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Game Preview: Nashville Predators at New Jersey Devils

Coming off their third-straight loss on Tuesday, the New Jersey Devils will hope to rebound on home ice against the reigning Western Conference champions.

Nashville Predators v New Jersey Devils
In the previous meeting between these two teams, the Devils surrendered five goals, and lost 5-1. It’ll be interesting to see the difference a year and some change can make.
Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

The Matchup: The Nashville Predators (28-11-7 ; 2nd, Central ; SBN Blog: On the Forecheck) at the New Jersey Devils (24-15-8 ; 2nd, Metropolitan)

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+

The Devils’ Last Game: If you missed the Devils’ last game... Good for you. You saved yourself a lot of frustration and yelling at your TV. Our fearless leader here at All About the Jersey, John Fischer, put it best by summarizing his feelings mainly in one word, “salty”. Read his in-depth recap here.

For those looking for the condensed version, here you go. The Boston Bruins defeated our Devils by a final score of 3-2 on Tuesday night at TD Garden in Boston. Coming in to the home building of a team on a 13-0-3 run in their last 16 games, I expected the Devils to lose in a big way. But low and behold, New Jersey came out with energy and took the game to the hometown Bruins, scoring the first and third goals of the game to twice hold a one-goal lead, both times watching it evaporate. The cherry on Tuesday night’s you-know-what cake was Brad Marchand, one of the most hated players in the entire league, elbowing New Jersey’s Marcus Johansson in the head. Johansson would leave the ice and not return. He suffered a concussion which kept him out of action for most of November. It looks like he’s been diagnosed with another as of yesterday. Hoping for a speedy recovery out of him. Marchand wasn’t called for a penalty on the play, then went on to score the game-winning goal in the most infuriating turn of events I’ve seen in quite some time.

Marchand was today suspended five games and fined $373,475 for the incident. The Bruins’ faithful, and now that they’re winning again you can find them around quite easily, have voiced their displeasure. I’ve seen one article online calling the suspension “a joke”. The writer went as far as to use the old “we’re too good” argument, stating that he believes the league suspended Marchand to add some much needed parity to the Atlantic Division, which features a few teams who are wearing the “wipe your feet here” sign firmly around their necks this season.

There’s the play. Go be your own judge. In my opinion, and I’m sure I’m not alone here, it wasn’t enough of a punishment for a player who has a history as a cheap shot artist in this league.

And for those of you who miss the days when players were allowed to concuss each other without fear of even a penalty being called: remember, it’s a different game nowadays. Just like football there needs to be a line in the sand in the NHL which dissuades such plays. It’s a long, hard season, so injuries are inevitable in such a grueling contact sport, but if harsher protocols result in less head injuries which can lead to CTE further down the road, then I’m all for those protocols.

The Predators’ Last Game: Nashville rolled into their game against Tampa on Tuesday with points in their previous six contests (5-0-1), and five consecutive wins under their belts. But the defending Western Conference champs were playing against one of this year’s best teams, the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was an exciting game with ups and downs for both teams. Tampa took the lead, Nashville tied it, then they took a lead of their own, but the Lightning tied it. Nashville grabbed another lead off a P.K. Subban clapper from the top of the left faceoff circle with just 50 seconds remaining in the second. But Steven Stamkos was not to be outdone, tying the game with less than three minutes to go in regulation. In the end it was Mr. 13th Forward himself, Yanni Gourde, who won the game in overtime on a broken play in front of the Nashville net. But in all seriousness, Yanni Gourde is a solid young player overcoming his size who’s just starting to find his stride in this league and who looks poised for a 40 to 50 point season this year. Good job, Yanni. For more on that game, here’s Alex Daugherty’s recap over at On the Forecheck.

Analyzing the Preds: So, I’m not Johnny analytics. I hate math, looking at graphs, etc., even if I know that’s the way the wind is blowing as far as the important stats in hockey. But, it doesn’t take an advanced statistics whiz to know what makes this Nashville squad really good. It’s what got them to the finals last year, and it’s continuing to work this year: Defense. The Predators are deep on the back-end. So deep in fact that P.K. Subban, a consensus top-5 defenseman in this league, and the team-leader in points, does not play on the top-pairing. With the emergence of Roman Josi as a second top-pairing defenseman in recent years, the Preds have been able to get creative with their pairings on the back-end. Subban sees time with Alexei Emelin to his left, and Josi has Ryan Ellis on his right. On paper that’s a scary top-4. A top-4 that is more than suited to shutting down opposing offenses. With Pekka Rinne backstopping this team, it’s tough to score. Rinne sports a .925 save percentage this year, good for sixth in the entire league.

With those strengths in mind, as well as the Predators’ core of defensively responsible forwards, it’s no wonder this team has allowed the second fewest goals in the entire NHL. They’ve also notched the second-most shutouts this year, and have the fifth-highest faceoff win percentage in the NHL. Those are sound defensive numbers. Rinne is obviously very helpful as well back there, but what of Juuse Saros? The 22-year-old Finnish backup has started 12 games this season and recorded three shutouts in that span. He’s unbeaten in regulation in nine consecutive starts. With a .926 save percentage, he is certainly creating competition for the starting job there in Nashville. The Preds allow a surprising amount of shots against per game too, at 32.8. But the 6’5” Rinne and the 5’11” Saros keep them out for the most part, and let the skaters do the rest. It’s a formula that’s worked well to this point.

Injuries: Back to the Devils, or at least what remains of them after the rough game against the Bruins. New Jersey now sports a laundry list of players with some injury. That list includes Cory Schneider (No word on his injury yet), Johansson (Concussion), Hall (Hand), Keith Kinkaid (Groin), and Brian Gibbons (Hand). That doesn’t even account for the list of Devils who hobbled off the ice in Boston but returned. Of those not listed above, John Moore was available for the majority of the game, but didn’t have a shift in the last five minutes. Sami Vatanen was slow to get up at one point, but finished out the game, and Damon Severson headed back to the Devils’ dressing room for a short while before returning to the bench. That’s a lot of work for the training staff. And it could mean a lot of work for the Devils’ extras come the next few games.

Lineups: No lineup updates for New Jersey as of yet, as the battered Devils did not hold a team practice yesterday. They will skate today ahead of tonight’s 7 PM start time at the Rock.

As for Nashville, they placed veteran forward Cody McLeod on waivers yesterday, opening up room on their 23-man roster for the impending return of their top scoring forward, Filip Forsberg. As of yesterday, Forsberg had been skating with his teammates at practice in a non-contact sweater. A timetable of four-to-six weeks was given given for him as of January 3.

Your Take: Chime in in the comments section. Let us know what you think of the Marchand suspension and fine. The three game losing streak. The recent play, and the string of injuries. Until next time, folks.