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Game 31 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Nashville Predators

Martin Brodeur will start in net tonight against Nashville. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Martin Brodeur will start in net tonight against Nashville. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
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The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+(HD); Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (9-19-2) vs. the Nashville Predators (16-8-6)

The Toys for Tots Drive is Tonight:  So bring a new, unwrapped toy to Friday's game and make a kid happy.

The Time for Supporters is Also Tonight: Read this and then follow the links in the post to get cheap tickets and chant for the Devils all game long.  Make a lasting first impression, Section 209.

The Last Devils Game: They didn't give up two quick ones. Actually, the Devils scored the first two goals against the Phoenix Coyotes.  And then they tacked on a third goal on the power play.   All while not allowing anyway.  The Devils snapped their 5-game losing streak with a 3-0 win over Phoenix, and so the people at the Rock were left with smiles on their faces.  My recap of the game can be found here.

The Last Predators Game:  The Predators went up against San Jose on Wednesday.  Without Patric Hornqvist and a 2-1 deficit late in the game, it looked like Nashville's 3-game winning streak would end.  Then Sergei Kostitsyn came through with a dramatic equalizer, only to be topped less than a minute later by Colin Wilson.  The Predators held on to win 3-2 and extended their winning streak.  Dirk Hoag of On the Forecheck has this recap of the game.

The Goal: One of the Devils' tactical decisions from the Phoenix was their forecheck.  Call it a trap as much as you want, but it worked quite well for New Jersey in the first and third periods.  The Predators will likely be a lot less sloppy than the Coyotes, especially since they won their last 4 games and so they have all kinds of momentum. It may not be as successful.  But if the Devils can commit to the forecheck for all three periods, they can get into their heads a bit, and force a few turnovers for some chances.  That's all they need, just a few.  A good forecheck doesn't have to get a lot of them, but consistently getting pressure can get a hot team off their games a bit - which would be big for the Devils tonight.   Therefore, among all of the other fundamentals, I would like to see the Devils need to repeat their 1-2-2 set up that worked against Phoenix.

On the Forecheck is the place to go for Predators information.  Also, congratulations in advance for Dirk Hoag, who will be appearing on the post-game show for tonight's game on 102.9 the Buzz.  Hopefully, he'll have to deal with more complaints about the snapped streak.  My further thoughts on tonight's game after the jump.

Based on Tom Gulitti's report from practice on Thursday, it appears the Devils will go with the same lineup that they iced against Phoenix.   John MacLean confirmed to Gulitti (and the press) that Martin Brodeur will start tonight; so it really be the exact same lineup:

Ilya Kovalchuk - Jason Arnott - Dainius Zubrus
Patrik Elias - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Mattias Tedenby - Brian Rolston - David Clarkson
Rod Pelley - Tim Sestito - Adam Mair

Colin White - Henrik Tallinder
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Anton Volchenkov - Anssi Salmela

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

As I noted in my recap of the Phoenix game, I'd rather see Mattias Tedenby on a different line.  He's quick, he's strong on the puck, and I really wouldn't mind the defensive issues that may arise with putting a rookie with Ilya Kovalchuk.  It's not like David Clarkson has been that much of a better defender than Kovalchuk, and he definitely wasn't on Wednesday.  At least such a combination has a higher potential for offense, which is rather important as the Devils are still poor at scoring goals.

Plus, Tedenby on a line with Kovalchuk would be an increased challenge for the rookie, it'd also mean more minutes.  More minutes to at least draw some calls.  No, he's not Vladimir Zharkov, but Tedenby has been drawing them at a very good rate in his time in the NHL.  His penalties drawn per 60 rate is 2.0, the 22nd best rate in the NHL among players who have played at least 10 games according to Behind the Net.  Given that the Devils' power play has become much more productive recently, as shown by Matt in this post yesterday,  it would be in the team's interest to go out and draw as many calls as possible.  With Tedenby, it's easy since he's quick, he's got great puck control, and he's courageous despite his size.  Hence, he gets a lot of physical attention that leads to power plays.  Even if it isn't with Kovalchuk, John MacLean should give Tedenby more minutes by putting him away from Brian Rolston and Clarkson.

Alas, he probably won't.  So, let us just hope Rolston and Clarkson have good nights and Tedenby follows suit.

One last note about the Devils, I'm sure a lot of attention will be paid to Ilya Kovalchuk. After all, he scored 2 goals on Wednesday - off one-timers, even - so the expectation will be for him to have another good night.  I'm sure Barry Trotz will ensure his dynamic defensive duo of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter sees a lot of #17. And whoever's backchecking will keep that high slot covered.  I'm pretty sure the Predators coaches and players knew exactly where Kovalchuk scored his two goals on Wednesday and would like to prevent a repeat performance.

I'm not saying it'll be OK for Kovalchuk to suck, it's fair to expect him to be a key part of the offense tonight  Just that tonight's likely going to be more difficult for the sniper.  Ergo, I would really like to see the other lines do a better job getting the puck forward and putting shots on net.   This will force Nashville to pick their poison and then that will free up space for Kovalchuk, Arnott, and Zubrus.

Onto tonight's opponents:  When I think of Nashville, the generalization that I have is that they are a very good team but not an elite team.  That they have been consistently successful, especially in a tough Central Division with Detroit and Chicago, is a testament to the organization's philosophies.   Like Detroit, I respect what Nashville does. As such, a win over them would be big.  Especially since they have the momentum of a 4-game winning streak, which includes a come-from-behind win late in the third period in their last game.

Goaltending shouldn't be an issue for Nashville tonight.  Pekka Rinne has been out with a knee injury recently, but did travel with the team to New Jersey.  He may be the back-up to yet another Nashville goaltender that has come out of their system, who has been just splendid between the pipes.   This goaltender is Anders Lindback.

