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Game Preview #3: New Jersey Devils vs. Nashville Predators

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The New Jersey Devils return to the Rock for two home games against the Western Conference. They'll take on the Nashville Predators, which has offense to go with their defense and goaltending - as explained in this game preview.

The Devils had some high-fives in DC. Will they have more tonight?
The Devils had some high-fives in DC. Will they have more tonight?
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Devils return to the Rock for two home games against some strong Western Conference opponents. This is the first.

The Time: 7 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio – 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (0-2-0) vs. the Nashville Predators (2-0-0; SBN Blog: On the Forecheck)

The Last Devils Game: On Saturday night, the Devils played their first road game of the season in D.C.  Keith Kinkaid, Eric Gelinas, Stefan Matteau, and Brian O’Neill made their debuts.  More importantly, so did a positive performance in the first period. They out-shot and out-attempted the home team for most of the first twenty. Alas, they got burned on two defensive errors. A lack of engagement and a bad break on a Jordin Tootoo deflection led to a shorthanded goal for Jason Chimera. Minutes later, all five Devils got bunched up down low, allowing Brooks Orpik to be all alone in the high slot. Once he got the puck, he didn’t miss.  But the Devils hit back on both goals.  Jiri Tlusty sprung Adam Henrique for a beautiful goal within a minute of Orpik’s.  Later in the period, Eric Gelinas hit Braden Holtby’s net with The Truth to make it 2-2.  The second period provided a more expected experience: the Caps’ offense rolling and terrifying on the power play.  The Devils survived the eleven shot onslaught, featuring five during a 1:38 three-on-five situation, to keep it tied going into the third.  Alas, the Caps rose in the third period. Alexander Ovechkin posterized John Moore and then Kinkaid with a glorious play to make it 2-3.  During a power play – the Devils gave the Caps three of them in this period – Ovechkin stunned Moore with a one-timer that the defender blocked with his arm, took the loose puck in, and set-up Marcus Johansson to make it 2-4.  As time ticked off the clock, head coach John Hynes decided to pull Kinkaid early.  During a penalty kill. The Caps got set up and Matt Niskanen put home a PPG ENG.  Kinkaid remained pulled and Mike Cammalleri got a consolation goal, with some help by Chimera, within the final minute.  The game ended at 3-5; despite the result, I explained why this effort was better than their first game in my recap.

The Last Predators Game: On the same night, the Predators hosted Edmonton, featuring the latest of their first overall draft picks and a whole lot of yellow.  Nashville looked bright in their uniforms and they looked bright on the ice. Pekka Rinne took plenty of opportunities from the Oilers and conceded nothing.  Well, that’s not entirely true. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins got into the soccer spirit and kicked a puck into the net. That was disallowed. Otherwise, the goaltender shut them down all night long.  The guys supporting Rinne did what Edmonton couldn’t: score goals. Two, to be precise.  Colin Wilson missed on an early breakaway in the game, but he made up for it with a goal late in the second period.  Filip Forsberg doubled the lead in the third period thanks to an unofficial assist by the Most Bryce Salvadorian Player in the NHL, Andrew Ference.  The Preds won 2-0, Anish Patel has this recap at On the Forecheck about the victory.

The Goal: Let go on the restraining fouls.  Most penalties are either a result of someone illegally impeding a player or illegally striking a player.  With the beginning of the season, refs may be more inclined to be tighter on calls to a point like we’ve seen in preseason. With the fact that the Devils are still sorting out their puck control issues, they are at risk of playing more in their own end and pressing harder to try to win puck in close quarters.  Both are prime areas where someone will try to get away with a hold, a tug, a hook, or even a hit to deny them to make a play.  These are all penalties, and every team struggles with to a degree.  For the Devils, they can ill-afford to shoot themselves in their proverbial skates with calls. It helped Washington run away with the game on Saturday, it helped Winnipeg put a strangehold on the game last Friday, and it will help Nashville come away with two points. They may do it anyway, but the Devils should make a point of it to not help them in the process. At this point, I think it’s better to let go of a lost battle into being down a man for up to two minutes that may ensure the war is lost.

Take a Deep Breath: Cory Schneider did not practice on Monday.  I know what you may be thinking: PANIC PANIC PANIC.  OK, that’s an exaggeration.  And it may not even be anything that bad. Per Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, his wife is expecting and it’s entirely possible his absence is related to becoming a father for the first time.  It’s not like he picked up some massive injury that will test and currently depleted goaltending depth of the New Jersey organization.  Basically, if Schneider cannot play, Keith Kinkaid starts again.  He wasn’t bad in Washington; he should be able to handle an extra night’s work coming off two gameless days. It’s no big deal.  If Schneider can play, then he will. Simple as.

