

Question #5.  Lastly, what is your prediction for tonight's game?

DH: I don't usually do predictions, but I really like the way the Preds are playing right now. I'll go with 3-2 Nashville.

Big thanks to Dirk for his responses.  As usual, I disagree with his prediction; but he is right that the team is loaded with hard working, under-the-radar players.  They got two solid goaltenders; while the Devils may see Dan Ellis tonight since Rinne got the San Jose game, Nashville won't be weaker in net.  

That their power play was successful against San Jose is a real interesting note, perhaps the start of something big.  With respect to special teams play, that Nashville takes so few penalties is a big plus in their favor; a power play unit that finally just got a spark could really make them more dangerous of an opponent along with being rarely shorthanded.  After all, a little confidence can turn a slumping part of a team's game right around - and Nashville's offense has clearly been in a lull this season.  The Devils would do well to remember that going into tonight's game.  As well as staying calm on the ice will minimize the number man advantages the Predators will have to get confident on their power play and on offense in general.

Thanks for reading. Steve will have the GameThread up later today.  As usual, please feel free to use this post comment about tonight's game as well as any new news with either team up until the GameThread begins. If you can, check out the Devils' viewing party at the Black Bear Bar in Hoboken.  I unfortunately won't be able to make it, so I'll comment during the game here.  Go Devils!