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Predators return home to battle Devils
(SportsNetwork.com) - Set to return home following a solid showing out west, the Nashville Predators may be without one of the game's top defenseman when they play host on Friday night to the New Jersey Devils.
Nashville posted a 2-1-1 record on a trip through Western Canada, but lost blueliner Shea Weber to an upper-body injury in Tuesday's 4-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
Weber assisted on Mike Fisher's go-ahead goal 42 seconds into the third frame before his exit and did not skate on Thursday while being listed as day-to- day.
Not only is Weber among the leaders in the NHL in scoring by a defenseman with 13 goals and 36 points, but he averages 26:43 minutes per game to anchor a young core at the blue line.
Michael Del Zotto has played in 296 career games to pace the defensemen without Weber, but only four of those have come with Nashville since being acquired from the New York Rangers. He is one of four 23-year-olds expected to suit up for the Preds tonight, joining Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm, while Seth Jones is part of the mix as a 19-year-old rookie.
"In terms of moving someone in there, it's a big deal if (Weber) doesn't play," Preds coach Barry Trotz said. "It's a big hole we have to fill. It'll probably be the youngest group we've ever put together on the ice.
"Everybody goes down or out and other guys get more minutes and opportunities, so if Shea isn't able to play then that will be the case."
The Preds were able to hold off the Jets despite losing Weber and recovered with Fisher's goal after allowing Winnipeg to tie the game at 3-3 on a pair of tallies 27 seconds apart late in the second period.
Jones, Josi and Nick Spaling scored and Carter Hutton made 11 of his 24 stops in the final period.
"We gave them a couple gifts at the end of the second and that was a good response from us," Trotz said.
Forwards Matt Cullen and Viktor Stalberg missed a second straight game for Nashville due to upper-body injuries and are questionable for tonight.
Weber won't get much time to recover as the Predators will visit the St. Louis Blues on Saturday. That means both Hutton and Devan Dubnyk are likely to split the starts.
The rookie Hutton faced the Devils earlier this season and suffered a 5-0 loss in New Jersey, yielding five goals on 23 shots faced.
Dubnyk has also faced New Jersey just once prior, doing so with the Edmonton Oilers back on Nov. 12, 2010. He suffered a 4-3 overtime loss, yielding the four goals on 39 shots faced.
The Devils will wrap a three-game road trip tonight and snapped a two-game slide with Thursday's 3-2 overtime victory over the Dallas Stars. Like the Preds, the Devils responded after giving up a late goal.
Dallas tied the game with 51.5 seconds left in regulation, but the Stars' Jamie Benn took a tripping minor 28 ticks into overtime and New Jersey cashed in shortly after.
Patrik Elias, who drew the penalty on Benn, pounded home a rebound of Jaromir Jagr's shot 40 seconds into overtime for the 3-2 win.
"A little unlucky there at the end, but we persevered and it was a big two points," New Jersey head coach Peter DeBoer said. "Both teams were playing for keeps."
Jagr had two assists, while Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus scored in regulation.
Thanks to some excellent defense, Cory Schneider needed to stop just 14 shots to earn the win, which has New Jersey tied for 10th in the Eastern Conference but just one point back of the final two playoff spots.
Veteran Martin Brodeur appears likely to start tonight's game for the Devils and it would be his first since getting pulled after two periods in Sunday's loss to the Rangers at Yankee Stadium. He was blitzed for six goals on 21 shots.
Brodeur is 7-5-1 with a 2.36 goals against average in his career versus the Preds, making 15 saves in the shutout win back on Nov. 10. Fellow 41-year-old Jagr had a goal and an assist as well in that game.
The Devils have won two straight and four of their last six versus the Predators as well as three of four and seven of the nine meetings in Nashville.
01/31 10:57:46 ET
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