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Game Preview #32: New Jersey Devils vs. Nashville Predators

In search of a win to break a six game slide, the New Jersey Devils will host the Nashville Predators. This game preview goes over what’s new with Nashville and summarizes what they’re about.

Nashville Predators v New Jersey Devils
Josi! Cammalleri! Again! Tonight!
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Back home and desperate for a win. By any means necessary at this point.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (12-12-7) vs the Nashville Predators (14-12-5; SBN Blog: On the Forecheck)

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV – MSG+; Digital Audio – The One Jersey Network

The Last Devils Game: On Sunday, the Devils visited Our Hated Rivals to conclude a four-game road trip. As it turned out, the Devils played well. They actually controlled the run of play. They actually survived a second period without giving up any goals. They actually scored a power play goal after conceding multiple scoring chances on past power plays; P.A. Parenteau knocked in a loose puck that Henrik Lundqvist helped put over the line. And when a cycle ended up with Chris Kreider scoring on a point-blank shot, the Devils responded with Adam Henrique feeding Miles Wood for a one-timer to make it 2-1. Alas, the Rangers started swarming for minutes and they would succumb late to it. An icing led to a faceoff win for the Rangers, one pass, a second pass, and then Derek Stepan re-directed a third pass past Cory Schneider with over a minute left in regulation. In overtime, the Devils and Rangers traded chances and plays but to no avail. To the shootout and the Rangers prevailed in four frames to hand the Devils their sixth straight loss, 2-3. My recap of the close, but not enough game is here.

The Last Predators Game: Last night, the Predators were in Philly. The Flyers took off early with sixteen shots in the first period. The one by Andrew MacDonald beat Pekka Rinne to make it 0-1 for Nashville. A more even and more-foul-filled second period followed. But Rinne and Steve Mason stopped everything they faced. In the third period, the Preds took it up a notch and out-shot the Flyers 10-5. They wanted an equalizer and they got it when Filip Forsberg tipped in a long shot by Matt Irwin. There would not be another goal in regulation and in overtime, to the dismay of the Predator effort. But in the shootout, Nashville prevailed when Ryan Ellis - a defenseman - scored on his shot and no one on Philly matched it. They took the game with a final score of 2-1. Michael Gallagher at On the Forecheck had this recap of the win.

The Last Devils-Predators Game: On December 3, the Devils wrapped up a four-game road trip in Nashville. After the first forty minutes, the Devils were down 1-4 in a dominating fashion by the Predators. The Devils then stunned the Nashville fans with an improbable comeback where they scored three goals in the third period out of exactly four shots on net. And the one shot that didn’t go in created one of the goals. Overtime was necessary. While Nashville dominated most of that time, Taylor Hall was able to lead one late two-on-one. He passed the puck to Michael Cammalleri and he scored on New Jersey’s lone shot in overtime to make it a 5-4 win. My recap of the amazingly improbable comeback is here. For the other side, Gallagher had this recap up at On the Forecheck.

The Goal: Mostly do what you did in Manhattan. The Devils played a very good game against a very good Rangers team. They really should keep that up. However, I wrote mostly because there’s one thing they had trouble against New York’s counter-attacks. Their power play was torched for shorthanded chances and made some of their best opportunities at even strength. While Cory Schneider stopped them all, that they had chances meant the Devils were playing with fire and didn’t get burned some how. That’s something the Devils should be mindful for, even if Nashville doesn’t have the proverbial horses like New York. Of course, they certainly looked like it on December 3, crazy comeback aside.

Since December 3: The last time these two teams played was not that long ago. Here’s a quick summary as to what they’ve done since.

The Devils beat Vancouver and proceeded to fall on their face in four straight routs by their opponents. They played better in this past weekend, but lost both games so they enter this game with a six-game losing streak. With the top five teams in the Metropolitan Division being as strong as it has been, the Devils have fallen in the standings.

The Predators have went 3-4-1 since that game. Beating Philly in that shootout was the Predators’ fourth road win of the season and it makes their last two weeks (or so) look a little better. While they had a crazy comeback win against St. Louis, their decisive losses have dropped them into the wild card group - where they’re just outside of it by a point. They’ve been better than the Devils if only for winning more than one game, but it hasn’t exactly been good times since that Saturday.

Devils Off: At the end of this post by Andrew Gross at Fire & Ice on Monday, the Devils did not practice and had the day off. That makes sense as the Devils did just play a back-to-back set on the road. The roster freeze was at midnight, so unless something changed at the last minute, Yohann Auvitu remains in Albany. Sigh.

No Subban: One of the Predators’ top defenseman and one of their goalscorers against the Devils on December 3 will not be playing tonight. Adam Kimelman at NHL.com reported on Monday that he will not dress against the Flyers and the Devils due to an upper body injury. The Predators did pull out a close win over Philly so it is not as if their defense is toast without him. But Subban did play a lot of minutes for Nashville and he has contributed seven goals, ten assists, and eighty shots on net this season. He was a contributor and so he’ll be missed, even if it is only for one more game.