2010 - Anders Lindback 14 749 8 1 27 2.16 387 360 .930 2

I know some will say, "Oh, he was the #2 guy behind Rinne, the Devils will make him look like an all-star."  In these 14 games in the NHL so far, he's already looked like one.  He's been hot as of late with only 4 goals allowed during the team's winning streak, and 2 shutouts among those 4 wins.   I doubt he'll remain at a save percentage of  93% by the time the season ends; but for now, expect him to make a lot of big stops.  New Jersey will have to keep him guessing, though the Nashville defense will make that quite difficult.

The Predators defense is led by their captain Shea Weber and the equally-talented Ryan Suter.  Weber's fantastic. According to Behind the Net, he has the 21st highest qualcomp among defenseman who have played at least 10 games, and the team's shots against per 60 goes from 29.5 to 25.8 when he's on the ice.  Not only does he have a positive corsi rate along with this high quality of competition, the shots against rate dropping that much tells me that he can shut them down too.  Oh, and he has a heavy slapshot that Nashville likes to see; Weber is tied for the team lead in shots on net with 96.  Per this TSN interview with James Duthie, he plans on staying in Nashville for the time being.  Good for him because I can't imagine the Predators not making him a very, very rich man.  He's a stud defenseman, plain and simple.

2010 - Shea Weber 30 5 8 13 -4 26 2 0 1 96 5.2
2010 - Ryan Suter 19 1 9 10 7 16 0 0 1 37 2.7

His partner, Suter, is no slouch though.  Suter's quality of competition is less than Weber's at 0.044, only the 52nd highest rate in the NHL among defenseman who have played at least 10 games per Behind the Net.  Yet, Suter has a superior on-ice corsi rate of 9.42 and the shots against per 60 rate actually falls more when he's on the ice: from 29.6 to 24.2.  Suter has had the "benefit" of having played 11 games less than Weber, but it's clear that Suter's a great defenseman in his own right.  As Devils fans can attest to, having two great defensemen together is such a wonderful thing.  Unfortunately, the Devils have to deal with it on the other side of that fence.

Oh, and the other defensemen aren't too bad either.  Francis Bouillon has a quality of competition just less than Suter, and he comes out behind per Behind the Net with a negative corsi rate and the shots against rate increasing when he's on the ice.  It's clear that the lower Devils lines need to attack when they don't see Weber-Suter out there against them.  All the more reason to hope that Tedenby-Rolston-Clarkson has a far better night than Wednesday. As a team, the Predators have a fantastic goals against per game rate (2.33 - 3rd best in NHL) thanks to Rinne and Lindback; but they allow an average of 30.5 shots per game, tied for the 17th best rate in the league.  I suppose Weber-Suter can't do it all, but when they are there, it's going to be quite difficult to get pucks on net.

Incidentally, Nashville defenseman Cody Franson will not be playing tonight as reported by NHLPredsInsider (hat-tip: On the Forecheck) He will be attending his grandfather's funeral. Condolences to the Fransen family.  Alexander Sulzer will likely play in his spot tonight.

Speaking of players not able to play, Patric Hornqvist did not travel to New Jersey. Hornqvist is tied for the team lead in goals with 8; so his loss will be felt.  The Predators called up the agitating Steve Begin to fill up a forward spot in their line up on Thursday.  Still, I look at the production numbers and I feel like I'm looking at Phoenix's lineup only less productive overall.  Is there any identifiable top scoring ace that the Devils need to shut down?  No.  But I see several players who could contribute tonight, meaning the Devils can't just focus their defensive efforts primarily on one line.  While Preds fans will miss Hornqvist, it's not like the offense is undercut by his absence.

2010 - Steve Sullivan 30 8 10 18 6 20 3 0 1 65 12.3
2010 - Cal O`Reilly 30 6 12 18 7 2 1 0 1 37 16.2

Steve Sullivan and Cal O'Reilly are the team's leading scorers and apparently comprise of two-thirds of their top line (Colin Wilson and his 6 goals and 7 assists is the right wing). I suppose John MacLean will put White-Tallinder out against them.  But that doesn't mean Marcel Goc, Martin Erat, and the 7-game point streaking Sergei Kostitsyn are anything to sneeze at.  They can just as easily be wrecking the Devils tonight as much as Sullivan and O'Reilly.

As a team, Nashville puts up an average of 29.3 shots per game (21st in the NHL) and scores an average of 2.5 goals per game (25th).  OK, maybe they really aren't like Phoenix on offense.  Still a way better goal scoring average than New Jersey.   Their power play is actually worse than New Jersey's with a 12.6% success rate, though.  Interestingly, Jordin Tootoo has a penalty drawing rate as good as Tedenby's, only he takes more calls than the rookie winger.  Still, just because their PP rate isn't good doesn't mean they should be given the opportunity to make it better. Especially now that their lineup has another agitator in Begin.

I do not expect Nashville to be as out of sync as Phoenix was on Wednesday if only because the Predators are currently rolling.  Their passing is going to be on-point; their decisions on offense won't lead them to wasting possession. Hopefully, the Devils will consistently put out a good forechecking performance, utilize that 1-2-2 if necessary, and play smart to counter Nashville's puck movement.  Of course, they'll have to do what few teams have done recently and crack Lindback; but I don't think they will get many opportunities to do that if they don't attack Nashville as hard as I feel they need to.

The Gamethread will be up later, closer to game time. I'll be commenting from time to time from right in front of the glass (no, seriously, it's going to be an interesting view).  In the meantime, please feel free to discuss today's game in the comments. If you want to post any news updates (or corrections via new information), then please do so in the comments with a link to the source. Lastly, thank you for reading. Let's go, Devils.