The Nashville Predators will take their 2-0-0 record on the road for the first time this season. They will face a rebuilding New Jersey Devils team that appears headed for the Eastern Conference cellar (and the future home of Auston Matthews?). Last year, the Preds split the two-game season series, with the loss coming in the midst of that dreadful late-February early-March stretch where nothing was going right. This year the Preds face the them coming off of a win and with a much brighter horizon.
The good guys seemed to take a few steps forward on Saturday night (shutout for Rinne, penalty kill and defense looked good, Forsberg scored), but it's an 82 game season and we are merely 2 wins in. And anyways, we won't truly feel good about this team until they are beating opponents 5-0 or 6-1 every night. Which brings me to tonight's match-up...
The New Jersey Devils
The Devils were predicted by most to be one of the weaker teams in the East and that appears to be the case. Having lost their first two games of the season to Winnipeg and Washington, the Devils and their new coaching staff are probably in for a long season. It's hard to even see how long this rebuild will take. My guess is at least 3-4 years, maybe even longer. They locked down a decent minutes-eating defensive defenseman in Adam Larsson, but have little else beyond that to keep them competitive in the short run. Travis Zajac is 30 years old and 6 years removed from a 20 goal season (and almost $6 million per year, no thank you). Mike Cammalleri could pot 25-30 goals this year (he scored in their loss to the Caps) as could Adam Henrique. But how bad is this Devils team? 32 year-old Jordin Tootoo is a top 6 forward, that's how bad.
Probably the only player the Devils can rely on is Cory Schneider. Signed through the 2021-22 season, he's a career .927 save % goaltender who sees a lot of action. He faced the 3rd most shots of any goaltender in 2014-15 season and still performed well (.925 save %, .632 QS %). Considering his supporting cast, Schneider should have at least been in the conversation for the Vezina last year. When put up against last year's top 10 winning goalies, Schneider matches up well.
His adjusted save % (which accounts for some goalies seeing more low, medium, or high % shots) was among the league's best last year. Even a shade better than two of the Vezina finalists, Rinne and Dubnyk. All this while facing more shots per 60 minutes. He even held his own on high-percentage shots, performing similarly to Rinne in that regard.
Schneider performed well, finished 26-31-9 and the Devils never sniffed the playoffs. If nothing else on this Devil's roster changes, that will likely be the outcome this year.
The Nashville Predators
Facing a tough goalie may be a good thing for the Predators right now. All signs point to this game being a Nashville-dominated contest, with enough Predator shot-attempts to make even Laviolette happy. But they need to start scoring more. The Predators are clearly built to withstand low-scoring, defensive struggles in this year's 82-game marathon, but they will need to find themselves offensively to become a playoff team. Colin Wilson, James Neal, Mike Ribeiro, Roman Josi (and some others) have all seen flashes early, but have yet to find the back of the net. You don't want to peak too early, but there's no reason to wait til December to start scoring either.
Saturday's game was the debut of Lavy's latest off-speed pitch, with Calle Jarnkrok seeing significant time on the top line with Ribeiro and Forsberg. While probably more of a jolt to get James Neal going than a pat on the back of Jarnkrok, it was interesting none-the-less. For what it's worth, James Neal was technically on the ice for Forsberg's goal, but the lines had just changed, so Jarnkrok probably contributed to that goal just as much as Neal did. Either way, it was an interesting twist to the game. Laviolette throwing something out there to see what sticks. With a team as talented and skilled as this, and with it being so early in the season, he can afford to try things like this just to see what happens.
Here's to more of what we saw last Saturday, only with about 50-100% more scoring.
Reasons To Watch
- Seth Jones is playing great hockey and was just named one of Nashville's most beautiful people. Tune in to check both of those things out.
- Filip Forsberg scored his first goal of the year on Saturday and is on pace for 40 goals this year. Craig Smith scored his 2nd and is on pace for 80. Welcome to the NHL in October, where the goals go in and the paces don't matter!
- Colin Wilson looks strong and fast early this season, even if he hasn't scored yet. He has been hitting that next gear with more frequency. I bet he gets his first tonight.
As best I can figure, the Devils are a lot like this Zeppelin tune. A simple and solid groove (Adam Larsson) with a poorly executed, but earnest, vocal performance from Robert Plant (Jordin Tootoo) and an inexplicable bridge that leads nowhere (giving Travis Zajac 8 years, $46 million). And the true star of the song belongs to Jimmy Page's blue box (Cory Schneider) that is wasted on what is probably the laziest solo in the history of solos.
The Important Details
6 PM start for this mid-week matchup. FS-TN and 102.5 The Game are your windows to the magic.