A quick look at the NHL.com Event Summary of the Predators’ win over Philly shows who received the extra minutes in place of Subban. Roman Josi played over 29 minutes and Ryan Ellis moved up and played 30 minutes. Adam Pardy was called up to fill in the roster spot, but with only thirteen shifts for him and Yannick Weber; it’s clear the coaches were leaning even more on Josi and Ellis. Seeing as they played last night, it remains to be seen if that will continue - they may be worth challenging in case their stamina can be taken advantage of. Josi is an excellent defenseman. Ellis has not been a big shooter - only 38 shots on net in 23 games - but he does have four goals and six assists, so he can be productive.

The Collective Offense of Nashville: While the Devils won’t see Subban tonight, they will see James Neal. Neal has been a sniper for the Predators with twelve goals (team leader) out of 85 shots (third most on team). He’s a handful on his own, but the real challenge from Nashville is that others can definitely be handfuls too.

Just look at the point totals among the Nashville skaters. There are nine players with at least fifteen points and the points leader, Ryan Johansen, has twenty-one. Two of those are defensemen: Josi and Subban. The remainder are forwards that are present across three lines. Based on the shift chart from last night’s Predators games, I think I figured out how they may look tonight. There appears to be a unit of Johansen, Neal, and Calle Jarnkrok. Johansen and Neal are strong on the puck and Jarnkrok can provide a spark (no, not a Gazdic-spark, a real one). Then there’s a unit of Filip Forsberg, Craig Smith, and Mike Ribeiro. Ribeiro is a fantastic passer of the puck and reader of the opposition defense, while Forsberg has been a shooter and Smith has a good offensive skillset. The shot machine of Viktor Arvidsson (he has 100!) was skating with the hardworking Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson. Finally, there was a fourth line of Kevin Fiala (don’t sleep on him, he scored twice against the Devils on December 3), Colton Sissons, and Austin Watson. Since that so many of those forwards have been productive and they excel at varying skills, head coach Peter Laviolette can mix and match between and during games as needed. Like he did during the Philly game, where Arvidsson received not-insignificant ice time with Ribeiro and Neal. It’s this aspect of the team that makes Nashville a difficult team to match-up against.

Potentially in Net: Cory Schneider played really well against the Rangers. As the team had the day off yesterday, I think he should start this game tonight. There’s a back-to-back set later in the week, so Keith Kinkaid will not be sitting for too long.

As for the Predators, Rinne played very well against the Flyers. After a crazy-hot November, he has cooled down to a 92.4% even strength save percentage. But Monday’s performance shows that he still has the goods. I don’t think the Devils will see him tonight as they have a capable #2 goalie that could get the start instead: Juuse Saros. While he has only started and appeared in four games, Saros has allowed only six goals from facing 111 shots. That’s a real good short stint. Should the Devils face Saros tonight, then they’ll need to work hard to figure out how to beat him.

A Reason to Score First: Nashville has been unsuccessful when the opposition scores first. It’s been an issue, as it was the focus of this post by Gallagher at On the Forecheck last week. That they have been trailing has inflated their CF%. As per Corsica, in all 5-on-5 score situations, the Predators have the third highest CF% in the league at 53%. That’s all well and good, but in only score-tied 5-on-5 play, their CF% is the 21st in the NHL at 48.52%. The same phenomenon occurred with SF% in 5-on-5 play. In all score situations, Nashville has the fifth highest SF% at 52.43%. In score-tied situations, they’re in the lower half of the league at 49.33%.

There are two takeaways from all of this. First, the Devils do need to be really careful if they get a lead because Nashville goes off when they’re losing (60.59 CF%. 59.34 SF%!!). Second, and this goes to Gallagher’s point, the Predators have tried real hard to make these comebacks but it is not always successful night after night. This kind of play has not been present when the game is tied and they can prevent going down in a hole. That has limited them to a degree. While the Predators can be ferocious when losing, it’s just all the more reason for the Devils to strike early and often.

Shoot it More on Odd Man Rushes: Taylor Hall had five shots on net against the Rangers, but I’d like to see him and other Devils choose to fire away when they are leading an odd man rush. This will keep the opposition defense honest instead of giving them reason to correctly assume there will be a pass. Especially when it’s Hall, who could and should be firing the puck every chance he gets.

Keep Chopping: One Devil to watch out for tonight is Miles Wood. Wood had a standout game on Sunday, where he created a breakaway, took five additional shots on net, played in overtime, and scored a goal. What I would like to see is what he’ll do next. I’d like the Devils to not just use him as a bailout mechanism for long clearances or missed passes to just negate icings. His speed is an asset that can and should be used for more. I think Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri are realizing that based on the goal Wood scored. It’s exciting stuff because he’s an exciting player. So I want to know what he’ll do tonight.

One Last Thought: The Devils iced twelve legitimate forwards on Sunday. I’d like John Hynes to keep them together and see what will happen.

Your Take: The New Jersey Devils will try again to get their first win since two weeks ago against Vancouver. Can they beat on a Nashville team that has not been very successful on the road (only earned their fourth win last night) and played over sixty-five minutes last night? How should the Devils try to deal with the many offensive options Nashville has at their disposal? What do you want the Devils to do differently in their performance compared to what was seen on Sunday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.