The Rock will be the place to be to end your weekend with some hockey. Maybe it won't even be so bad?
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (4-7-5) vs. the Nashville Predators (8-6-2; SBN Blog: On the Forecheck)
The Last Devils Game: The Devils went to Toronto to complete a road back-to-back set on Friday night. Despite playing and winning the night prior and going against a well-rested Maple Leafs team, the Devils simply outworked their opposition. There was more offensive pressure than one could count and the Devils doubled-up the Leafs in 5-on-5 play in terms of attempts while out-shooting them quite a bit. The only time Toronto looked solid was on the power play and it was there that Phil Kessel blazed through the Devils for an impressive score. But the Devils would actually match that in the third period when a Michael Ryder shot from the side boards was put in the net by Jonathan Bernier, who otherwise stood on his head to keep Toronto in the game. Overtime ensued, the Devils escaped, but the shootout shutout continued so the Devils ultimately lost the game 2-1. The performance wasn't the problem, just beating Bernier was and I'm not unhappy at all with the game per my recap.
The Last Predators Game: While the Devils were pinning the Leafs back at evens, the Predators were in Winnipeg. It wasn't a good night at all for the visitors. Nashville was beaten not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times in the first period alone. Goals, in order, came from Bryan Little, Olli Jokinen, Eric Tangradi, and Devin Setoguchi. Poor Carter Hutton! Three goals allowed in eight shots! He was pulled in favor of Marek Mazanec after the Tangradi goal from distance, but he too coudn't hold it down. The Preds racked up the shots and the meanness in response but Ondrej Pavelec was too good. Little tacked on another goal in the third period to make it a 5-0 defeat. Dirk Hoag's recap at On the Forecheck opens with a picture of a runner throwing up, indicative of what the Smashville faithful must have felt like during the game.
The Goal: Stay out of the box. I will say that the power play that Kessel scored on Friday night came from an incredibly weak call against Andy Greene. If Greene truly hooked Mason Raymond, then the refs missed at least 15 calls as barely-contacts gloves were common place. Anyway, the Devils' other five power plays conceded came from legitimate and avoidable calls. They even interrupted efforts by the Devils to score. Even a successful kill means two minutes of little to no offense. With the Devils' struggles to score, penalties hurt the cause. Worse, the Predators have been remarkably efficient at scoring on the power play this season. While they are third-from-the-bottom with 49 power play opportunities, they have scored on 11 of them for a success rate of 22.4% according to the NHL's site before Saturday's games. The 5-on-4 numbers at Extra Skater show that they're not necessarily great at generating shots (but still worlds better than the Devils), but they have a very potent shooting percentage at 13.2%. These two teams are pretty similar to each other in some key ways in 5-on-5; but making it a heavy special teams night could very well give an edge to Nashville. Therefore, the Devil
Similar Shooting...: Both the Predators and Devils can relate to each other in this key stat: they are not good at scoring in 5-on-5 play. According to Extra Skater, the Devils are shooting at 5.5% and the Predators are at 5.6%. Both teams could probably do with some prayer for more puck luck because that's rather low.
...But A Bit More Scoring by the Visitors: That said, the Predators have three more goals scored in 5-on-5 play and seven more in all situations. I think the big reason behind that is that Nashville has simply generated more offense. Let's go back to the 5-on-5 numbers at Extra Skater. Their SF/60 rate is higher than the Devils in 5-on-5: 29.3 to 25.6. Their CF/60, that's attempts per sixty minutes, is also superior to New Jersey: 53.1 to 47.4. Basically, the Predators have had more success lighting the lamp than New Jersey because they've done so much more with the puck. If the Devils can have more offensive nights like they did in Toronto, then they'll make up that difference in time. But until then, nearly every opponent they'll face will have a more successful offense. Yes, this does include a Predators team who pretty much has been scoring by committee.
Just look at the team's basic stats at NHL.com. The big point earner is David Legwand, who leads the team with four goals and ten assists. The big shooters are Patric Hornqvist and Craig Smith, who have 44 and 48 shots, respectively They also have four and three goals, respectively. They've got four other players - four forward, one defenseman - with at least three goals: Eric Nystrom, Shea Weber, Colin Wilson, and Paul Gaustad. With so many players contributing, it's difficult to key in on one line. Given how much Legwand, Hornqvist, and Nystrom have been together in recent games, I'd say it's them given their combined eleven goals scored. But the Devils cannot ignore the other units so much. New Jersey will have the advantage of the last change for better match-ups but I look at this spread in scoring and conclude the Devils have to once again put a good team defensive effort together. In the big picture of this season, the Devils have been fantastic at limiting shooting attempts; though Nashville will put up a fight.
