Predators gear up for foundering Devils

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A date with the reeling New Jersey Devils on Friday was enough to get the Chicago Blackhawks out of sole possession of last place in the Central Division. The Predators will hope the Devils can provide a similar remedy Saturday, when Nashville hosts New Jersey.

The Devils will be completing a back-to-back set after falling to the visiting Blackhawks 2-1 in a shootout Friday night. The Predators haven’t played since Tuesday, when they fell to the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in overtime.

The Blackhawks’ win vaulted them into a tie for sixth place in the Central with Nashville, though the Predators have two games in hand. Still, it’s been a precipitous fall for Nashville, which won four in a row from Oct. 22-29 to improve to 8-3-1 but is just 4-7-4 since. The slump includes a pair of two-game losing streak as well as a six-game skid.

On Tuesday, the Predators came back from a pair of one-goal deficits before losing on Nikita Kucherov’s goal 2:35 into overtime.

“We got a point, so that’s good, but we lost another game, and that’s the bad,” Predators goalie Pekka Rinne said afterward. “It was a good team we played against, but I still feel like we can find another level, or another gear.”

The Devils, who have the second-fewest points in the NHL (23), can’t seem to figure out a way to shift out of reverse. New Jersey has lost four straight, the first two of which came by a combined margin of 11-1 and cost former head coach John Hynes his job.

The Devils have played better in a pair of one-goal losses under interim head coach Alain Nasreddine, but they squandered leads in both contests and have lost 10 games this season in which they held a lead.

“Effort was there,” Devils left winger Taylor Hall said after scoring his team’s only goal Friday night. “It was a game to build off of for sure. It’s been a big change for us. If we thought it was going to happen overnight, it’s probably not going to happen that way.”

The game Saturday will be the first for the Predators since head coach Peter Laviolette was accused by Daniel Carcillo, who played under Laviolette with the Philadelphia Flyers, of encouraging reluctant players to fight. Laviolette denied the claims Friday and said Carcillo’s statement “couldn’t be further from the truth.”

ESPN also published a story detailing an incident in 2011 in which Laviolette’s hand appeared to hit Flyers left winger Ville Leino in the back of the head. Laviolette said he was trying to punch his fist into his hand and accidentally grazed Leino.

The veteran head coach, who has presided over four teams since the 2001-02 season, said he understands the increased scrutiny placed on coaches after Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters was fired for physically abusing players while with the Carolina Hurricanes and using racial slurs as a minor league head coach. Former coaches Mike Babcock and Marc Crawford also were recently accused of abusing players.

“In the scope of where we are right now, with regard to coaches, I can tell you that physical abuse for me is the furthest thing from the truth,” Laviolette told reporters Friday.

–Field Level Media

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