The well-rested Nashville Predators head out on the road on Friday to face-off against the red-hot New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
The 7/4 Predators enter New Jersey having played just one game in the last eight days, following a major flooding issue at Bridgetown Arena which caused the postponement of their scheduled two weekend home games.
A water-main break on Friday morning dumped “millions of gallons” into the building, according to Predators CEO Sean Henry, causing extensive damage in several areas of the arena.
Following an exhaustive recovery effort, the Predators were able to host the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday and the hard work of the hundreds of staff was rewarded with a 2-1 victory.
The overcoming of adversity and opportunity to rest may be of benefit to the Predators who are seeking inspiration to overcome a sluggish start to the season (10-9-2) which sees them fifth in the Central Division.
Alternatively, the disruption could leave them less than prepared and rusty which would be less than ideal against a 10/21 New Jersey Devils side who are on a three-game winning streak and joint lead the NHL standings (19-4-0).
Last season, their fourth straight of not making the playoffs, New Jersey took until the last day of February to win 19 games, something they have managed in 23 games this season.
The Devils are 9-1-0 in their last ten games and 9-3-0 at home this season. Nashville, meanwhile, are 6-3-0 in their past ten and a poor 3-6-0 on the road.
New Jersey are averaging 3.78 goals-per-game which ranks fourth in the NHL and concede an average of 2.22 which is second best in the league.
They are much-fancied to maintain their form and win the Metropolitan Division and are 18/5 to finish top of the NHL standings and win their first ever Presidents' Trophy.
The Predators have qualified for the playoffs in eight straight seasons, but due to several other teams improving around them face a major battle to get in this season.
Rated at 13/10 to do so, Nashville are currently just one point behind Calgary Flames, who hold the second Wild Card spot. To get into the top three which automatically qualify from the Central Division, the Predators must improve their win percentage considerably (.524).
Ahead of them at present is then current Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche (.625), Winnipeg Jets (.690) and Dallas Stars (.652).
With a -11 goal-differential compared to New Jersey’s +36, the signs aren’t good that an improvement will begin on Friday, but they do have the benefit of a superstar goalie who on any given night can steal a game against anyone.
Nashville have no players with over 20 points, while New Jersey have three - Jack Hughes (26; 12 goals, 14 assists), Jesper Bratt (26; eight goals, 18 assists) and Nico Hischier (25; 10 goals, 15 assists).
Filip Forsberg leads the Predators for points with 19 (seven goals, 12 assists) and he is just one of six players with more than ten points. The Devils have ten.
That might not matter on the night though as New Jersey come up against Juuse Saros who is 22/1 to win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie.
Saros, 27, has an 8-6-2 record, .910 save percentage and 2.92 goals against average, which each falls slightly below his career average of .919 and 2.57.
The technically sound Finn made 34 saves against the Ducks, including several stops on the breakaway which took his season tally of stops to 454 on 499 shots which makes him the eighth busiest netminder in the NHL.
Proving time and time again that he can win a game that the Predators have no right of winning, they will need him to be at his magnificent best if they are to improve on their flaky road record on Friday.
The Devils have qualified for the playoffs just once since they made the Stanley Cup Final in 2012.
That six-game defeat to the Los Angeles Kings spelled the end of a hugely successful period for the franchise which included three Stanley Cup wins in 1995, 2000 and 2003.
Since, they have been going through a long re-build in attempt to get back to being a regular contender for the cup.
With an exciting core of youngsters coming to fruition, expectations were that the playoff drought would end this season.
However, given their sensational start, the Devils’ aspirations have accelerated and the evidence so far certainly suggests that they are well-primed, not only to make the playoffs, but to be a danger to anyone that they come up against.
The Devils are 10/1 to win the Stanley Cup this season.