What about a possession advantage? Surely, the Devils should have that, but it really depends. The Devils are far better in terms of attempts percentage in 5-on-5 play, 54.2% to 47.9%. The Devils' percentage got a boost after playing Toronto (dead last in this category); but Nashville has been out-attempted and out-shot over the season at 5-on-5. However, the difference is much less when you consider blockless-attempts (Fenwick) in close-score 5-on-5 play: 52.6% to 51.1%. What this indicates is that when it comes to shots getting through before score effects really take hold (e.g. Nashville got to 41 shots because they were down by four for over 40 minutes of the game), Nashville isn't at all shabby. What this means is that it's not likely the Devils may not be able to roll through them like they did to Toronto.
Shea & Seth: Get ready to see a lot of Weber and Seth Jones tonight. While Jones' ice time was cut in the Jets game, I would think Barry Trotz will keep the two big minute men together to at least start this game. Weber is an absolute stud of a defenseman; able to soak up big, tough minutes (he averages over 26 per game) while contributing plenty to the offense. Jones was the highly touted prospect in last year's draft until the draft actually rolled around and he fell to fourth overall. He's been averaging 24:40 and has shown off his own offensive talents with two goals, five assists, and 27 shots in 16 games. Both Weber and Jones are just a bit below the break even point in possession but Trotz has put a lot of faith in the pairing over this season.
The Other Predator Defenders: The other four Predator defensemen to get into recent action are Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, and Kevin Klein. Per Extra Skater, Josi and Ellis have been good in terms of possession; Ekholm and Klein have not. But Trotz has mixed the foursome up such that there's no Ekholm-Klein pairing the Devils can pick on all night long. Josi has been rather unfortunate when he's on the ice given a stupidly low PDO of 83.1, so perhaps the Devils should push hard against him and Klein when they can?It's something to think about.
A Big Reason to Attack - No Rinne: Pekka Rinne has been out since late October recovering from hip surgery and the layoff has been extended due to an infection in his hip. That's been a massive blow to the team. Nashville has put it's trust in Carter Hutton in the interim. It has not gone well. In nine appearances, he has an even strength save percentage of 90.3% and a power play save percentage of 85.2%. Those aren't good percentages. Furthermore, should he start tonight's game, he's coming off a game where he allowed three goals out of eight shots against. The Devils' forwards should play like they smell blood and just bomb away at him. If he doesn't start, then it'll likely be Marek Mazanec, who made his NHL debut in relief of Hutton in Winnipeg. He stopped 22 out of 24 shots so he wasn't super-human in net either. I don't see a reason for the Devils to be fearful of either goalie provided they actually show up and attack like an league average offense does.
Do You Make Any Changes?: The Devils did not practice on Saturday since they did just play a back-to-back set that lasted 125 minutes plus a shootout. Tom Gulitti reported after the Toronto game that Eric Gelinas played very well despite a bruised ankle and Stephen Gionta just rolled it during the Toronto game and returned to play in that game, so I expect both to be fine for tonight. Short of any big news on Sunday, I don't expect the other injured Devils to come back. Therefore, do you just ice the same lineup?
On the one hand, why not? The team just had it's best back-to-back set yet and they played better than their opposition in both games. If you want to send a message of rewarding good play, then I can see why there shouldn't be any changes. On the other hand, I don't think the lineup from the last two games is the best one the team could have. Cam Janssen did score a goal on Thursday but provided nothing good or bad on Friday. If Peter DeBoer doesn't want to break up Damien Brunner, Travis Zajac, and Steve Bernier, then he could just have Jacob Josefson come in for Janssen and slide Gionta out to the right wing. On defense, I'd think Mark Fayne would be a better fit alongside Andy Greene than Peter Harrold and it's not like Harrold provides enough going forward that Greene, Marek Zidlicky, and Gelinas couldn't do either. It's an interesting question and I'm sure everyone has their own answer. We'll find out DeBoer's on Sunday.
We'll also find out who the Devils will start too. Both goalies are coming of very good games. Martin Brodeur shut out the Flyers on Thursday and only Kessel crashing the net and a shootout beat Cory Schneider on Friday. I actually don't have a problem with either, to be honest, given their recent form. The Devils do have a big rivalry game on Tuesday plus a back-to-back so both will continue to be active either way.
Your Take: I turn the questions to you. What changes should the Devils make in their lineup for tonight's game? What do you expect out of either team? Can the Devils get put together a third good performance and possibly a win tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.