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Game Preview #18: New Jersey Devils @ Nashville Predators

The Devils try to get back on track as Nashville coach John Hynes leads the Predators against his former team. This game preview covers what to look out for from Nashville as the Devils welcome back Nathan Bastian after claiming him off waivers on Thanksgiving Day.

NHL: Seattle Kraken at Nashville Predators
Revenge Game for John Hynes? Let’s hope not.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (8-5-4, 20 points) visit the Nashville Predators (10-8-1, 21 points). SB Nation Blog: On The Forecheck

The Time: 6 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - ESPN+ & Hulu. RADIO - Devils Hockey Network

The last Devils game

The Devils fell to the Minnesota Wild 3-2 in the shootout Wednesday. Chris noted in his recap that the Devils played well enough to win. Too bad they mostly have Mark Recchi’s inept power play, a little rough puck luck with how much they hit the post, and the skills competition to blame for the loss. I would agree, as the Devils dominated at 5v5 against a pretty solid possession team in their own right in Minnesota, yet felt fortunate that they even got the one point out of that game.

The last Predators game

The Preds lost to the visiting Vegas Golden Knights 5-2 on Wednesday evening. Juuse Saros had a rare off night as he allowed 4 goals on 34 shots in the loss, but he still has a respectable .917 save percentage on the season. Filip Forsberg accounted for both of the Nashville goals and Matt Duchene picked up an assist for his team-leading 20th point of the season.

The last Devils-Predators game

Friday’s matchup will NOT be the first time John Hynes faces his former team. These teams last met on January 30th, 2020 in Prudential Center. The result of that was a 6-5 shootout win for the visiting Predators, which came roughly two months after Hynes was fired as the Devils head coach.

Mackenzie Blackwood really struggled in this back-and-forth affair. He allowed 5 goals on 30 shots and got scored on twice in the shootout to seal the win for Nashville. Pavel Zacha had himself a three point night with two goals and a helper. Jesper Bratt, Nikita Gusev, and John Hayden also scored for New Jersey. Filip Forsberg scored twice for Nashville while Roman Josi picked up a couple assists.

What will the lines look like?

The Devils lines on Wednesday evening were as follows.

Zacha - Hischier - Tatar

Johnsson - Mercer - Bratt

Vesey - Sharangovich - Kuokkanen

DeLeo - McLeod - Zetterlund

Graves - Hamilton

Siegenthaler - Subban

White - Severson

The Devils essentially ran three lines plus McLeod the last couple games, as they were in catchup mode and needed to try to make something happen. Since the Devils are still in the process of trying to find fourth liners who can be trusted to play more than six minutes a game, Chase De Leo and Fabian Zetterlund played sparingly over the first two periods and didn’t see the ice in the third or overtime against Minnesota.

If only a certain former Devils fourth liner was available for free on waivers and anyone could put in a claim for him......

(insert Jim Ross voice here)

“BAH GAWD, THAT’S NATHAN BASTIAN’S MUSIC!!!”

In all seriousness, Bastian should be a welcome addition back on the fourth line and I’d expect him to immediately slot in for De Leo or Zetterlund. He has been strong defensively and New Jersey could use a little more of that in the bottom six. I also believe there will be a residual effect with Bastian being reunited with McLeod that can help #20 find his game, given the years of chemistry the two have built up playing together.

The Devils also announced that Jesper Boqvist is heading to IR in a corresponding move, so if you thought Lindy Ruff and Tom Fitzgerald would kick Mason Geertsen to the curb to bring in Bastian, you’ll have to wait a little while longer.

Back to Wednesday’s lines, you’ll also notice that Ty Smith wasn’t listed among the defensive pairings as he was a healthy scratch. Smith has really struggled of late, so its tough to say his benching was unwarranted. Hopefully, he takes a cue from Jesper Bratt, Damon Severson, and Yegor Sharangovich, who were all sat down at one point or another earlier this season and all came back better for it. The Devils need the good Ty Smith long-term, but they can get by in the short-term if Colton White is going to give them 13-ish solid but unspectacular minutes. With tonight’s game being on the road though, it may be tougher for Ruff to shelter White’s matchups since he won’t have the benefit of last change.

As for the goaltending, Blackwood has drawn the last three starts for the Devils. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get the nod again. Blackwood has a career-best .922 save percentage in his seven starts and he’s gotten stronger as these games have gone along. Keep in mind though that Jonathan Bernier hasn’t played since Nov. 18th and hasn’t started since Nov. 14th, so its not out of the question Ruff goes with the veteran.

Here are Nashville’s lines from their previous game.

Forsberg - Johansen - Tolvanen

Kunin - Granlund - Duchene

Trenin - Sissons - Jeannot

Cousins - Novak - Tomasino

Josi - Fabbro

Ekholm - Carrier

Borowiecki - Benning

Saros

What do the Preds bring to the table?

Nashville is 22nd in CF% and 20th in xGF% entering Friday, so they’re haven’t exactly been world-beaters at 5v5. They have, however, gotten strong play from Juuse Saros in net. Matt Duchene is on pace for his most productive season since 2013-14, and Ryan Johansen has 14 points in 19 games, his best start since 2018-19. Not bad for two forwards who were left exposed in the Seattle expansion draft. Roman Josi continues to be a workhorse on the backend, averaging a hair under a PPG in his 25 minutes a night.

Nashville has been one of the most dangerous power play teams in the league, converting at a 27.3% clip, so it will be imperative for the Devils to not give them any extra chances. Josi has 10 of his 18 points this season with the man advantage, including 4 goals.

It should be noted that Nashville will be on the front-end of a back-to-back, as they travel to Denver after tonight’s game to face the Avalanche on Saturday. Could we see the Preds opt to start their backup goaltender in what they perceive to be an ‘easier’ matchup in New Jersey and save Jaros for Colorado? We’ll have to wait for the morning skate later today for those answers?

What do the Devils need to do to win?

More of what they did Wednesday against Minnesota, please. Get the puck on the net. Attack, attack, attack. I don’t expect spectacular defensive play from this group, but I do think they’re capable of getting “good enough” defensive play to get by and get a win. The penalty kill has been a smidge better of late, but I need to see a lot more than a couple game sample size before I stop calling for Alain Nasreddine’s job. Oh, and one last thing while on the topic of special teams.....

Can the Devils power play not be useless for once?

Probably not.

No MSG coverage again. Tune into ESPN+ or Hulu if you want to watch the game.

Once again, MSG will not have coverage as this game will be part of ESPN’s NHL Thanksgiving Showdown tripleheader. Unfortunately, only one of those three games will be on a traditional TV broadcast with Rangers-Bruins on ABC at 1pm. The Blues-Blackhawks and Devils-Predators games will be behind the ESPN+ and Hulu paywall. I guess there was no time to fit such a marquee NHL event on the schedule on broadcast television with the litany of college basketball on the schedule Friday, but I digress.

If you weren’t pleased with the ESPN+ presentation from the Devils recent West Coast road trip, you certainly won’t be happy to hear that Leah Hextall and Kevin Weekes will be back on the call of this game. So I guess put the game on the app and pull up the radio call with Matt Loughlin and Chico Resch if you want a local broadcast? I’m just the messenger and I didn’t write the broadcasting schedule, so don’t get mad at me.

Final Thoughts

What do you think about tonight’s matchup? Will the Devils get back on track in the Music City? Who do you need to see get things going? Are you excited about the return of Nathan Bastian? Would you continue to sit Ty Smith in the interim? Who would you start in goal, Blackwood or Bernier? Will the power play not be hot garbage for a change? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!