The New Jersey Devils host the Nashville Predators tonight in their first home game since Jan. 12, a win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Devils (18-24-7) face an up-and-down Predators team (23-19-7) that isn’t quite as formidable as the Lightning, but still dangerous. The Devils sit at 15th in their conference, and the Predators sit at 11th in their conference and just four points from a playoff spot. Nashville is coming off of a win last night against the Washington Capitals — they were trailing 4-3 going into the third and fought from behind to win the game.
Ray Shero fired John Hynes on Dec. 3, and David Poile hired John Hynes on Jan. 7. Hynes’ coaching impact is already evident in Nashville -— even-strength play features man-to-man defensive coverage, defensemen are often active in offensive zone play, “low-danger” point shots are handed to the opponent on a silver plate, and gritty, tenacious players are seeing similar ice time as top skilled players.
Thus far, Nashville holds four wins and four losses with Hynes as the boss behind the bench, and it’s paramount for them to gain as many points as they can until the season ends in the tight Western Conference playoff race. The Devils, at this point in the season, are unfortunately not playing with that kind of pressure, as they’ve slowly but painfully dug themselves into a hole that is far from the playoff picture.
One can present a strong argument that Nashville’s top offensive forwards have severely underperformed this season: Filip Forsberg is their top-scoring forward with 35 points in 43 games. Behind him is Matt Duchene (32 pts), Ryan Johansen (29 pts), Viktor Arvidsson (21 pts), and Mikael Granlund (18 pts). Still, the Predators are a more well-rounded team than the Devils, and have dangerous threats from the back end — Roman Josi leads the team in points with 14 goals and 35 assists. Containing him will be difficult, especially if the Devils stagger in the defensive zone and leave the points wide open.
Nikita Gusev has 21 assists in 46 games and had a shootout goal and assist last game in Ottawa. He has evolved into one of the Devils’ top forwards, but Nico Hischier is unequivocally number one. He was all over the ice last game, and his defensive zone prowess will be key in limiting Nashville’s offensive zone opportunities and moving the puck in transition. Jack Hughes has been on a frustrating offensive dry spell, with no points in his past four games and two points in his past seven.
- Bratt – Hischier – Palmieri
- Coleman – Zajac – Gusev
- Zacha – Hughes – Simmonds
- Wood – Rooney – Hayden
- Greene – Subban
- Severson – Vatanen
- Butcher – Mueller
Subban missed practice yesterday due to an illness but skated in the morning skate today and will be a game-time decision.
- Duchene – Johansen – Grandlund
- Forsberg – Turris – Arvidsson
- Grimaldi – Bonino – Smith
- Jarnkrok – Blackwell – Watson
- Josi – Fabbro
- Tinordi – Ekholm
- Hamhuis – Weber
*starting goaltender has not been announced, but Saros played last night
Who to Watch
He can do it all. He controls the game from the back end and is always a threat. He leads Nashville in points and will be the best skater on the ice tonight.
It’s fair to say that Hynes knows the Devils’ roster and coaching staff well enough that he will be able to contain their top offensive players. Coleman, however, is impossible to contain with his brute strength and tenacity.