OW: First, a correction from my recap, Moore did not block an Ovechkin one-timer with his butt; he did it with his arm. My bad. That still smarts and according to Gulitti, Moore bruised his arm.  The defenseman thinks he can play; he wasn’t in practice but that was because he was getting X-rays.  Damon Severson was a part of the six defensemen in practice with David Schlemko moving to play with Jon Merrill and Severson next to Gelinas.  I wouldn’t mind seeing John Hynes go with that six for two reasons. One, to give Moore a little more time to heal rather than push a return. Two, Moore had a poor night even before the block and I think Severson should be back playing as soon as he can.  We’ll see whether that’s the case.

No Other Changes for Better or Worse: Based on the lines Gulitti reported on Monday's practice, it appears the forwards will mostly remain as-is. Sergey Kalinin was moved to center with Stephen Gionta sliding to the right side.  I can see why Hynes didn’t make any player changes up front. They did put up a better effort in Washington than the group that played against Winnipeg.  However, they weren’t exactly offensive dynamos.  Their first period was good and some players did have good games.  As much as I’m not a fan of Jordin Tootoo as a Top Six Winger, the line of Travis Zajac, Mike Cammalleri, and Tootoo did well.  Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, and Jiri Tlusty (on the left, a.k.a. his spot next to Staal in Carolina) had a good game, demonstrating the fast, attacking, and supportive nature the team is marketing.  Yet, the bottom six contributed little positive to the game as a whole.  While they didn’t have great first games, it’s a little hard to believe that Reid Boucher and Tuomo Ruutu are extras in place of Stefan Matteu or Brian O’Neill.   I suppose the coaches were more pleased with how they performed overall in D.C. and they want to reward the group with another game together. I get it, but I don’t think it’s optimal.  Not that the optimal is much better.

These Ain’t Your Dad’s Predators: Generalizations are easy and the one for Nashville is similar to the one New Jersey has been identified with for years. They’re defensive, hardworking, difficult to play against, and their only issue is scoring goals.  It’s been that way for the better part of their existence.  Yet, that has changed in recent years and it’s rather apparent this season.  Filip Forsberg was a rookie sensation last season, leading the Predators in total points and goals. He’s already opened his account on Saturday and he’ll be looking to deposit more in the smoothly skilled way that he plays. Mike Ribeiro is older but his vision has never really left him. He demonstrated that with a 47-assist 2014-15 and he’s got one helper already.  He’ll be of particular note to watch on a power play.  Craig Smith and Colin Wilson potted in 23 and 20 goals last season, they’ll both be leading the offensive charge with Forsberg with plenty of shots – especially from Smith, who led last season’s team with 252. Of course, there’s also James Neal. He put home 23 in 67 games and he’s no stranger to firing away and firing dangerous shots. He’s yet to score this season, but it won’t be long before the right winger snipes one in.  The Predators have legitimately good offensive players, which makes them a strong team to play against – and not just in a highly-structured, grinding, defensive way.  And if Calle Jarnkrok – he was on a top line in the Edmonton game – flourishes soon, then Nashville will even be more potent in their attack.

That said, the Predators can and should boast about their back end.  Shea Weber and Roman Josi are excellent players.  Jose was a big producer with fifteen goals, 201 shots, and fifty-five points last season. Weber made even more shots and only ended up with fifteen fewer assists. Both played a ton of minutes and came out well against tough competition. They’ve been getting big minutes early on this season; the top Devils will see plenty of them in all situations.  Supporting them are Seth Jones and Ryan Ellis.  Both have averaged around twenty minutes in their first two games and so far so good. Both are rather young defenders, they were high draft picks (fourth and eleventh overall in their draft years, respectively), and they will support the defense quite well beyond the two studs.  That top four is further supported by Mattias Ekholm and Barrett Jackman.  Jackman may end up being the weak link for being a defensive-minded, offensive-lacking 34 year old.  He’s not in the Salvador zone; but if there’s someone the offense may want to focus on attacking, then it may be him.  Of course, he’s not a shabby defender so it’s really only relative to the other defenders.

Besides, getting past this defense most likely means having to deal with Pekka Rinne.  He’s a rather good goaltender, as he’s posted overall save percentages of at least 92.3% three times in the last five seasons and one of those two that didn’t was a function of only having played 24 games.  He is to Nashville as Schneider is to New Jersey, a rock in the crease that keeps his team in more games than not.   This isn’t to say he’s unbeatable, but with only one goal allowed in two games, he’s got to be feeling pretty good.  If it goes awry, he’s got 18 skaters who are capable of scoring goals to overcome it and providing the defense give him the best chance to succeed.

Your Take: The Predators are coming to town, they haven't lost. The Devils haven't won yet, will they be able to spoil their undefeated start? Who on the Predators concerns you the most? Will they able to do it knowing they might not have Schneider in net? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments.  Thank you for reading.