What's a better Valentine's Day gift than watching the Devils take on the best team in the NHL?
The Time: 8:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (21-25-9) at the Nashville Predators (37-12-6; SBN Blog: On the Forecheck)
The Last Devils Game: The Devils went to Chicago and surpringsly played well enough to have a 1-0 lead going into the third period. They got on the board early when Jon Merrill made a nice read to pass the puck to Scott Gomez behind the Blackhawks' net, who then immediately found Peter Harrold creeping in at the right circle, to put the shot past Corey Crawford towards the end of the first period. As John noted in his recap of the game, shots and shot attempts were almost even between the two teams and the Devils had been playing well to fend off a much more skilled Chicago team. The Blackhawks had their moments in the second period but Cory Schneider was solid when called upon, as usual. The key moment of the game came with seconds left in the second period when Michael Ryder when he took a careless interference penalty in the offensive zone. It goes back to a fundemental aspect of the game that coaches at all levels will harp on, "don't take a penalty in the offensive zone, don't take a penalty late in the period." As you can imagine Lou Lamoriello was not impressed in his post game interview with Tom Gulitti. Chicago came out ready on the man advantage to start the final period of play, with Marian Hossa putting a wrist shot from the right circle past Cory Schneider to tie the game. Just a few minutes later, Jonathan Toews would give the Blackhawks the lead for good when he gained the zone, found a streaking Marian Hossa in behind Marek Zidlicky, followed the play to the net, and jammed home the rebound as he beat Zidlicky to it. Kris Versteeg would end up sealing the deal with an empty net goal to give the Devils their third loss in a row.
The Last Predators Game: The Predators defeated the Jets 3-1 on Thursday. Alex Daugherty has the recap over at On the Forecheck. Nashville's powerplay went 2/6 with Shea Weber and Filip Forsberg picking up the goals. James Neal had the game's only even strength goal in the third period. Pekka Rinne made 32 saves to advance his SV% to .930, good for second best in the NHL. The Jets actually out-shot the Predators 33-26, though there were score effects at play here.
The Last Devils-Predators Game: This will be the first of two meetings between the Devils and Predators this year. Last year, the teams split the season series with New Jersey winning the first game 5-0 in November and the Predators winning the second game 3-2in overtime in January. Shea Weber scored twice, including the game wining goal in that game. David Legwand had the other Nashville goal. Patrik Elias and Jaromir Jagr both had a goal and an assist while Travis Zajac had two assists. Cory Schneider made 30 saves that night as the Devils were out-shot 33-26.
The Goal: Play disciplined hockey. The Devils went into Chicago and put up a strong effort and were mostly effective before a careless penalty by Michael Ryder changed the game giving Chicago all the momentum. Eric Gelinas followed with another penalty that didn't cost the Devils a goal, but did take away precious attack time. If you go back to last Saturday's game against Montreal, the Devils took themselves out of the game between a Dainius Zubrus high sticking double minor and a Peter Harrold hooking penalty, in which the Canadiens scored three goals. Even a few days later, an Adam Larsson penalty led to a Nail Yakupov goal which gave Edmonton the lead. The bottom line is the Devils aren't even that good at even strength (to put it midly) and they can't put themselves down a man. They just don't have a large margin for error. Tonight they will go against a strong Nashville team that ranks 6th in goals per game (2.94) and has a decent power play (18%). The Devils penalty kill is already ranked 25th in the league (78.3%) so they need to avoid the box and try to make life easier for themselves.
About the Predators: According to War-On-Ice, Nashville currently has the 7th best CF% (52.4%) and FF% (52.8%). Their SCF% (scoring chance for) is the 4th best in the league at 53.8%. Nashville is averaging 31.2 shots for per 60 minutes, third best in the NHL, at 5v5 play. This could end up being a long night for the Devils and perhaps Cory Schneider if he is given the start.
Nashville's Top Players: Here is their player usage chart for their forwards via War-On-Ice. As you can see the likes of Filip Forsberg, Mike Riberio, James Neal, and to a lesser extent Craig Smith are deployed with the most favorable zone starts but also against top competition. Forberg-Ribeiro-Smith was the top line the last game with James Neal joining Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson on the second line. Here's the usage chart for the defensemen. Roman Josi and Shea Weber anchor the top pairing, face the toughest competition, and get hard zone starts. The pairing of Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm were out of action for Nashville's most recent game due to injuries. Ex-Devil Anton Volchenkov was paired with young star, Seth Jones.
Filip Forsberg and James Neal lead the team with 19 goals each. Mike Ribeiro has the lead in assists with 34. Filip Forsberg (50), Mike Ribeiro (45), Roman Josi (40), Shea Weber (39), and Colin Wilson (36) are the top five in scoring. Also, be prepared to see Shea Weber and Roman Josi a lot, they both average around 26:30 minutes per game.
The Likely Starter for Nashville: Pekka Rinne is having a fantastic season for the Predators. He currently leads the league in wins (32) and GAA (1.99) and is second in SV% (.930). According to Hockey-Reference, he has the second best goals saved above average (20.42), the most quality starts (32), and highest quality start percentage (78%). According to War-On-Ice, he has the best 5v5 SV% (.943) in the league. A shutout tonight or just one goal by the Devils wouldn't surprise me.
Happy with the New Lines: Lou Lamoreillo was "happy" with the new line combinations last night, according to Tom Gulitti. The idea was to add more toughness to each line by having a grit player paired with more skilled guys. Thus, the reasoning behind Jordin Tootoo playing with Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac and Tuomo Ruutu with Mike Cammalleri and Jaromir Jagr. While playing a guy like Tootoo 17+ minutes a night is not ideal, it's hard to argue with it at least working against Chicago for the majority of the game. I'd expect to see something similar tonight but with a likely different result.
Possible Changes?: Michael Ryder and Eric Gelinas drew back into the line up last night and I wouldn't be surprised if at least Ryder is coming out for Martin Havlat tonight. Ryder took a costly penalty, put up no shots, had just two attempts, and only played 9:24. While not much can be expected to come out of him in a fourth line role with Jacob Josefson and Dainius Zubrus, he still needs to be better if he wants to claim a spot in the line up. In my opinion, he has done enough to play himself out of NJ for good. Eric Gelinas played mainly with Peter Harrold and Marek Zidlicky last night, getting crushed when he was with Zidlicky. I think he'll get into tonight's game but I wouldn't be shocked if the coaching staff put Mark Fraser in considering how much they love the physical element he brings and it's the back end of a back-to-back.
Jagr's Ice Time: Jagr is averaging 18 minutes per game this season, however he has only eclipsed that mark twice since the coaching change. Last night he only played 13:29 and he has been below 16 minutes for three straight games. Did he need the reduction due to fatigue? Is it due to the coaches trying to find new line combinations? Are they slowly preparing for life after Jagr? Just something to keep an eye on.
Your Take: The Devils face another really good team, on the second night of a back-to-back. How do you see this game playing out? What matchups are you looking for? Do you hope Schneider gets the start? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!