Nashville Predators @ New Jersey Devils Preview: Return of the Coach

John Hynes makes his first return to New Jersey with the new team.

The Nashville Predators

The Preds are on the second half of a road back-to-back, after a bizarre game where we saw Alex Ovechkin pass Steve Yzerman on the all-time scoring list off an actual freebie from Juuse Saros (who passed the puck to Ovechkin while standing behind his own net), and then saw Nick Bonino score one of the most blatant own-goals I’ve ever seen. It was weird. It was bad. It was the Preds’ season so far in a nutshell.

Then they somehow pulled out the 5-4 win, with the gamewinning goal scored by Yannick Weber after Jarred Tinordi got the scoring started? I got nothin’.

Micah Blake McCurdy has stated that coaching effects usually take a couple of weeks to kick in after a team changes coaches, and the Preds’ bye week coming right in the middle of that adjustment period has probably complicated things even further. The risk with waiting until after the New Year to fire Peter Laviolette was always that it would be too late to change team morale, team habits, and ultimately the team’s place in the standings. I haven’t completely given up hope in John Hynes yet—we’re still within two weeks of actual Preds games since the change—but I’m not optimistic about this season despite last night’s comeback win.

Also, man, they have got to get a cursebreaker or exorcist or something in there for Matt Duchene, because yikes.

The New Jersey Devils

The Devils have struggled this year. Their 43 points have them eighth in the Metropolitan Division, after an offseason where they gambled on success. They’re not scoring and they’re not getting saves.

They traded talented prospect Jérémy Davies for current-but-aging superstar P.K. Subban—they hoped that Subban was what they needed now, that Taylor Hall would thrive and opt to stick around with the committed and successful team, and that their latest first-overall draft pick, Jack Hughes, would join fellow recent first-overall draft pick Nico Hischier in making some magic happen.

Fast-forward a few months, and the Devils have fired their head coach, fired their GM, and traded NHL lottery ball specialist Hall to the Arizona Coyotes, so even their abysmal record thus far doesn’t give their fans as much reason to hope as it might have this time last year.

Kyle Palmieri leads the Devils in points, with 32 (17G/15A), while Nikita Gusev’s 21 assists and Blake Coleman’s 19 goals are top on the team in those categories. Hischier doesn’t lead in any category, but is second in both points and—among current players—assists (Hall had managed 19 in two-thirds the number of games). Sami Vatanen leads defenders with 22 points, including five goals. Palmieri and Coleman are among the team’s best play-drivers at both ends of the ice.

Subban has struggled this season, with his point production limited and his even-strength play sacrificing defense to try to generate some offense—any offense. Unfortunately, most of that offense has come for the other team. There’s always the risk, with a player Subban’s age and with Subban’s injury history, that a down season might be the beginning of a decline instead of a stumble easily bounced back from. In that context, his last year with the Preds doesn’t look great, because his current year with the Devils is even less great, although he has been part of a very good penalty kill unit.

His fellow former Pred Wayne Simmonds, meanwhile, is doing pretty well—not great, given the contract he signed, but rebounding after a down 2018-19, especially in terms of driving offense.

The Devils, like the Predators, have had a hard time with goaltending, as Cory Schneider’s performance fell through the floor and nobody was able to really step up and replace him. The Devils’ starting goaltender is currently 23-year-old MacKenzie Blackwood, who has a .906 sv% over 36 games. (I feel like I should note that while this is no longer true, for years Schneider was extremely good and extremely unheralded.)

Reasons to Watch

  • Maybe the Preds used up all their bad puck luck in last night’s bizarre game against the Capitals?
  • Maybe the Preds have finally started to find their pushback?
  • There’s no football, baseball, or basketball on (okay, there’s basketball, if you’re a fan of one of the teams that’s playing tomorrow night, but the local one isn’t)./

How to Watch

The Predators will get another exciting chance to embarrass themselves live on national television at 6:30 PM Central on MSNBC. Same time, same place, same extremely awkward commentary. Spare yourself the voiceovers if you’d like by catching the radio call on 102.5 The Game instead.

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