The Nashville Predators (10-8-1) go immediately from facing the Best in the West to the Beast of the East (as Barry Trotz called them) when the New Jersey Devils bring their 14-5-0 record into the Sommet Center this evening for a 7:00 start.
After the jump, let's break down the matchup...
Meet the Enemy
SB Nation's New Jersey blog is the very fine In Lou We Trust, and John Fischer was good enough to answer a few question about the Devils for us:
Q: The Devils are once again leading the league with a 2.1 Goals Against Average. Admit it, the return of Jacques Lemaire as head coach means we're returning to the bad, old 1990's right?
A: I will not admit it. In fact, I refute it and made an argument against the notion that the Devils have been successful this season with the trap. Has strong defending and the usual excellent play from Martin Brodeur helped? Yes, but the key for the Devils this season has been coming from behind to succeed. They have conceded the first goal (sometimes first two goals) 6 times in the last 8 games, yet they earned a record of 7-1. All by not letting the early deficits affect their mentality, focusing on working hard on the next shift, and being able to get strong shots on net to get equalizers and go-ahead goals. You don't get those kinds of results by sitting back in a 1-2-2.
Q: What's it like knowing that you have a #1 goalie that's going play 80-90% of your games? We haven't had that around here for a while...
A: It feels pretty good. There's a lot of comfort with Martin Brodeur. If he has a bad game or lets in a soft goal, we (as in the fans) may complain; but we generally know he'll be better for the next game or even later in that game with some big saves. There's a level of trust the fans have in Brodeur and he continually justifies it with his strong goaltending. That said, no one honestly thinks Brodeur will last forever - no matter how cool it may be to call him Endless Brodeur or Endless Marty. Last season, he suffered a torn bicep which sidelined him for 4 months and Devils fans were genuinely concerned as to what would happen. While Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes did a very fine job filling in Brodeur's spot, everyone was glad to see Marty return to form later in the season. It's a good feeling to have a trusted player in an important position like goaltender.
GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT 2009 - Zach Parise 19 11 13 24 13 4 2 1 1 0 84 13.1
Q: Zach Parise gets attention as one of the top young offensive talents in the game - what sort of player is he, and what should Preds fans look for when he's on the ice?
A: Parise is a dynamic player. He's seemingly in constant motion and he'll go anywhere on the ice; Preds fans should pay very close attention to #9 or they'll wonder how he got open so easily a few second later. He'll battle bigger defensemen in the corners for the puck off a dump or on a forechecking effort. He'll glide across the blueline to keep the puck in the zone. He'll cycle down low and rotate between the goal line, the circle, and the crease. He'll drop back on defense to make a big play and then dash up ice for a long pass. And that's not all, Parise possesses a great shot, good vision with the puck, and he's able to set up his linemates in advantageous positions. He's fun to watch and incredibly difficult for defensemen to stop - Nashville should only look to contain him and/or get in front of as many of his shots as possible. While he's no Ovechkin, Parise loves to shoot the puck and usually finds a way to get 4-6 shots on goal on most nights. And to think he'll only get better.
A: It has been a mixture of young and veteran players who have stepped up as the Devils started off injured. On offense, Niclas Bergfors and David Clarkson have enjoyed excellent starts to their seasons. Bergfors is a rookie winger who enjoys shooting the puck and is pretty swift. Clarkson is a tough winger who has more offensive flair than you'd think - he's just as able to drop the gloves as he is to pull a toe drag in the high slot. Rob Niedermayer also had a good start as the team's third line center, providing good defense and a little offense - but he has been injured recently; Tim Sestito from Lowell was called up and has been energetic in limited action.
On defense, the two guys who have stepped up are Andy Greene and Mike Mottau. Greene was the team's #6, but he's taking on big (23+) minutes and looking more like a #2 in the process. He's pretty smart about jumping up on the play to pinch on offense and his confidence has rewarded him with 3 goals and 6 assists. Mike Mottau is your classic pretty good at most aspects of defensemen, but a master of none. Last season, he was the team's #4 defenseman only because he looked decent next to Colin White. Not impressive, not terrible, but the Devils could use an upgrade in that role. This season, he has truly stepped up along with Greene in playing big minutes. He's not nearly as offensive as Greene with no points this season, but he has been critical to the Devils' defense as shown by the number of minutes he has taken recently. Colin White and Bryce Salvador have seen increased workloads, but Greene and Mottau have taken more time since they have stood out more for their fine work on the blueline.
John also provides some projected lines in his game preview:
Meet the Good Guys
The Predators are on a roll, as Buddy writes at Preds On the Glass, and the good news is that they're getting contributions from pretty much all aspects of the team.
I would expect that the lines will look much as they did Tuesday night:
Hamhuis - Franson
The only problem area right now is that Santorelli line, which hasn't provided much punch lately.
Even Strength Play
|5-on-5 Team Data from Behind the Net|
|Team||GP||GF||GA||GF/60||Shots For/60||Sht %||GA/60||Shots Ag/60||Save %||+/- per 60|
This is a relatively even matchup at evens, especially considering that the Predators are playing well above their season-long values these days. The good news is that New Jersey's shooting percentage isn't exactly stellar (while Nashville's stinks), so this could be a pretty low-scoring affair for both sides.
New Jersey PP vs. Nashville PK
The Predators' penalty kill is one of many aspects of the team that's performing better of late, and they've combined that with the discipline to avoid giving up lots of power play chances to their opponents. New Jersey boasts a pretty good PP (20.8%, 14th in the NHL), but with the recent return of Patrik Elias to the lineup, they should be even better.
Nashville PP vs. New Jersey PK
With two scores against San Jose on Tuesday (one of them during a 5-on-3 advantage), the Preds' power play is starting to show signs of life. Given the low-scoring nature of this team, the power play probably offers the greatest hope for improvement.
The Devils' penalty kill is decent (83.6%, 7th in the league), but even more importantly, New Jersey doesn't take many penalties. They're the only team in the NHL that has had to kill off fewer penalties than the Predators, so we should expect a higher-then-normal portion of the game played 5-on-5.
The Devils boast some old-timer in goal, who's chasing the NHL's All-Time Shutout Record of 103, set by Terry Sawchuk:
|2009 - Martin Brodeur||17||1030||12||5||38||2.21||477||439||.920||1|
And for the Predators, I'm going to guess that after missing the last three games,
Dan Ellis gets a return shot in net. It turns out I guessed wrong, and Pekka Rinne gets his 4th consecutive start:
|2009 - Pekka Rinne||12||650||7||4||26||2.40||304||278||.914||2|
This is another big test for a Predators team that has passed several recently. In a game that will likely feature lots of rolling lines and continuous 5-on-5 play, Nashville will need the Santorelli line to step up and assert itself. Patric Hornqvist is certainly capable of mixing it up in Brodeur's space, and there's also some other guy on the other side of that line, but I just can't recall who that is... if he'd like to show up and punch in a goal or two, that would be great.